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When Glenn Pushelberg and George Yabu begin a design for Yabu Pushelberg, their Toronto- and New York–based firm, they start with a plotline. “We make imaginary couples or families or people who are building a house together,” Pushelberg says. They used this strategy for a restaurant in New York’s Peninsula Hotel, Clement, which is scheduled to open in the fall. To flesh out the eatery’s personality, the duo imagined that Clement was started by a character named Chloe, a girl from the Upper East Side who moved downtown to attend NYU and worked in the art scene after college. She’s recently gotten engaged, moved back uptown, and opened the restaurant. Clement, accordingly, will mash uptown with downtown, combine provocative contemporary art with more refined work, and draw both a young and an old clientele. Every detail of the fictional characters and their narratives—names, choices, upbringings—evoke design elements. The story is the brief. This technique enables the firm’s trademark regional detailing to fit within a sophisticated, luxurious whole. Yabu Pushelberg projects around the world include the W Guangzhou; a redesign of several floors of Barneys New York; a restaurant in Mexico City’s Las Alcobas hotel; and the soon-to-open Edition Hotel in London, designed with the Ian Schrager Company. And that’s just what’s on the docket for recent projects and openings this summer. In each, the firm weaves in cultural specificity by incorporating local craftwork, regional design references, and art by contemporary artists in the area. “It’s not a one-line interior. We try to design layers into our work,” Yabu says. “You just may catch something this time and something else the next time.”
By Julia Cooke