Toronto’s interior design community has been buzzing about Avenue Road since its official opening last month. The spectacular Yabu Pushelberg-designed conversion of a century-old Consumer’s Gas generating station on Eastern Avenue personifies the finely-tuned aesthetic that has made local boys George Yabu, above left, and Glenn Pushelberg design superstars. Carrying about 30 high-end furnishing lines, Avenue Road is the design team’s second retail venture with partner Stephan Weishaupt (a smaller, less-ambitious iteration of Avenue Road preceded this incarnation).
“We call it de-luxing,” says Yabu, gesturing to the airy, light-filled atrium, left.
“We were touring stores in Shanghai last week,” elaborates Pushelberg, “and we were in one super high-end store where there were so many materials and finishes, it was so highly polished it was distracting; it made you question the intrinsic value of the product. We think that de-luxing is the way to go. If you look at this room, it’s de-luxed, it’s very simple, it’s artistic but the furnishings can breathe, you can really see the product and you’re free to move leisurely through it.”
Nowhere is the Yabu Pushelberg style more apparent than in their sumptuous new eponymous coffee table book (Architecture/Interiors Press), an interior design showcase that includes luxurious retail and hospitality spaces for clients like W Hotels, Bergdorf Goodman, Louis Vuitton, Kate Spade, Four Seasons Hotels and Carolina Herrera, among others: Toronto’s Hazelton Hotel and Bymark restaurant are also feautured.
Trained at Ryerson in the late 1970s, Yabu and Pushelberg have been personal and professional partners for 30 years and counting. The bulk of their international design practice is still based in Toronto although they operate a satellite office and maintain a home in New York City.
“We’ll never abandon Toronto because there are so many talented people here and we love the city,” says Pushelberg. “Canada is a great incubator, we have excellent educational institutions and a huge pool of talent. The only problem is that with a population of 30 million there’s a limit to how much work you can do if you want to continue to grow. We’re working on 15 or 20 hotels right now in about a dozen different countries; in fact only two of our current projects are in Canada. Sometimes, if you go away and come back, you can do even better work because the presumption is that you’re international but you’re also Canadian and now we love you even more.”
In the lead image, Yabu and Pushelberg are seated on their own Perry Street sofa (also seen below), a condo-inspired piece that they originally designed for their New York loft. The designer’s homes in NYC, Miami and Toronto are the only residences featured in Yabu Pushelberg and in fact, the duo has avoided residential work for many years.
“When you do residential you get to be a design professional only about two per cent of the time,” says Yabu, “the rest of the time you’re a personal shopper, a marriage counselor, dog walker, drinking companion. We’re starting to do a bit more residential work now; if the project is really satisfying in terms of freedom, with a reasonable budget, a proper budget for what the client hopes to achieve, then why not?”
The couple is presently building an oceanfront getaway in Amagansett, on the south shore of Long Island. It’s a fabulous life filled with travel, satisfying projects and very big budgets. Do Yabu and Pushelberg sometimes pinch themselves to make sure they’re not just dreaming this whole crazy adventure?
“I did say that recently as we were walking from our studio in Soho to our West Village apartment,” confirms Yabu. “I said to Glenn, ‘I still can’t believe we live in this building.’ ”
“The people you meet in these far flung places are awesome, it’s just fascinating. To do the work that we do we have to get intimately involved with the client’s business and Glenn and I have a deep curiosity about what makes a hotel work or a café work or about how to entice a customer to take a garment off a rack and look at it. All these principles of desire and want, I love understanding that.”
As if feeling self-conscious about their jet set lifestyle, Pushelberg mentions some pro bono work the duo’s been doing in the New York school system.
“We went to the school board here in Toronto to see if we could lend a hand with something and they said no because it’s a unionized work environment. So we phoned the mayor’s office and David Miller said, ‘Why don’t you renovate the wedding chapel here at City Hall?’ We thought that was perfect; it’s a sweet little project and the place was kind of a dump. And to us it represents what Toronto is all about. We designed it about a year ago and we’re hoping to see it completed by the end of this year as the City Hall renovation moves ahead. We want to give back, these are our roots.”
Photos by Christopher Jones except image three of Yabu and Pushelberg’s New York loft by Evan Dion © 2009.