I+D: You live and work in Canada and
the states. What’s the difference?
GLENN: The strength of Canadians is
we have a strong talent pool coming
from a solid educational system and a
good social structure. With that system,
you get talent that is earnest and hard
working. We’re products of that system
and give back with philanthropic projects.
We designed a shelter for teenagers in
Toronto for homeless LGBT kids; they’re
endangered in conventional shelters. What
you get in America is more expansive
thinking, the idea that anything is possible.
There are strengths on both sides.
I+D: How did you find each other?
GLENN: We went to Ryerson University in
Toronto from 1972 to 1976 and were part
of a group of friends. A few years after
we graduated, we ran into each other on
the street and hung out. We both said we
couldn’t work where we were living and
looked for a space together and began
working on each other’s projects. We
started in a naïve and natural way. That’s
where the strength of our firm comes from
after all these years.
GEORGE: We have glue that sticks in
everything we do.
I+D: I’m always interested in how
couples who live and work together
keep from killing each other.
GEORGE: (laughing) We’ve murdered
each other at least 20 times. We started
working together, and it went organically
without a grand plan. So, the relationship
didn’t know it was going to happen. It
I+D: Do you miss those days
GLENN: As young guys, we weren’t
real businessmen; we were exploring
and expressing our creativity. For many
years now, we’ve been known for luxury
products and hotels and, of course, we
still do them. But, the last few years,
we’ve pushed ourselves on projects with
lesser budgets to still make them great.
Like working with Ian Schrager on the
PUBLIC hotel in Chicago (now
Ambassador Chicago) and, this fall,
south of Times Square, we’re opening a
Moxy hotel, a starter brand for Marriott,
expressing design in a sophisticated way
that isn’t all about money.
I+D: What was the spark when you
were young that inspired you to be
GEORGE: My father was a craftsman,
a woodworker and boat builder for
fishermen on the west coast of Canada.
He made a wooden bath in the basement
for all eight of us in the family for a
steaming hot scrub-down and soak.
There were hand tools he’d brought from
Japan and, one day, he was working on a
wooden bowl with a strange looking saw.
He explained it was a better design than
western ones, because when you cut
wood with it, you pull the saw—it’s more
accurate; when you push a saw, it tends to
wobble, not when you pull it. That was
I+D: Similarities, differences in the
GLENN: We’re both analytical, we’re both
precise. We’re not wishy-washy in terms
of design. We keep things from being
static and moving forward in terms of a
relationship and driving the business.
I+D: If you could change one trend in
design, what would it be?
GEORGE: Oh, wow! In the hotel industry,
for example, people are always saying,
“What’s next? What’s trending now?”
I+D: So the trend you would change is
to stop looking for the next trend?
GLENN: Yes. Also, clients simplify designs
that are given to them. Some say, “Let’s
retro-style this because it works for
restaurants.” Or, “Let’s do ‘classic’ hotels
because that worked for a five-star client.”
We’re trying to find that sweet spot where,
yes, there’s memory in what we do, but
we want people to feel connected and
empathetic to a space, and defy simplistic
I+D: How often do you travel?
GLENN, GEORGE: (simultaneously)
All the time.
GLENN: We started the week in Toronto,
the end of the week we were in New York,
and now we’re at the beach. Last week,
George went to London and I went to
Bangkok and Hong Kong for four days.
I+D: Is it easier to travel alone and
not as a couple, not having to consult
on even the smallest of choices?
GEORGE: (laughing) What?
GLENN: It’s occasionally nice to get away
and clear your head. But, there was one
year I went to Asia 10 times and around
the world four times. It was too much.
GEORGE: Alone works if you travel fast—
go and come back fast.
I+D: Tips for staying sane when
GEORGE: I like to have a few drinks and
indulge in the cheeses. And, feel terrible
later. We’re at the point in our lives where
we can travel in the front of the bus, so
it’s not so bad. Also, combine business
with exploring a place. Get the real benefit
of traveling, which makes you more
accepting of other people and cultures.
I+D: What do you always have with you,
in the sense of a talisman or keepsake?
GLENN: (laughing) That’s a joke.
I+D: When you wake up, how long is it
before you think about work?
GEORGE: (laughing) Depends on when
you touch your phone.
GLENN: Generally, we wake up curious.
We don’t wake up dreading problems.
I+D: What’s the worst advice you ever
GLENN: George? I need your help. Worst
GEORGE: (doing the dishes) Best advice?
Stick with what you believe in and drive
GLENN: No, the worst advice.
GEORGE: Oh. Worst? Easy. A high school
teacher said to me, “You want to go into
design? Don’t. You won’t be good at it.”
YABU PUSHELBERG IS ONE OF THE MOST RECOGNIZED AND RESPECTED
GLOBAL DESIGN BRANDS, with studios in Toronto and New York, and projects
currently underway in 16 countries. George Yabu and Glenn Pushelberg, partners in
life as well as business, began their relationship and design firm more than 30 years
ago on a shoestring in Toronto. Starting with local small businesses, the firm now
is known for major hospitality projects—seven alone in New York City, including
the uber-chic Park Hyatt—and restaurants, such as DALLOYAU Hong Kong. The
defining YP style is the use of natural products and Asian and European aesthetics,
which together create the harmonious experience of an opposite-attracts love affair.
The firm’s work in retail spaces includes clients ranging from Barneys New York
to Bergdorf Goodman to Louis Vuitton. YP also designs furniture for companies,
such as the Toronto and New York retailer Avenue Road. George and Glenn received
Canada’s highest honor for their work in 2013, becoming Officers of the Order of
Canada. They’ve been awarded the James Beard Foundation award for Excellence in
Restaurant Design and have been named Designer of the Year by Contract magazine,
as well as inducted into Interior Design magazine’s Hall of Fame.
I+D caught up with the pair one morning recently at their Hamptons beach house.
At several points during the conversation, George multitasked by doing the dishes.
Ambrose Clancy is the editor of the Shelter
island Reporter and a novelist, nonfiction author,
and journalist. His work has appeared in GQ,
The Washington Post, and Los Angeles Times.