Yabu Pushelberg's Greatest Miami Hits
by linda lee
The Yabu Pushelbergdesigned Miami Edition hotel will have a revolving bookcase
You can blame Yabu Pushelberg for taking the jellyfish out of the Hotel Victor. “They’re gone,” says Glenn Pushelberg, partner with George Yabu in the interior design firm that bears their names. That’s because Yabu Pushelberg does not do gimmicks. Thompson Hotels hired them to turn the Victor (Jacques Garcia’s Persian whorehouse fantasy, complete with marine invertebrates) into the Thompson Ocean Drive, which will open next year. And since there is no one Yabu Pushelberg “look”—as would be the case with Philippe Starck or Kelly Wearstler—most visitors likely won’t even recognize that Yabu Pushelberg is doing a number of highprofile hotels in Miami and environs.
For instance, Miami Edition, the Ian Schrager/Marriott International hotel that will replace the Seville at 2901 Collins Ave. next year, brought in Yabu Pushelberg as the design team. “They are great guys, very talented,” Schrager says of the 110-member firm that began 32 years ago in Toronto when the two were interior design graduates of Ryerson University. “Probably one of the only firms that was able to perfectly balance great design with commercial aspects. They hit the sweet spot right between the two: great design and practical, functional, commercial work.”
Want to know what the Miami Edition will look like? Check out the first Edition hotel (now The Modern Honolulu), in Waikiki: no tacky, beachy, ukulele-and-lei themes— just sleek curves and cool glamour.
Biggest of all, Yabu Pushelberg did the interiors for the new St. Regis Bal Harbour Resort, a 243-room hotel that is not shy about displaying its luxury. “It’s not your first reaction that they did the St. Regis, but when you’re told they did it, you say, OK! They adapt their style to each place,” says Stacy Shoemaker Rauen, executive editor of Hospitality Design magazine. The St. Regis Bal Harbour building, designed by Sieger Suarez Architectural Partnership, puts bathrooms, closets, utility rooms, ballrooms, and conference rooms on the street side, then generously faces the hotel rooms toward the ocean. It is the size of the hotel rooms that appeals to Yabu. “It’s wonderful,” he says. “You can float the furniture. You don’t have to shove it against the walls.”
Despite their reputation for quiet and sophisticated comfort, the two men are happy to throw in some glam splashes. Rauen says that “they create luxurious spaces that are a sensory experience.” Take the entry to the St. Regis, a Versailles takeoff with multiple reflective walls that do anything but direct a weary traveler to a check-in desk. “You mean our hall of mirrors?” Yabu says. “It’s like a gracious home, a promenade.” Pushelberg adds: “You may get lost, but it’s a happy distraction.” And then there are the Chinese God’s Flower floors—black marble marked with small gold clusters. “At first they told us there was no more,” Pushelberg says. “Then they found the quarry and decided there was enough left. We got it all.”
“Getting it all” was, of course, expensive. “This was started years before the recession,” Pushelberg says apologetically. “Money wasn’t a huge issue. Today you would be hard-pressed to find anyone who would OK that.” Paul James, global brand leader of St. Regis Hotels and Resorts and The Luxury Collection, seconds that sentiment: “In the States, it’s going to be 10 years before anything like this is built again.”
Yabu and Pushelberg have been coming to Miami for 15 years, since they bought what Pushelberg describes as “a Florida bungalow on Bay Road” and turned it into a modern take on Miami living. They also have homes in Toronto (where they ripped the back out of an unassuming house to expose it to a steep ravine), in Manhattan, and in the Hamptons. Among their first ventures in America was the bold W New York – Times Square hotel in 2001. Probably one of their most out-there projects, the property features a glowing resin bar upstairs and a giant rippling wall behind a white terrazzo staircase in the Blue Fin restaurant downstairs. Their design for the Tiffany & Co. store on Wall Street, completed in 2007, could be seen as their first iteration of the St. Regis “hall of mirrors.”
They would love to do more work in Mexico and Central and South America; Yabu Pushelberg designed both Mexico’s intimate Las Alcobas hotel and The St. Regis Mexico City Hotel and Residences, and they have another project underway in the heart of Rio de Janeiro. Pushelberg ticks off their projects around the globe: “China, of course. India, Japan, the Middle East, Milan, Italy, Kuwait, Paris.” They do stores, restaurants, hotels—is there such a thing as time off for the pair? “There’s not a strong distinction between what we do [for work] and what we like to do,” says Yabu.
PHOTOGRAPHS BY EVAN DION (MIAMI EDITION); COURTESY OF THOMPSON HOTELS (THOMPSON OCEAN DRIVE)