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Q&A: Yabu Pushelberg on 35 Years of Beautiful Interiors

The power house designers talk quirks, kismet and dream projects

By Tory Healy
Photography by Naomi Finlay

Thirty-five years ago, Toronto’s most accomplished interior design firm hung out its shingle and it is still going strong today. Yabu Pushelberg’s revamped studio on Booth Avenue is home to 75 designers, while another 40-plus work out of the New York shop.

Here’s a look inside the beautiful minds of Yabu Pushelberg’s visionary founders, George Yabu and Glenn Pushelberg.

DL: How did you get into design?
Glenn: I fell into it by default. I really wanted to go into the arts, and from there I started looking at fine art schools. However, the practical side of me soon realized I couldn’t make a living doing that. I then started thinking about architecture – but I didn’t have all of the base requirements. Finally, there came a moment when I looked at design school and thought, ‘Oh this is something interesting and different.’ It was a bit of a lark, and here I am today.

George: I was a slacker. My father, who was a disciplinarian, wanted me to pursue a more classic profession like engineering, law, or medicine – all of which I thought were boring. I preferred going to a school where I didn’t have to do much work, or have exams, or term papers. This led me to an open house at the Interior Design School at Ryerson. At the time the program was more focused on decoration, until my fourth year, when it became accredited to grant an interior design degree.

DL: When did you have that “aha” moment about your live-work future together? 
Glenn: It began when we started sharing a studio space – we were both freelance designers at the time. We went to school together, but we met on the street and began talking about how neither of us wanted to work from our respective homes anymore, so we started looking for a studio.

In the olden days we used to do renderings by hand, and would work laboriously on drawings. There was this one time where we both started working on an illustration together; George started at one end of the page and I started at the other. By the time we came to the middle it looked like the drawing had come from one hand. I’ve always thought that meant that we were meant for each other.

George: My ‘aha’ moment was more like a freak-out moment. It was when I knew I was making the right decision joining my little design practice with Glenn’s. It wasn’t planned – it just happened. We started helping each other with projects and deadlines, and it just grew from there. With us, the really fantastic things always happened without planning. The same goes for our personal relationship.

DL: Is there something unexpected you can reveal to us about the other?
Glenn: George is fastidious about cleanliness, especially about not touching anything that’s dirty. He’ll sometimes hold back so that I walk in front of him to open a door so that he doesn’t have to touch the handle – I think it’s to the point where he does it subconsciously.

George: I don’t like waking up to a mess. Sometimes it’s an ongoing battle to get Glenn to take care of little tasks like clearing the kitchen counter – he’ll want to wait and do it the next morning. The next morning we’re always scrambling to leave the house and I can’t find anything!

Also, Glenn is hyper-aware of what’s going on with technology these days and how important it is for things to function: to live, work, and play. However, any electronic or technology-based object he touches, he destroys. He never uses a computer, which is insane, but pretty cool at the same time.

DL: If you could go back and tweak a project, which would it be and what would you do?
Glenn: We’re modernists. In retrospect what’s truly us are the projects we’re designing today versus the ones from 20 years ago. Our past projects have a completely different look and taste compared to what we’re doing now. If anything I would make them a bit more contemporary.

George: All of them. I’m a firm believer in never feeling satisfied with what you’ve done. Everything can always be made better. There are projects that we completed years ago that I’ll visit and immediately notice something that needs to be tweaked, or a finish that needs to be changed.

DL: What is your dream interior project? Or is there a certain product you wish to design?
Glenn: I would love to design a museum – anywhere in the world. I find those that currently exist either a little too generic or over-designed. I would like to create a space where there is a perfect balance between the design’s point of view and what is being exhibited.

George: I don’t particularly need to design a specific object because there are so many available already. If I were to design something, it would have to be very useful and beautiful to experience. There are many inferior-quality products or objects that are so unnecessary, but the consumer is just as responsible as the maker for their existence.

Originally published in our Winter 2015 issue as Power House.


Categories: Local Act

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