Cover The intimately styled lobby of The Londoner hotel (Photography: Andrew Beasley)

From super-boutique hotels to whimsical furniture collections, Yabu Pushelberg has a knack for designing places and products that are luxurious, layered, and full of feeling

The last two years have been extremely busy for Yabu Pushelberg, the global design practice founded by partners George Yabu and Glenn Pushelberg in 1980. In London alone, they designed the city's biggest hotel openings of 2021—The Londoner on Leister Square and the Pan Pacific London in Liverpool Street, the Singaporean hospitality brand’s first foray into Europe. While the firm designed both properties (which opened days apart from each other), each one looks and feels distinctly different.

The Londoner, which bills itself as a “super boutique hotel”, is like a glamorous members club with dark wood panelling, lacquered jewel-tone doors, and replete with hidden touches like peep holes in the lift where you can view art. The Pan Pacific London, on the other hand, evokes an East-meets-West appeal with a fresh colour and material palette, Chinoiserie-inspired accents, and a focus on well-being.

Keen observers, however, would notice that Yabu Pushelberg has a penchant for sinuous lines, rich colour combinations, and brass detailing—design decisions reflected in both properties as well as in their furniture collections like that with Stellar Works and Lasvit.

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And while they mostly work in the luxury space, their approach has a sense of humour and worldliness stemming from the firm's multi-cultural and multi-dimensional ethos. “The core of our process is listening and leading. We lead our team composed of six practices—interiors, industrial design, lighting, graphics, styling, branding—by developing an open brief to see where their minds wander free of restrictions,” say the duo of their teams in New York and Toronto.

Here, they talk to Tatler Asia about their creative process, how hospitality design has evolved, and which materials to look out for in 2022: 

Describe your first memory of good design.

George Yabu and Glenn Pushelberg (GY and GP): It’s funny, without speaking about it beforehand, we share our first memory of good design as Exposition 67, hosted in Montreal, Canada. It was the first time as two kids growing up in Canada that we were introduced to design as a new and celebrated way to think and engage with the world.

Your company aims to “design the world we want to live in”. What does that look in a world in the midst of pandemic and confronting climate change?

GY and GP: The world we want to live in is a landscape of emotions. We see design as opportunity to shape experiences that convey mood. Our goal is for people of all walks of life to enter our environments and feel something. That feeling can and should vary.

Drawing from empathy, comfort, allure, and above all, joyfulness, we design projects as worlds of their own and to connect to the roots of an individual. The aesthetic of these worlds are extensions of the chosen emotion. Our world begins and ends with feeling.

How has hospitality design changed since you first started working on projects in the sector?

GP: In the 1980s the concept of boutique hotels was born, shifting hospitality away from the singular guest experience toward a social centre for guests to share experience. Culture was brought inward, and legacy brands caught on its success and mimicked the model, taking it mainstream.

Where hospitality is today is dependent on the evolution of the global traveller. Fortunately, the world is more accessible today than ever before, made possible through the internet and of course, travel. These modes of ‘living’ give guests the power of knowledge and the gift of choice. This means hotels must not only live up to the guest’s appendix of knowledge but surprise and excite them.

We are in a time where moments will forever live and be shared on the internet. Design takes on a new dimension—real and digital. Hospitality now requires a new kind of dimension that has never been experienced in the industry before. We think about this.

"We are in a time where moments will forever live and be shared on the internet. Design takes on a new dimension—real and digital."
Glenn Pushelberg

Personally, what would you say is the mark of a well-designed luxury hotel?

GY and GP: Seamless functionality as well as strong, strategic programming in the form of layout, lighting, styling, music, uniform, and scent. Everything a guest sees is a touchpoint of that experience, and shapes a hotel’s ability to be considered well-designed.

Related: The Michelin Guide Evolves: Now, It Will Recommend the Best Hotels Too

The Londoner calls itself a “super-boutique hotel”. How did you translate this in the interiors?

GY and GP: The meaning of boutique began as a term to describe small in scale but then took on a new form to symbolise lifestyle and non-convention. The Londoner takes on the latter at a much grander scale. The “super” represents the abundant layers of programming the hotel houses. The “boutique” speaks to the remarkable service and attention to detail paid to each space.

Each level features a designated range of guest experience, from grand to intimate. The Whiskey Bar is an excellent example. It is a VIP treasure hidden on the guest-only amenity floor. Accessed through a nondescript green door in a public restroom, guests are invited into a jewellery-box of a room that houses only six tables. The space is wrapped in green velvet and mirrored ceilings, and serves the world’s finest, most exclusive whiskey. To us, this space embodies the spirit of super-boutique.

Tell us how you interpreted the Asian roots of the Pan Pacific brand in the London hotel:

GY and GP: London is such a dynamic, wildly international destination, and with Pan Pacific being in the heart of the city, we wanted to create a retreat from the surrounding energy—a place to reflect and appreciate London for all it is.

To define Pan Pacific’s ethos in England, we married the brand’s Singaporean roots with British sensibilities. Drawing from elements of traditional English design, we introduced tailored modernity and turned to art and accessories to pay homage to the brand’s Asian heritage.

Related: Singapore Staycations: 10 New Hotels And Newly Renovated Properties to Visit for a Mini Break 

What other projects in the pipeline are you excited about?

GY and GP: We are gearing up to launch a handful of new product collections at Salone del Mobile in April 2022, spanning furniture and lighting design. At home in New York, we re-designed the Park Lane, a hotel set to make its grand debut early next year.

The hotel has a remarkable backstory, with an only-in-New-York kind of history. Leona Helmsley, crowned the Queen of Mean of Manhattan, resided in the hotel’s penthouse with her dog Trouble. There is much more to the story, but to keep it brief, we leaned into the palette of mischief both she and Trouble left behind at the Park Lane. Like all our projects, our design is anchored in narrative, and we used this as opportunity to tell the modern tale of Trouble, personified.

Which materials and details will we see more of in the coming years?

GY and GP: We are heading into an era that values simplicity. Sophistication is embodied through natural, subtle materials that blend or compliment nature. For example, plaster rather than dry wall for texture, wood, and stone.

What are some collections that you love right now?

Sculptures by Yutaka Sone

We are madly in love with our two latest sculptures we commissioned from artist Yutaka Sone. Some may see the work as naïve or questionable, however we see a beauty in the sculptures’ presence. We keep one at our Toronto studio to inspire our team.

Salvatori Assembly, The Village

When Salvatori asked us to contribute to their Village series, we dreamt up Assembly, a collection of three independent sculptures that individually represent our interpretation of what comprises a village. For us, that is the self, collective, and convergence—symbolising the individual, community and its intersection. We gravitated towards this project because it is a physical reminder of the bigger picture, how your actions affect others and vice versa.  

Lasvit Otto Glassware Collection

Holiday festivities are in full swing and our glassware of choice while hosting has been Lasvit's Otto glassware collection. It is crystal glass that has been meticulously etched with gentle horizontal lines that juxtapose the solid, weighted base. It’s a conversation starter.

Art by General Idea

We recently acquired an artwork by General Idea. We have been following their work since the 1970’s.

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