Almost four decades after establishing Yabu Pushelberg in Toronto, George Yabu and Glenn Pushelberg continue to redefine interior design. They have now brought their vision to Wing Tai's La Vetta residential development in Hong Kong
The year is 1975. A bashful nisei (second-generation Japanese Canadian) teenager glances at a lanky blonde boy at Ryerson University's School of Interior Design, in Toronto. The blonde boy smiles back. And in that moment, the world shifts: for the way the corporate interiors of their hometown would look, for how Las Vegas casino restaurants would be designed, and eventually, for how Hong Kong would shop, play and live.
George Yabu and Glenn Pushelberg studied interior design just a stone's throw from El Mocambo, a nightclub on Spadina Avenue, at a time when the Rolling Stones scandalously partied there with Margaret Trudeau, mother of current Canadian prime minister Justin Trudeau and wife of then prime minister Pierre.
"At that point, we just knew of each other," Yabu says. "It wasn't until I was 24 that we reconnected and became partners. Coincidentally, we bumped into each other on the street when we were both looking for studio space. We ended up sharing an office and realised our compatibility and shared vision. It wasn't planned, but happened for a reason."
Fast forward to December, 2018. Pushelberg presides over a press conference at the launch of La Vetta (pictured below), a luxury residential block near Sha Tin in Hong Kong's New Territories. "We have changed the way we work in the past couple of years," he says afterwards, settling into a sofa custom-designed for the clubhouse. Never a company to rest on its laurels, Yabu Pushelberg (YP) has consistently reinvented itself since its establishment in 1980.The duo first worked in Hong Kong thanks to a long relationship with Bonnie Brooks, Member of the Order of Canada, who had previously partnered with YP to overhaul Toronto's high-end department store Holt Renfrew. When Brooks relocated to Hong Kong to reinvigorate Lane Crawford, she called in YP to design its new flagship store in IFC Mall. Concurrently with Lane Crawford IFC, YP designed guest rooms for the Four Seasons Hotel Hong Kong, the first property in the region for the Toronto-based hotel group, which opened in 2005.
Yabu Pushelberg’s portfolio in Hong Kong includes the Arbor fine-dining restaurant in H Queen's, Central
Then, in 2012, YP designed the show flat in Frank Gehry's new residential tower, Opus, for Swire Properties. A year later came a swank retail outlet for French patisserie brand Dalloyau, its first in Greater China. Since then, YP has been inducted into Interior Design magazine's Hall of Fame and Hospitality Design's Platinum Circle, and Yabu and Pushelberg have been named Officers of the Order of Canada for their contributions to international design excellence – the highest honour the Canadian government can bestow.
But back to business. "The design for La Vetta was based on a European château," Pushelberg says. "Although it was influenced by George's background, it is more of an abstract interpretation."Yabu explains: "My aesthetic sense comes from my dad. My father was a boat builder, and he taught me about Japanese precision, tools and wood working. Through distillation and editing, you get the essence of my Japanese background. It's more ephemeral with layers."
Developed by Wing Tai Properties and Manhattan Group, La Vetta is situated on Kau To Shan hill, a short drive from both Sha Tin and Tai Po, with views over Tolo Harbour and Sha Tin Racecourse. The complex consists of 158 units, including 68 houses ranging from 150sqm to 477sqm (1,635sqf to 5,129sqf). The rest are low-rise condominiums of 50sqm to 214sqm (544sqf to 2,306sqf). Along with the clubhouse, YP designed the four-bedroom show home, Icon House, with generous parking, swimming pool and private garden.
We were told to make something international. Luxury is not about gold frames. It's about being considerate; about details, substance and longevity
"Wing Tai had a vision and trusted us to make a special project," Pushelberg says. "We were told to make something international. Luxury is not about gold frames. It's about being considerate; about details, substance and longevity. There are nods to nature through the art. La Vetta made us think of grand houses with their long promenades."
YP has several projects underway, including Arbor fine-dining restaurant in Hong Kong, SLS LUX Brickell Hotel and its Katsuya restaurant in Miami, and Z Bar in The Peninsula Chicago. The company also has branched out into product design. "We are designing for Poltrona Frau and B&B Italia," Pushelberg says. "We do branding, architecture, interiors, landscape, graphics and products for tabletops, uniforms and furniture. We are doing fewer projects but we are doing them more completely."Meanwhile, Yabu's fascination with glass translated into the Cipher Collection for Czech crystal manufacturer Lasvit. It comprises a series of delicate, hand-blown crystal cylinders cut with clean, clear lines and linked together by champagne-gold connections that hide the light sources to create a soft effect.
"The technology behind modern glass, and going back to the past with Bohemian crystal and updating it, has led us to ask how we can use crystal in a different way. We explored the way in which etched patterning catches light and arrived at a new and technically interesting solution," Yabu says.
"The exciting part is the versatility of the cylinders themselves: they can be reconfigured into countless horizontal and vertical combinations to create custom pendants such as the starburst for SLS LUX Brickell Hotel (pictured below). We also designed these as table lamps and a one-of-a-kind custom glass Christmas tree for The Upper House in 2017."While their university peers are heading into retirement, Yabu and Pushelberg have no plans to take it easy. "Design is our medium of choice. We are inspired by everything, and everything we create is rooted by our personal experience in life. Our happy place is being by the beach, disconnecting for a moment to refresh our thoughts and perspective," Yabu says.
Design is our medium of choice. We are inspired by everything, and everything we create is rooted by our personal experience in life
Besides, as Pushelberg points out, business is booming. "From a business sense, we continue to grow and expand our expertise into other disciplines to strengthen our holistic vision and be global creative directors. We always focus on what's next and explore our imagination to push past what has been done," he says. "We just had our red party, to celebrate our 40th anniversary as a company. We're still passionate about designing the world we want to live in."