Friday, October 23, 2009

Interview with Thomas O'Brien

Melissa and I were asked if we would like to meet Thomas O'Brien. "But of course" we said. He was so kind to us when we were introduced. He even asked if we would like to have an interview with him. We were thrilled and met up with him the next morning. "Are we in a dream Melissa, are we really talking to Thomas O'Brien?" What a sweet and patient man he is. Here is the interview with Thomas O'Brien.

Thomas O'Brien is a designer that has cutting edge style combining vintage with a modern design. His work incorporates antiques with a mixture of livable modern. He calls this design style "traditional modern."

Do you have any new products launching in this 2009 market?
Yes, I have a number of new products out in this market. There is the Austin Floral stoneware made by the historic company Reed & Barton in Indigo and Ivory color ways. To compliment this beautiful stoneware he is debuting a majolica addition to this line. It is a simple unpainted ivory glaze, with the Austin motif in high relief. It is being produced by Bordallo Pinheiro, one of the finest majolica houses in Portugal. The china has a companion flatware that has a wonderful bee motif . O'Brien's attention to detail can be seen with the smallest detail and he has an open bee on the serving spoon which is so fun.
He has a new bedding group called"Espresso Pinstripe." It is menswear inspired; coats, shirts, pants and jackets. This is now available from Target.
He will have a new product line of furniture next year that is inspired from his own collection in his guest house libary. He lives in a restored school house with its very own bell tower on Long Island. The new products will have upholstery, and furniture for the dining room, living room and bedroom. He said that "things I have had or lived with always help me design new products."
For the first time ever this season he has a suite of crystal chandeliers named Verona, through Visual Comfort." Make sure you view the collection at Visual Comfort" Which of course we did. It was spectacular. Verona was three years in the making,it is made with cut-and-rock crystals. Will have a whole post on this wonderful new lighting line that also expands his range of functional-to-stylish architectural lights for ceiling and wall application.

Were did you grow up and how has it influenced the way you design?
I grew up in Endicott, NY, the town where IBM was started. I was greatly influenced by IBM, since it was a company town. Many of my family members worked for the company including my father. I can remember going to the cafeteria and climbing in the space craft they had. The order of that company shaped me. When I later walked into the Target offices, it reminded me of the IBM offices, and the management of Target also had the IBM feel. Everything in Target has so much consideration for design. Everything is sampled and then resampled. The set-up for store lighting and how it will be laid out is tested in a sample room. There is a "planogram room" where products are looked at and set up in a store like setting, essentially a mock store. Everything is designed, this is the way of IBM, test and design until it is right, until it is perfect. I am always in the Target store. I am so enthusiastic about the store, I have even been asked if I would like to sign up for a job by the staff on the floor. One time I was spotted in the bedding section and I had 18 employees peeking at me and running away so they would not be seen.

What is your work and school history?
I graduated from The Cooper Union in New York. I worked for Mario Burrata for 6 weeks and then decided to send my resume to Jeff Walker, creative director for Ralph Lauren. Within a week I was hired, and I worked with Jeff for four and a half years at Ralph Lauren. We worked on the Bedford, NY home of Ralph Lauren. We traveled to London and Paris to buy antiques. Jeff Walker was the original creator of the Ralph Lauren look, and he was the creator of the blue and white look walking on the dock. He established all of that theater of Ralph Lauren. Jeff passed away before the Bedford house was completed and I could not get back into the company again. Things changed and it was time for me to move on. I opened Aero in 1990-1991, and I designed vases and votive candles for Tiffany during that time as well. Waterworks was next, with the Aero collection. Hickory Chair established the first design collection with me, so the launch was a big deal. I also worked for Marshfields, which was a fantastic store. While at Marshfields they were watching me for Target, where I now have a full home collection. I also have a line of lighting with Visual comfort "have you gone down to their show room yet?" Lee Jofa has my fabric line and Safavieh has my rug collection.

Where are your favorite places to shop?
I love going to the Salvation Army/Goodwill, but no one will go with me. I love to buy vintage clothing. A lot of my design inspiration comes from the color combinations that I find in vintage clothing. Antique malls are also a favorite. I have so many storage unit's filled with antiques.

What is your favorite part of the business?
My store Aero is my favorite part of the design business for me. I am happiest when I am in the store. If I had to pick anything it would be owning and running Aero.

Do you have corporate clients?
Yes I have corporate clients that include restaurants and store designs for William Sonoma, Pottery Barn, and Donna Karen.

We see a number of photographs of dogs and a cat around the Thomas OBrien show room for Hickory Chair. Can you tell us about them? (We really started the interview talking about his animals and ended the conversation about his animals.) They are extremely interesting to us of course.
Yes those are my pets. Esmeralda is the beautiful and elegant Bluepoint Siamese. I cannot leave money around without her tearing it up. She also loves to pull the push pins out of my bulletin board in the city apartment. This always makes me so nervous because I am afraid the dogs will find the push pins. I have a Maltese named Elcy Jones. She saved my first Cairn Terrier Buddy's life with all of her mothering. She is always in charge. My second Cairn Terrier is Totie O'Hara, who is the baby of the family.

Images from the Hickory Chair showroom:

Austin Floral stoneware group in Indigo and Ivory color ways, as well as the new addition Majolica in ivory-cream glaze

Bee Serving Spoon

Flatware in bee motif.

New bedding line Espresso Pinstripe

Totie O'Hara
Elcy Jones
Restored school house with bell tower, with black and white tulips.
Front door of school house.
Buddy and Elcy Jones.
Thomas O'Brien
The City apartment

Esmerald loves to pull out all the push pin from the Bulletin Board
Thomas's famous horned rimmed glass, which he takes off on his trips to Target.

Beautiful interior shots of Aero. Were Thomas O'Brien features limited edition pieces and antiques.

Hickory Chair Interiors by Thomas O'Brien featuring two furniture collections" The Thomas O'Brien Collection" and "The TOB Collections" all American bench made.

Melissa and I would like to thank Thomas O'Brien for all of his time and such thoughtful answers to our questions. It was a great pleasure to meet Thomas O'Brien.

*Images compliments of Thomas O'Brien, Chic Coles, House Beautiful, Hickory Chair, A Life More Fabulous


Donna said...

What a great all the photos!!!


Thanks for a great interview!

Kristin said...

The bee flatware and that striped lamp have me swooning. Lovely interview!

Erin said...

Great interview!!! His animals are super-cute!

Padgett Hoke said...

ahh I love that you have the rosette on for the interview... whoo hoo! not only exciting about that, but great interview!

Pink to Green said...

Job well done! What a great trip!

Sweet Nothings said...

lucky ducks! how amazing!

Laura Casey Interiors said...

Fabulous interview and great pictures!

A Life More Fabulous said...

What a lovely interview, well done!

Chic Coles (Cole Design) said...

Thank you all so much. Great to hear from you. He was so nice.

Blair said...

Speechless! Love him and his home is one of my all time favorites. Well done interview indeed.

Paloma {La Dolce Vita} said...

This was such a great interview! Isn't he amazing? So talented and sweet. I love that his approach to design is so thoughtful. He is a designer's designer.

Lisa said...

I have always loved his beautiful I love them even more! What a fantastic interview...more designers should book interviews with Chic Coles. You all are so knowledgeable & so warm & friendly. You know all the right questions to ask & always bring out the best in those you meet.
xoxo Lisa

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