Movin' on Up
George Yabu and Glenn Pushelberg sit down with writer Ingrid Abramovitch to talk about Jean-Georges Vongerichten, French nouveau realist Yves Klein and the magic of the big reveal
by Ingrid Abramovitch photography Mark Lund
In the last decade, architecture has transformed Manhattan’s luxury real estate market, with everyone from Jean Nouvel to Herzog and de Meuron leaving their mark on the cityscape. But it all started in 2002 when architect Richard Meier designed a pair of glass and steel condominium towers on a formerly forlorn stretch of West Street in Greenwich Village (albeit one with a jaw-dropping panorama of the Hudson River and the Statue of Liberty to the south). With their walls of floor-to-ceiling glass, the Perry Street apartment towers have been compared to fish bowls — but leave it to Meier to understand the extent to which New Yorkers love to live on a stage.
Even before it was built, the Meier apartments — each consisting of an entire floor — were snapped up by the likes of Calvin Klein, Nicole Kidman, and the chef Jean-Georges Vongerichten, who planned to open a restaurant on the ground floor of one of the towers. Just one apartment remained (a second floor loft above the restaurant) when George Yabu and Glenn Pushelberg, a pair of interior designers from Toronto, arrived for a meeting with Vongerichten to discuss the design of his restaurant.
"We went through Calvin’s half-finished apartment, then Jean-Georges’, and thought, wow."
One half Miesian modernists, the other half razzle-dazzle showmen, the two designers (partners in life and work) were at the time beginning to play on a global stage with commissions ranging from hotels to department stores. They were making regular trips to New York and had been thinking about acquiring a modest pied-à-terre. “Jean-Georges asked if we would like a tour of the building,” Pushelberg says. “We went through Calvin’s half-finished apartment, then Jean-Georges’, and thought, wow." The men bought the apartment practically on the spot. “It was a bit of stretch, to be honest,” Yabu says. “And the irony is we didn’t end up designing the restaurant — Richard Meier decided to do it. But we believe in pushing ourselves a little bit and we loved that it was a clean canvas.”
In almost every other apartment in their building the elevator opens onto the view. It’s a no brainer, but it was too obvious a solution for Yabu and Pushelberg. Instead, one enters their apartment through a dark and dramatically lit hallway lined with Indian Laurel (the designers bought a fallen reclaimed log from India and had it sliced into a veneer that covers the hallway and bedroom closets). An Anish Kapoor sculpture hangs at one end of the hallway; the other end features an LED-and-resin computer artwork of people walking on the street by Jim Campbell, the MIT engineer turned artist. “We decided against doing that big reveal,” Yabu says. “We wanted a contrast, so when you do come to the view, it’s much more dramatic.”
“The gallery sent a team to assemble it...They came with masks and a sack of blue paint pigment, which they sliced open, then lifted and let the powder drop.”
Round a corner and you come face to face with that dazzling Manhattan vista. The loft-like space is awash with light from its three glass-and-steel exposures. It’s a cinematic backdrop where everything shows to its best advantage. The designers created a sofa (the Boomerang) to perfectly inhabit one of Meier’s less-than-90-degree corners. The dining chairs, purchased in Brasilia, were retired from the Brazilian Senate (each one still has a metal crest on its back). The Yves Klein blue coffee table was assembled on site. “The gallery sent a team to assemble it,” Pushelberg says. “They came with masks and a sack of blue paint pigment, which they sliced open, then lifted and let the powder drop.”
Yabu and Pushelberg spend half the week in the apartment, commuting every seven days from Toronto, where they run a 75-employee interior design firm (they also have a rapidly growing New York office.) They keep the stainless refrigerator in their minimalist white kitchen stocked primarily with water and wine. “It’s really a caterer’s kitchen,” Pushelberg says, “and this apartment is a great place to entertain. We’ve had vogueing dancers in our living room and once we had a lesbian accordion band performing Thriller at one in the morning.”
Guests sometimes retreat to the cozy TV room, where a sofa was designed to entirely fill the space. And when Yabu and Pushelberg want to escape, they head to their master bedroom suite, accessed through a door seamlessly integrated into the wood veneer in the hallway. This tailor-made boudoir has “his and his” closets and a travertine-clad bathroom with a Japanese soaking tub. Every detail has been carefully considered and perfectly worked. “When we were designing, there was a little space left and we were wondering what to do with it,” Yabu says. That is when he remembered Pushelberg’s copper metallic trenchcoat—an outré garment from Helmut Lang’s final menswear line. “When Glenn bought it, I told him: You are not going to wear that,” Yabu says. “He wore it once. So we put a little closet in our room just for the jacket. It’s like a shrine to Helmut’s last collection.”