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.
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