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Shop Talk with Atelier Ace Vol. 4

May 21, 2020

In this interview series, Shop Talk, we chat with friends and collaborators of Rich Brilliant Willing on the ideas, discoveries, and inspirations that drive their design process.

Photography by Adrian Gaut


Video Credits: Aaron Kovalchik (Director of Photography), Paul Emile Cendron (Assistant Camera), Erinn Clancy (Editor), Elliot M. Smith (Colorist), Luke Slattery (Producer)

A few weeks before the current coronavirus lockdown—which has temporarily put a hold on travels, the hospitality industry, and the many designers and service workers who keep it running—we sat down with our friends at Atelier Ace, Ace Hotel’s in-house design team, to discuss our recent collaboration together on Dimple, a custom sconce for their new hotel brand, Sister City, located on Manhattan’s Lower East Side.

As we eagerly await the time when we can revisit Sister City and our colleagues,  Little Wing Lee, Senior Interior Designer at Atelier Ace, and Juanita Wichienkuer, Director of Architecture and Interiors at Atelier Ace, share more about creating and executing the design concept behind Sister City as an urban sanctuary for minimalist travelers, and a relaxing refuge away from home.


What’s a typical day like at Atelier Ace? How would you describe your team’s overall design ethos and approach to hospitality? 

Juanita: Collaboration is at the heart of everything we do. We work on pretty big projects, but also get involved in the very fine details—it ranges from big-picture thinking and visioning, all the way down to executing the nitty-gritty details. And for all of that, it takes a big team, and Little Wing and I are just part of that team that helps bring it all together. That said, we work on multiple projects at the same time and multi-task across quite a span, geographically speaking, across various time zones. It’s never boring, as we say!

Little Wing: There isn't really a typical day, and it can vary quite a bit from week to week. Depending on what phase we’re at, and in which project, we’re always thinking about the aesthetic components of a project, as well as the practical components—things like working with the IT and sound departments on where the speakers should be placed; deciding on furniture specifications, and considering if a fabric will be durable enough to sustain thousands of guests; or if the light levels will be up to code. We’re also always renovating, always thinking about what can be done better. It’s constantly shifting, and you learn a lot from how the spaces actually end up getting used. 

Juanita: Once the hotel has a life of its own and the staff is in, guests are checking in and using the restaurant, different needs might arise. There are always things that are in progress or need updating or changing. Truly, it’s never-ending, but what’s nice about it is that it informs our new developments. We’re hands-on so we take those lessons learned, and then apply them to new projects. 

Sister City on the Bowery 

(Left) Sister City's facade, a combination of old and new, shining above the Bowery (Right) Point of respite upon entry

The first Sister City is on the Bowery, and the brand’s ethos is a bit different from Ace’s other properties. How did this iconic location influence your approach, and how would you describe the overall design concept?

Juanita: To inform the project, we really thought about where we would want to stay ourselves. I very much love New York and am very inspired by it, but I also need a place, at the end of the day, that’s quiet, safe, clean, and offers an area of refuge. A lot of the initial inspiration for the project came out of the site context, looking at Bowery as a busy urban thoroughfare, and thinking of the project as an oasis in the city, away from the noise and chaos. So instead of placing the main entrance on Bowery, we have guests enter through a back entry at Freeman’s Alley, through a small garden that almost acts as an extended threshold. Once you come through the garden, that’s your moment of decompression. 

As for the guest rooms, and really the project as a whole, we look to distill things to just the essentials, the most basic needs: everything you need and nothing more. An example of that would be the guestroom vanity, where it’s just a single lever faucet that controls the hot and cold, and also the volume control; it’s very straightforward. We wanted everything to feel natural and intuitive—that’s also why lighting and materiality was such a focus early on in the project, to create that almost intangible feeling that puts you at ease, even if you’re not sure why. It all boils down to the details, like the sheen of the wood that’s new and sleek but feels lived in, like your friend’s house.

How does lighting factor into the atmosphere you’re designing and creating?

Juanita: It’s about more than just the look—lighting plays a huge role in creating atmosphere, though it’s not only about lighting. It’s also what you're hearing, the temperature of the room, who you're with, the crowd and the company you’re sharing the space with.

Little Wing: For me, I would say atmosphere is all about the feeling of a space, once you walk in—how you feel, whether you're energized and if you feel welcome. It’s a combination of sight, sound and texture. All of these elements work together to create this feeling of a space.

(Left) Dimple's warm glow above the bedside table (Right) Dimple looking cheeky alongside built-in bunk beds

What led you to our Crisp sconce, and how did you go about customizing it further to create the Dimple?

Juanita: This is the first location for a new brand for Atelier Ace, so we knew we wanted to do something custom, and had actually designed a whole suite of custom fixtures for the guest rooms but were pushed to find something more cost-effective. Normally, that would mean finding something off the shelf, which is how we landed on the Crisp: it was the right scale and gave off a great quality of light. We also wanted a versatile, universal light fixture that could be used in many different locations—in the guest room corridor, but also the bedside, or even the bathroom—and we ended up using Crisp in all three of those places for our room model. As we looked to customize it, we wanted to keep to the circle motif, which is something that’s repeated throughout the project. The final form for the Dimple light is almost as if you took a sphere and pushed it into the face of a plane, to create a concave curvature that’s visible through the thickness of the glass. It was a pleasant surprise to see how that plays with the light coming through it.

Little Wing: With RBW’s fixtures, you have a choice in the color temperature of the lighting, as well as the kind of color for the fixture itself, and as a designer, it’s always great to have a lot of options and customizations. Working with a company that understands how important colors are to us as designers has been great. For me, what creates a successful, well-lit space is a balance of ambient light, task lighting, and a play with brilliance. All of these little elements are like the jewelry that brings texture into the space, and draws your eye to different parts of an interior. 

 

For me, what creates a successful, well-lit space is a balance of ambient light, task lighting, and a play with brilliance. All of these little elements are like the jewelry that brings texture into the space, and draws your eye to different parts of an interior. 

 

You’ve both been involved in all aspects of this project. Is there a way to describe your first experience of the finished space?

Juanita: I would say there isn’t really a big reveal moment for us, because we’re so involved in and we’re the ones finishing it—we also sleep test the rooms, and by the time we opened, we’d actually been living in the project for four weeks, and visiting the site daily for months, if not years! The big reveal, for us, is not so much about the completion of the spatial setup, it’s about inviting people for the first time, getting to have a meal with our friends and family who weren’t involved in the project, and getting to share it with them.

Little Wing: There’s usually never a big reveal for us, as Juanita said, but for me, it was the drinks event with family and friends at Last Light. When you get off the elevator, turn the corner and see the bar full of people, everyone’s getting drinks and snacks, the lights are on and the sky is so beautiful, that’s when you finally get the feeling of like, Oh wow, this is complete. To see people enjoying it—that, to me, is the big reveal.

 

Behind the Design

Juanita Wichienkuer is an award-winning architect with broad experience in design, building, and construction project management. She has worked for leading design firms such as Ralph Appelbaum Associates, as the lead exhibit designer for the History Galleries at the new Smithsonian National Museum of African American History and Culture, and as the Director of Architecture and Interiors for Ace Hotel / Atelier Ace. Her work has been exhibited at the Venice Biennale, MoMA, and the New York Center for Architecture, and has been published in the New York Times, CBS News 60 Minutes, and Architectural Record.

Juanita holds a masters of architecture degree from Parsons School of Design where she received the Alpha Rho Chi Medal and a bachelor of arts in architecture from the University of California, Berkeley with a minor in History of the Built Environment. She has taught at Cornell University with Pritzker Prize winning humanitarian Shigeru Ban and at Parsons School of Design.

 

Little Wing Lee is an award winning interior designer with over 10 years of experience in cultural, commercial and residential projects. She has worked with leading design firms including SOM, Rockwell Group and Ralph Appelbaum Associates. Her work as an interior, product and exhibition designer has been published in the New York Times, Interior Design, Wallpaper and Dezeen. She is currently the Senior Interior Designer for ACE Hotel / Atelier ACE and founder/creative director of Studio & Projects. Her most recent endeavor, Black Folks in Design (BFiD) is a network that connects Black designers within and across disciplines.

Prior to her career in design, Little Wing had a career in documentary television and film contributing to several Oscar and Emmy nominated projects.

Little Wing is a graduate of the Interior Design Masters Program at Pratt Institute, studied landscape architecture at Harvard University Graduate School of Design, and received her Bachelors degree from Oberlin College.

SHOP TALK: Home Work / Jayson Gates Vol. 6

May 15, 2020

The global health crisis of the coronavirus pandemic has overturned every moment and corner of our day-to-day lives. In this new micro-series, Shop Talk: Home Work, we turn to our network of friends, colleagues and collaborators for comfort and community, and discuss how they’re adapting to work and life in this unprecedented era of uncertainty.

In our 6th and final week of Shop Talk: Home Work, we catch up with Jayson Gates, owner of the Pacific Northwest-based multiline representative group, on how he's shifting from in-person interaction to digital engagement while keeping up with homeschooling his 2 daughters during quarantine. 

Thank you to our friends, colleagues, and collaborators for the chance to share their stories over the last 6 weeks. We're grateful for the chance to connect with you, our network. 🤝

Lisa Tvrdy

 

Jayson Gates is the owner of Absolute Resource, a Pacific Northwest-based multi-line independent representative group. He builds enduring relationships between design professionals and the most creative innovative brands for furniture, textiles, lighting, and acoustical products.

 

Tell us a bit about Absolute Resource. Where are you based and what is your role?

I started Absolute Resource in 2010 with the idea of providing a resource for designers to connect with manufacturers that share the same commitment to design. We look for creatives that share our values and want to build a legacy, together. We’ve been a partner with RBW since 2014.

Working in Oregon, Washington, and Alaska we are a multi-line independent representative group dedicated to providing the most innovative and exciting product lines to interior designers, lighting designers, and architects.

What is a “typical day” of work like for you, before the pandemic, and how have you been impacted by the ongoing pandemic?

Pre-COVID-19 I spent a ton of time—almost 80%—outside of my home office, typically presenting to firms throughout the Pacific Northwest. Throughout the year, we schedule trips to New York and Europe for trade shows, client visits, and manufacturer visits. Now with the pandemic upon us, it’s many more hours spent in front of my desk working on marketing, branding, and finding new and exciting ways to connect digitally with our clientele. We have managed to remain incredibly focused and busy throughout this time and in our experience, have seen projects require additional detailing and support.

We have also been homeschooling our 6 and 8-year-old girls a couple of times a week which adds scheduling pressure. I’m both inspired and hopeful that this quarantine event will not be wasted and meaningful change will be catalyzed. 

As a father of two, how has it been to balance work and parenting?

This is one of the most challenging aspects of the crisis. The ability to spend much more time with our children has been a wonderful side effect of the WFH orders. It has allowed for a slowing of and re-orientation of our value structures in addition to how we prioritize our lives. There’s been more baking and home cooking going on and for that I’m grateful. I try and remember that I’m learning how to teach children and give my self the opportunity to fail. Balancing has become easier in the last several weeks as we have developed a process and become more adapted to the new daily schedule.

What’s your current WFH setup, and how are you adapting your space to make it work in the day to day?

My work from home set up is a modern space that I have been updating and organizing as I spend more time here. Spring to summer in the Pacific Northwest is a wonderful time and my space features a glass garage door that I can open to enjoy the fresh air. Natural light has become much more valuable as I soak up the vitamin D at my desk and take photo snaps for social media. I just created a media room—an adapted pantry space with natural light and acoustical wall tiles.

Jayson's WFH set up

Pictured: Jayson's jealousy-inducing WFH setup


With your work relying heavily on in-person interaction, how have you found ways support designers during this shift towards digital connection?

We have all had to rapidly adapt to this new reality. Having a digital strategy is paramount. We have tried Zoom, as everyone has, and it works OK. We have found that there is quite a bit of tele-exhaustion as designers and architects spend their days in meetings online back-to-back. We are looking for new ways to connect quickly and succinctly without overwhelming our clientele. I’m learning video editing software and taking short marketing courses. We have also dedicated ourselves to more content style marketing so I’m trying to improve my writing style. We are exploring short videos and of course, spending time on Insta and TikTok. We’ve been sliding into a lot of DMs (laughs).

As you figure out what your new day-to-day looks like, what routines or activities have been keeping you motivated?

I like most, have struggled with understanding and responding to this rapid change in human interaction & connection. I’ve made a deliberate effort to keep things in perspective. I’m not the only one feeling this way and we are all challenged with this pandemic. I meditate every morning for about 10 minutes to prepare my mind for the day and get clarity on what I need to focus on.

Exercise, while not my favorite activity, has proven valuable to helping pull out some stress and given me the feeling of strength and power. Gratitude is something I spend time on to help me remember the positive and let the negative go. I try and stay in the moment as much as possible to deflect negative thinking and just get on with it.

I recently updated my personal WHY statement and it guides me as I navigate my life & business. My WHY is, “To be a catalyst for growth in myself and those around me and create an extraordinary world”. It’s a work in progress and that pretty much sums it up!

Jayson's WFH companion

Pictured: Jayson and his officemate, Goldie, enjoying their home office breakout space

SHOP TALK: Home Work / Lisa Tvrdy Vol. 5

May 08, 2020

The global health crisis of the coronavirus pandemic has overturned every moment and corner of our day-to-day lives. In this new micro-series, Shop Talk: Home Work, we turn to our network of friends, colleagues and collaborators for comfort and community, and discuss how they’re adapting to work and life in this unprecedented era of uncertainty.

This week, we catch up with Lisa Tvrdy, creative director at the Chicago-based interior design and architecture firm Partners By Design, on how she’s navigating the juggle of work and life as a new mother. We spoke to Lisa just as she was scheduled to return from maternity leave—a transition that segued into the office’s new remote work policy, as shelter-in-place orders began to take place in the Windy City.

Lisa Tvrdy

 

Lisa Tvrdy is Creative Director at Partners By Design, a Chicago based Interior Design and Architecture firm. She believes in designing spaces that are thoughtful, have purpose, and bring joy. Her current quarantine routine includes cappuccinos, natural color dyeing, and her new baby Hank.

 

How would you describe your role at Partners By Design, and how has your day-to-day changed since the pandemic hit the U.S.?

I’ve been at Partners By Design for about ten years now. Moving most recently into the role of creative director, my work has gone from being heads-down focused at my desk, to more of a collaborative role, being a part of every team: all of the client and design industry networking, as well as helping to guide the big-picture ideas of the firm. There’s always a bit of a buzz in our office. We sit in open benching, and everybody—the founders, the partners, all of our designers—sits at the same desk. We also rotate seats every six months, just to sit by a new neighbor and partner with our teams. We’ve always been in this very collaborative little community.

My role involves a lot of meetings with the team internally, as well as externally with our clients, so suddenly being home has been very different. For me, it’s also extra different because I was on maternity leave when COVID-19 started affecting us here in Chicago. I was at the three-month point of my leave when the whole world began to go on pause. It was interesting timing, because all of these ways that I was already kind of working through—mentally being at home and still communicating and staying in touch—is now something everyone has had to go through as they transitioned to working remotely from home.

As a new mom, how are you finding ways to balance all of these new changes at once?

Well, it has been very interesting, I will say. My husband is in the Army National Guard and was deployed to help with the local COVID crisis here in Chicago, so just seeing this through the eyes of a single parent, even temporarily, I have complete mad respect for all the moms and dads out there. I have no idea how people are homeschooling on their daily jobs. As a new mom, I find my day is completely unpredictable and broken up into five or fifteen-minute increments of focus time, if I’m lucky. It’s very, very difficult but thankfully, my husband is now back home, so I’m able to have some baby-free moments throughout the day.

 

Pictured (Left): WFH Space 1 – The Jungle // My husband runs a sustainable furniture company so he works in our home office setup, which is fine because I prefer this room most often because of all the natural light. Bringing the power of nature in and designing with soft sculptural lighting is key in all my designs.  

Pictured (Right): WFH Space 2 – The place with the snacks // I mix it up and sit in the kitchen. Let’s face it, as a new mom my entire day is multi-tasking and also, this just brings me closer to the snacks. Inspired by a fellow pbd designer, Ian (and his husband), last night this island became our favorite family-owned sushi bar.

How have you been managing the double transition—back to work, but into this new period of remote working?

At work, we have Monday morning Zoom calls to kick off each week, as well as a call on Friday mornings with the partners, where everyone can just call in and ask questions and see how everyone’s doing. It’s a lot of constantly talking and seeing each other’s faces.

We do miss having our materials library, and just having each other around to take a gut check and ask each other’s opinions as we sketch and create palettes. I’ve been telling people to just FaceTime me so we can just talk and sketch together on our notepads. In design, there’s this constant collaborative conversation at work. Especially for me, and for creative directors and design directors in general, you’re really trying to help guide and mentor, and you hope that you’re approachable enough that someone can just pick up the phone or say, “Hey, I want to share my screen with you really quick!”

How have the closures affected your projects, given the physical nature of interior design and architecture?

We are lucky at Partners By Design, in that we’ve already been through working remotely with people across the country, and are able to jump on these calls very seamlessly. Everything in design is tactile, so to communicate our designs to our clients, it’s about packaging things up, labeling them carefully, and trying to make things very easy to understand and review.

We design a lot of offices, and specifically tech firms. Working with Twitter several years ago, the client was in San Francisco and we were in Chicago, and we met in person only a few times. Much of the design work for that project was conducted remotely. For every box of samples we sent the client, we would also try to include something with a personal touch, or something to strike up a conversation, like PBD coffee mugs, and when we’d videoconference to go over the finishes, we’d all use the same mugs to pretend like we were in the same room. Little things like that can lift your spirits up and keep you connected, which is so important right now.

Pictured: WFH coworkers! // My current WFH coworkers are both bossy and sassy, and often fall asleep on the job!  Being a new mom provides interesting challenges because let’s face it, this is a 24/7 job that breaks the day up into 15-minute intervals of getting nothing done.


How is this prolonged period of remote work changing the way you think about office spaces, and how they might evolve when they eventually reopen?

We also work with a lot of logistics companies, and their goal, basically, is density: figuring out how many people they can pack into this space, with five-foot desks, five feet apart. They thrive in that energy and want that buzz and that noise. It’s those kinds of clients that we’ve been talking a lot to, seeing how they’re doing, and how they might want to change or want to stay. Across the board, we’ve had some companies say, “Hey, we actually didn’t expect this, but our productivity levels have gone up, with everyone working from home.” They don’t have to commute, which adds back time into the day, and maybe face fewer social distractions throughout the day. With that, we’re really looking hard at how we make the comeback to the office, through flexible schedules, flexible furniture, increased spacing, and how you can still add those elements of comfort that people are going to need when they return.

Pictured: WFH desk // (Clockwise from top left) New mom tools; Yield’s terra-cotta french press; Basil from my indoor herb garden; Artwork by Kristina Micotti that just arrived in the mail; Workaday Handmade ceramic mug, Live edge bowl from a family friend with coffee m&m’s; Taco mousepad from a dear friend; A mask sewn from my friend Lynette’s upcycled clothes and bra straps, Norman Copenhagen notebook and the sharpie I actually write with; Painted City, a book about street art in Chicago’s Pilsen neighborhood; Last, Finn, never one to miss out on a treat! (Or show his ears on a zoom call!) 

Any hobbies or activities that are helping you to stay positive through this time of uncertainty?

I’m on Instagram too often, but I’ve started following @tanksgoodnews and the good news movement. There are a couple of outlets that focus on positive news—and honestly, a lot of the time, it’s more bittersweet than completely positive, but they are really beautiful stories.

Then, as a person that’s very visual and hands-on, one of the things I love to do, but haven’t had as much time to do in the past several years, is weaving. It’s just one of those things that’s simple and calming, and offers a release, because it doesn’t have to be perfect. Usually if something doesn’t turn out well, I’ll get upset with myself, and I need something right now that’s not upsetting, so weaving has been great: You learn to embrace the imperfect pieces, which end up being the most beautiful and the most interesting.

Pictured: Weaving and natural dyeing // I love the calming effect of weaving and also that I can create something that is perfectly imperfect. I just tried natural dyeing after being inspired by Cindy Zell’s lovely pieces. They have an effortless sophistication that I’m striving for. 

 

 

SHOP TALK: Home Work / Kevin Lee Yi Vol. 4

April 30, 2020

The global health crisis of the coronavirus pandemic has overturned every moment and corner of our day-to-day lives. In this new micro-series, Shop Talk: Home Work, we turn to our network of friends, colleagues and collaborators for comfort and community, and discuss how they’re adapting to work and life in this unprecedented era of uncertainty.

This week, we catch up with our friend Kevin Lee Yi, an interior designer at Rockwell Group, about juggling various projects in different countries, time zones, and vendors around the world—and why it has been necessary to stay nimble and adaptable as the ongoing pandemic evolves, taking one day at a time from his apartment in Astoria, Queens.

Dan Weissman


Kevin Lee Yi is originally from California but has been living in NYC for ten years now. After getting his MFA from the New York School of Interior Design in 2015 he started working at Rockwell Group and hasn’t tired of eating, designing or designing for those who eat.

 

Can you tell us about your role, and how you’ve been affected by the ongoing COVID-19 closures?

I’m an interior designer at Rockwell Group, and currently working on three projects—the same three I was working on before all of this happened. All of my projects happen to be in the construction phase, so luckily for me, that means nothing has been put on pause because we’re already in the thick of things. But of course, having to now work remotely, there are a lot of challenges in coordinating with the whole team and all the trades, since closures have been phased differently for a lot of us. Every week on our coordination calls, we address the different delays and issues that have come up, or may come up, as things continue to evolve with the crisis. 

What’s your current WFH setup, and how are you adapting your space to make it work in the day to day?

My home office was a work in progress for a while—I feel like I’ve finally figured out the working groove, but the immediate need was for new furniture. I needed more storage, because all the architectural materials just started piling up around me. At first, I was using a cardboard box as a filing cabinet. That worked for about a week, before it became quickly overwhelmed and inefficient, so I bought a big shelving unit to display all of the material samples, which helps me keep track of everything and stay organized.

Pictured: Kevin's makeshift material library and home office

Being in the thick of construction, and in multiple locations, how difficult has it been to work around the physical aspects of your job?

The nice thing about being an interior designer is that, while we do work digitally at our desks and on the computer, a big part of our job is tangible. We are interacting physically with a lot of finishes, construction materials, and everything in between. At Rockwell, we have a whole floor dedicated to a resource library for all of these materials, which I’d definitely taken for granted. A lot of vendors would come in to present, show new materials, and allow us to see, feel, and review those in person. I also go to showrooms and events, and I like being involved with the art and design community. I was planning to go to Salone a few weeks ago—that was postponed at first, then canceled. I also like to go to the art fairs here in Brooklyn and Manhattan, and those have all been canceled as well. For that reason, I do find myself online now a bit more, reading the daily design newsletters that come into my inbox. Whereas before, I might have just deleted them, now I actually take some time to sift through them.

The craziest thing is that in the past few months, as the virus has made its way around the world, we’ve had to shift and cycle through some of our vendors for various projects a few times, and account for delays—first from China, then over to Europe, then domestically to the U.S., before it started getting really bad here. Things were changing rapidly, just in the time that it took us to coordinate and switch to new vendors, and now some of our fabricators in China popped back up and have said they’re in a better place to resume production.

That’s a lot to keep tabs on—and it must be tough to be away from the studio’s materials library.

So many materials are still in the office, and I just wasn’t able to bring it all home. That’s been a big challenge. A lot of sourcing and decision making has been based on memory or photos, in terms of how materials and fabrics will work with each other, but the vendors have been very supportive as well, saying, “We’re still here for you, just let us know.” Everything is just taking a little bit longer. Vendors have been sending supplementary samples and range sets that we’d normally just have on hand in the office as a shared resource, but now, a lot of them are out of stock because I think there are a ton of designers out there requesting to have them at home as well. No one could have imagined it would become this difficult to get grout samples.

Have you been practicing any personal rituals to keep calm and focused, as you navigate this strange and uncertain landscape?

I might not be doing a very good job at that part. [Laughs] Honestly, I feel like time and space is just kind of a blur at the moment. I still look forward to Friday, but then, I end up working on the weekend because I’m still on three projects that are going, going, going, and I’m still working really long hours. I don’t have a commute anymore—other than, you know, the commute from my bed to my desk—which is nice, but I actually think I’m just working more now. I’ve been able to manage stress and relax in small ways through doing yoga, cooking, and being outdoors and gardening. I live in my own little apartment, and luckily have a private backyard area, so every time I need a little break, I’ll just step outside for some air.

What are you personally looking forward to most, in a post-pandemic future?

It’s been nice to have more time at home, but I also just miss other people. The other day, I was thinking about what I’d want to do once this is all through, and the first thing that came to mind was to have a party—and hug people. 

Pictured: Kevin's garden ready for a post-quarantine party

SHOP TALK: Home Work / Kristin Peck Vol. 3

April 22, 2020

The global health crisis of the coronavirus pandemic has overturned every moment and corner of our day-to-day lives. In this new micro-series, Shop Talk: Home Work, we turn to our network of friends, colleagues and collaborators for comfort and community, and discuss how they’re adapting to work and life in this unprecedented era of uncertainty.

As a co-founder and principal of the San Francisco–based lighting firm PritchardPeck, Kristin Peck was suddenly tasked with not only readjusting her own workday, but those of her team and staff, as well, as the city’s shelter-in-place order quickly took effect last month. Here, she shares how she’s managing the responsibilities and pressures of running a business—all the while strategically balancing it with motherhood and finding time to squeeze in a self-care ritual each morning.

Dan Weissman


Kristin Peck is an engineer by training and an artist at heart. Combining mastery of lighting as a craft and the uniqueness of a project’s architecture allows her to unlock a unique lighting story for each project. She believes the process of design and the relationships built along the way are just as important as the end result.

Can you tell us a bit about your firm’s work, and how you’ve found ways to adapt your business with the ongoing COVID-19 closures?

We’re lighting designers and specifiers. I co-own our company with my partner, Jody Pritchard, and we have a total of 13 people on staff. We started our firm nine years ago, and being immersed in San Francisco, we built our company on tech and this idea of flexibility. Everyone on the team works on laptops, we do everything in the cloud, and use programs like Slack. Those aspects of workflow and structure for the operations side of our company made it really seamless for us to just take our laptops home and keep things running.

Logistically, we are all set up; emotionally, it’s been a much different scenario. Our team works very collaboratively, everyone gets along and hangs out together for fun, and we really enjoy each other’s company—so despite having all the technology, it’s not exactly as it was before, and we’ve had to change the way we work a bit. Each morning at 8:45, we all get on a Zoom together, to just kickstart and bring a little structure to the workday. You can be in your pajamas or we have some show up in costume—it doesn’t matter—but to come together and get focused for the day has been great.

Are you also scheduling time in for more casual hangout time, to foster the strong social bonds of your team?

In terms of the one-on-ones or casual chats we’d normally have—we’re doing more of those, but online. We’re also doing virtual happy hours pretty regularly. Those have been great! People take their laptops into their backyards, and we just try to unwind together. Staying connected now is more important than ever in this strange, different dimension we’re currently in. A lot of people can feel very camera-shy in meetings—about half will usually turn them on. We decided as a firm that human contact, now, is really visual, so we’re being huge advocates for turning on the cameras during video chats. Using Zoom so much now, I think it’s really easy to click into one meeting and into another without any transition or break. There’s an intensity to the day that we just didn’t have before, so we’ve also been encouraging our designers to take more 15-minute breaks, especially between meetings to decompress.

Kristin's team on Zoom

Pictured: The PritchardPeck team showing face on Zoom 

As living situations can vary from person to person—whether it involves multiple roommates or being a parent—what are some ways you’ve been able to stay flexible and adjust workloads, while also ensuring the work gets done?

Essentially, we’ve all been stripped of our resources by the pandemic: No one has access to nannies, childcare, school, or grandparents. On our part, we’ve just been doing our best to be very empathetic and flexible to everyone’s needs because we’re all in the same boat. Both Jody and I have kids—I have a five-year-old and a nine-year-old. We are home-schooling and running a business all at once. We’re a very, very family-friendly firm. We know it’s a pretty rare thing for design firms to promote, and we embrace that.

People can work at the times of day that best suit their schedule, and that’s fine with us, as long as the time is accounted for. Everyone’s still targeting their hours, and we check in every day just to make sure that the company is healthy, and that our employees are healthy, and able to get the work done. But everyone has a bad day, whether you have or not have kids, everyone’s normal has been disrupted. It’s important to be careful and not feel like your situation is harder than anyone else’s. People are away from parents or family, some may have parents overseas— everyone has it hard in their own way, and I just have to keep reminding myself of that.

 

What’s your personal WFH setup at the moment?

Since Jody and I are working moms, we’ve always had home offices setup for ourselves. I already had a monitor and a camera, but our employees didn’t have that. So the day before they imposed the shelter-in-place order here in San Francisco, we went around in a truck to everyone’s homes and delivered an office chair, a monitor, and whatever they felt they needed to get properly set up at home, whether it was a mouse, their favorite coffee cup, or plants.

Pictured: Where the magic happens, Kristin's current WFH setup

 

Are there any personal strategies or rituals that you’ve found helpful in managing your stress levels?

I’m being very disciplined about my day. I block out my calendar and I just run through it. It’s choreographed to have breaks, workouts, meals, time to get outside with my kids, and to check on their homework. I also made the really smart move of investing in a Peloton bike last year—that’s been my sanity lately. The early morning is my time to bike, sweat a bit, and squeeze in an hour of work. By the time the kids are up, I’m fed, exercised, I’ve had my coffee, and have my calendar squared up for the day. I’m relaxed and ready to be a mom that is, much more patient, and less apt to project my stresses onto them. And I also schedule time into my calendar for a regular break and hugs—because everyone needs a hug.

 

Pictured: Kristin's source of sanity, her Peloton bike

SHOP TALK: Home Work / Dan Weissman Vol. 2

April 16, 2020

The global health crisis of the coronavirus pandemic has overturned every moment and corner of our day-to-day lives. In this new micro-series, Shop Talk: Home Work, we turn to our network of friends, colleagues and collaborators for comfort and community, and discuss how they’re adapting to work and life in this unprecedented era of uncertainty.

This week, we chat with Dan Weissman about how he’s finding a balance and routine between working and parenting at home, as a senior associate who manages multiple projects and junior staff, and as a husband and father of two young kids, ages 2 and 4.

Dan Weissman


Dan Weissman designs luminous environments as a Senior Associate and Director of Lam Labs at Lam Partners. He is a registered architect and award-winning lighting designer. In his free time, Dan enjoys practicing Bach on the mandolin, making art, tending to his garden and two very active children, and loves baking two sourdough loaves a week.


Dan leads the firm’s research and development efforts which includes a variety of academic, technology, and conceptual-based initiatives. In addition to his professional practice, Dan has also taught lighting and daylighting courses at the Harvard Graduate School of Design and published numerous articles and peer-reviewed daylighting research. In 2018, Dan was named as one of 40 under 40 international lighting designers by Lighting Magazine.

 

Tell us a bit about Lam Partners and your role at the firm.

Our firm has just under 30 people split between our offices here in Cambridge and in Pittsburgh, and we try to maintain a sense of a cohesiveness between the two. We renovated our space a couple of years ago and it’s a really wonderful place to work. I have a view of trees from my desk which is really nice. 

I started working at Lam Partners in 2005 right out of undergrad, then left the firm in 2008 to go to grad school. I pursued my Master’s of Architecture at the University of Michigan and got really into large-scale systems thinking, landscape ecology, and urbanism, and ended up wanting to pursue a second degree. I got into the Master’s of Design Studies program at Harvard GSD, and after that worked at Safdie Architects. I came back to Lam Partners in 2014, where I’m now a Senior Associate and the Director of Lam Labs, our experimental lab that explore things outside of typical lighting projects —it’s what AMO is to OMA, you could say—but most of my time involves managing and directing design projects.

 

What is a “typical day” of work at Lam Partners, before the pandemic, and what are some ways you’ve transitioned to working remotely?

On any given day, it’s  a mixture of sitting in digital space, either answering emails, on Slack, web conferences with clients, or designing in 3ds Max—which we use pretty heavily for all of our design study work—as well as Revit, or Rhino and Grasshopper for more advanced digital work and to conduct daylight analyses. A couple of years ago, we found that instead of traveling to a client’s office every time we wanted to have a design session, we could just jump on a web conference and bring up the 3D Max model to work through together. It’s been an incredibly efficient way to design and communicate with your client.  In the last couple of years, I’ve also been managing other people more regularly, which has been an interesting change of pace and a very rewarding addition to my work. 

One of the things that is really interesting about our current predicament is that on a day-to-day basis my work process hasn’t really changed that much, aside from the fact that now I have to get up every once in a while to wipe a four-year-old’s butt.

 

What’s your WFH setup at the moment? 

I did not win the coin flip of getting a private office at home. I have my work desk area in the corner of our basement rec room that our kids play in. My wife is an artist and has one of the bedrooms in the basement floor as her studio, so she’s been painting and also teaching art at a local high school. She’s now teaching over web conference, so, our juggle with the kids has been interesting.

Dan's WFH Setup

As a father of two kids, how has it been to balance work and parenting?

I have two very small children—one is two-and-a-half, and the other is four-and-a-half—so it’s been an interesting challenge. Luckily, we are in a good sweet spot with them: They are old enough to play with each other and keep each other occupied during the day, but young enough that they aren't missing out on substantial schooling. Their preschool has actually been incredibly proactive with sending out links and doing Facebook Live events all the time, though we sort of gave up on that stuff relatively quickly. We say that we don’t want them to be in digital space all the time, but we’re letting them watch more TV and use the iPad more than usual, just because there would be no way to manage it all otherwise. 

 

Have there been any strategies implemented at Lam Partners to help accommodate these new day-to-day challenges, particularly for parents? 

We’re still learning how to balance all of that with our regular workload. But what’s great about our office is how expectations are realistic and appropriate for folks in different stages of life. It was very clear that the parents on our team would not be able to work a 40-hour work week and stay sane—so that has been accounted for in our workload. So I’m technically expected to scale back a bit, but so far, it’s actually been okay. The kids have been relatively easy and we’ve been able to balance it, but we’ll see if that continues in the next couple of months.

 

On a personal level, what are some ways you’ve been trying to keep stress levels at bay, as the uncertainty continues?

I’ve definitely gone down some news cycle rabbit holes that have been bad for my mental health, so now I try to avoid it as much as possible. I normally listen to a lot of podcasts, but right now I can’t find any that aren’t talking about it so I’m listening to audiobooks instead.. I cook and bake for the family, and play music. The kids are also really helpful in keeping us present because they demand attention. They don’t fully understand what’s going on outside of our four walls, and aside from when they’re being a total pain in the ass, they’re really adorable and fun.

 

 

 

 

 

SHOP TALK: Home Work / Colin Williams Vol. 1

April 06, 2020

The global health crisis of the COVID-19 pandemic has overturned every moment and corner of our day-to-day lives. In this adapted micro-series, Shop Talk: Home Work, we turn to our network of friends, colleagues and collaborators for comfort and community, and discuss how they’re adapting to work and life as designers in this unprecedented era of uncertainty.

Colin Williams

Colin Williams was born in Toronto, Canada and grew up in Savannah, GA. He joined RBW in 2017 after completing a BFA of Industrial Design at the Rhode Island School of Design. He's interested in emerging technologies, the creative process, and sustainability.



In our first installation of this micro-series, we catch up with Colin Williams, a product designer on our team here at Rich Brilliant Willing. Over a Google Hangout on a recent afternoon, we spoke with Colin to ask how he’s adjusting to the ongoing closures at our studio and throughout New York City, making do with his home office setup in his Brooklyn apartment—and keeping sane in the company of three housemates.

Can you describe your role at the studio, and how you’ve been adjusting your typical day-to-day now, with the ongoing closures?

I work as one of two product designers at the studio, which can mean working on different things on different days—there’s really no one typical day, which keeps things interesting. Depending on where we are in a project, it might be prototyping, making models and sketching; or working on the computer to model some of those ideas into digital space, then 3D-printing them to bring them back into physical space, fitting together parts and working with other team members to get them a range of assets.

It’s sort of a blessing that, right now, for the projects I’m leading at the moment, I’m at a stage in the process where I’m not necessarily using a whole bunch of physical prototypes—it’s mostly digital back-and-forth right now with the vendors. And also, with this new cloud-based modeling platform, Onshape, that we’ve adopted in the past couple months, we don’t actually need a lot of processing power to run it on our own computers. It has helped keep our design process agile. I think that the biggest difference in now having to work remotely, and which is something that maybe I didn’t anticipate, is just how much can happen when you have your coworkers around you and at your disposal.


Have you found ways to fill that space of social proximity and informal gatherings?

It’s actually been really refreshing when we have video conferences going on, just to fill some kind of on-the-fly interaction. At the beginning of every week, I have a meeting directly with Theo and Mayela, our product manager, to set the expectations for the week and review the status of everything. And then beyond that, each morning we also touch base with everybody and regroup at the start of the day. Everyone on the development team gets to speak about what they’re working on. It just brings some levity and sense of community, so that the workday feels much more communal—even if we’re all working in physical isolation from one another—and for a larger purpose.


What’s your current WFH setup like—and if there were one or two pieces of equipment from the studio that you wish you could have brought home with you (however large or unfeasible)?


Pictured: Colin's current home office setup

I feel pretty lucky in the sense that, because I like to work on my personal side-projects in my off-time, my home setup is more than just a laptop. If I could have anything with me, it’d probably be one of the 3D-printers, which are such a valuable resource and would be really helpful. That, and maybe my office chair. But I have mostly everything else that I need—though it is pretty tempting to just bike on over to the studio, since I live pretty close by.

Living in Brooklyn, in general, has a lot of stimuli, and so in my own space, I’ve wanted to make it as relaxing and muted as possible while still being very utilitarian. So far, I think it’s proven successful in my time at home. This past weekend, I spent quite a lot of time cleaning shared common areas, and found myself all of a sudden scrubbing the walls and doing paint touch-ups, that sort of thing.

I have three roommates, so luckily, it’s not just me at home, all by myself in this situation, and we’ve been getting out a bit, biking—or, trying to, I should say. Cabin fever is real, so biking has been the main outlet for exercise outside of home. We’ll also do movie nights together as roommates, because if any of us have it, we wouldn’t be able to avoid catching it from one another. We haven’t necessarily dropped the six-foot social distancing rule, but among the four of us, it’s kind of understood when we’re at home together and sharing everything. We each have our own space, but it’s been really nice to have a mini community here at the apartment, even if we occasionally go a bit stir-crazy.

- Colin Williams 






Shop Talk with Irene Yu Vol. 3

March 05, 2020

In this interview series, Shop Talk, we chat with friends and collaborators of Rich Brilliant Willing on the ideas, discoveries, and inspirations that drive their design process.

 

Pictured: Palindrome 4 in Warm Bronze / Photography by Federica Carlet at 70 Pine by Lyric

From the rays of morning sunlight to the glow of lamps on our studio desks, lighting colors all aspects of each day, regulating our circadian rhythms and setting the tenor of our mood during moments of work, rest, and play. As designers and manufacturers of light, our work often takes us into a range of spaces and projects—as well as into the company of fantastic collaborators who, like the team here at Rich Brilliant Willing, share our belief in the power of light to create atmosphere.

We recently teamed with the hospitality startup Lyric to outfit its first New York City property at 70 Pine, with 132 suites across four floors in a historic Art Deco building in Lower Manhattan. Irene Yu, senior manager of interior design at Lyric, tells us how the company is rethinking hospitality with concept-driven design—taking aim at the sweet spot between a boutique hotel and an Airbnb—and discusses the inspirations and challenges of working within a landmark structure.

 

When did you join Lyric, and how would you describe the company’s approach to hospitality and design?

I joined Lyric as the senior manager of interior design about a year and a half ago. We’re a technology-enabled hospitality company that designs and operates spaces that combine and deliver local style and service like a boutique hotel, partnered with the versatility and comfort of living in an apartment. We believe we’re creating a new hospitality category that’s really responding to a lot of interesting macro trends, and our guests are really creative people—they’re connected and really value design, and of course care about experiences. They want an actual home on the road, not a hotel on the road, and design is foundational to providing that: I would say that’s the biggest differentiator for us. We believe it’s really important to have concept-driven design because it really adds to this sense of place—it provides a platform for people to connect.

 

How did 70 Pine’s rich history and distinct Art Deco architecture bear upon your overall design concept?

Art Deco is a design period marked by a lot of luxurious elements. If you go into the lobby at 70 Pine, it’s marble on marble, layered with decorative motifs; it’s a really grand display of luxury that’s stood the test of time. For us, it was important to not only research these historic details, but also understand the people who actually occupied the building. The first tenant was the Cities Services Company, a big utilities electricity provider for New York and several cities in the U.S. Many of the building’s decorative motifs tie into that by evoking power, industry, and electricity.

Pictured: Pastille Disc in Breccia / Photography by Federica Carlet at 70 Pine by Lyric

When we were developing the concept for this location, it became clear to us that it was all about understanding how Cities Services harnessed and delivered power for the residents of New York—and then, translating that to provide a place where people can come harness their own internal energy, and turn that into actionable power and disperse it out there into the world. Copper also came up as a big inspiration point for our material and color palette. Copper is used to conduct electricity, and not only does it symbolize connectivity, it’s a symbol of New York; beneath her layers of beautiful green and turquoise patina, the Statue of Liberty is made of copper.

 

Pictured: Palindrome 6 in Warm Bronze / Photography by Federica Carlet at 70 Pine by Lyric

What were some of the challenges of working within a landmark structure?

The 70 Pine Building Lobby is historically landmarked and provided a lot of context and fertile ground for our concept. While our spaces were not historically landmarked, we were limited to what we could do and did not engage in any hard construction. The project mostly consisted of  finish upgrades, furniture, lighting, paint, wallcovering, and we created some beautiful custom millwork in our Loft Space, but we didn’t really do any wall-wiring in the suites. And because the spaces were an office conversion from way back when, you have these super long apartments that can feel sort of cave-like without the right amount of lighting, so we really needed to come up with a portable lighting solution that worked with all the existing electrical outlet locations. Cue RBW.

 

 

Pictured: Pastille Disc in Breccia (left) and Pastille Collar in Breccia (right) / Photography by Federica Carlet at 70 Pine by Lyric

How did these constraints, as well as your overarching design concept for 70 Pine, lead you to working with RBW?

I’ve had RBW bookmarked for quite some time, and when it came time to line up our vendors for this project, it was the perfect opportunity. It was so fun working with the team. The RBW team was really willing to work with us on these design constraints to come up with a creative solution, and together we landed on a custom plug-in version of the Pastille sconce for each of our suites. That willingness was great, and they brought a personal relationship and human aspect to the project which was awesome; I love working with Liz, the director of sales. The amount of color and finish options RBW offers is also incredible—not a lot of companies have that range of capabilities—and there’s a quality to their lighting that’s really warm, consistent, and distinct. 

For the lobby space, I wanted to include a copper fixture with a more patinated, colorful matte finish, and RBW had just come out with a new finish called Brecchia that ended up being perfect for us. We used that finish with the Palindrome fixture, which we felt also spoke to this formal language and vernacular of industry and electricity, but in a modern way that felt fresh and dynamic. We also have projection art in the lobby, and the modular design of Palindrome gave us the flexibility to install in a visually exciting way, without impeding on the projector throw—it ended up working perfectly.

 

Lighting is this beautiful and complex medium, but it’s also an object that brings gravitas into a space. When it’s done right, it really affects the guest experience and can be powerfully transformative.

 

More broadly, what role does light play for you, as an architect and interior designer?

Lighting is a multifaceted but nebulous tool. I was always taught, when you design with light, to first think about your floor plan and imagine it as this dark room. Then, you start spotlighting the important features and layering in different kinds of light, understanding where your overhead and task lighting is occurring, and of course, thinking about function: We do pride ourselves in providing guests with actual workspace at Lyric, and making sure there is enough lighting for our guests is really important. 

I think lighting is the hardest thing to get right: When you do, I think it’s very, very clear that you’ve got it right, but when it’s wrong, it can be incredibly unforgiving. It’s completely foundational to designing spaces: Lighting can reveal all the weak points of not only the design of the space, but of every design decision you’ve made. As a medium, you have to think about so many things: color, the amount of light, whether it’s setting the right mood or tone, how vibrant you need or want the space to be, which textures you want to bring out, and the finish that’s best for achieving that… the list goes on. Lighting is this beautiful and complex medium, but it’s also an object that brings gravitas into a space. When it’s done right, it really affects the guest experience and can be powerfully transformative.

 - Irene Yu

Irene Yu is a commercial interior designer and senior manager at Lyric. With over ten years of experience, she specializes in creating engaging, scalable design concepts. She believes in delivering cohesive and dynamic experiences through the power of collaborative design.

 

 

 

 

 

RBW Team Holiday Party 2019

January 03, 2020

The end of the year provides an opportunity to reflect on a year of growth and hard work.

In the final month of 2019, we gathered the team for our annual holiday party. Amidst the atmospheric glow of a candlelit space, accomplishments were celebrated, team members toasted to the end of the year and danced until the lights came on.

At RBW, we believe in the power of light to create atmosphere and this is the team behind it.

Cheers to 10 Years

December 19, 2019

To conclude our 10 year anniversary, we hosted a Dive Bar Crawl around the Lower East Side—the origin of RBW

We could not have reached our 10-year milestone if it was not for the support of our loyal and supportive design partners. As a thank you, we invited our top supporters on a dive bar crawl to revisit some of our former watering holes on a nostalgic walk down memory lane. 

We started off at Loreley Beer Garden, a beer garden in the style of Kolsch halls in Cologne that were blocks away from our first studio in a basement in Lower East Side, NY. Ten years ago, the three founders—Theo Richardson, Charles Brill, and Alex Williams, would sit at this beer hall drinking Kolsch while sketching out product ideas on coasters. The “Rich Brilliant Willing” name was also born in the Lower East Side around cofounder Charles' kitchen table.

It was a fun night filled with beers, laughs, and nostalgia. Thank you all for 10 great years and cheers to what the future has in store for RBW for the next 10. 

 

                       

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