Materials and finishes for one-of-a-kind furnishings
As an extension of the design studio, the Aero store is in many ways the most creative outlet for my style. Essentially I treat the store like a client residence, but one that changes and lets me experiment and explore from season to season with different furniture and settings. It is an ongoing, open-ended design project. For this reason, I often call the store my constant imaginary client.
And so the store is designed as an interior, using special, one-of-a-kind furnishings. From the earliest days of Aero, this has meant reinventing and customizing antiques, especially through very selective refinishing. In addition, we create small-run, custom upholstery, and, we always produce a selection of our limited edition Aero totes, trays, and lamps. All of these things are specially hand-made in New York City by local artisan studios and craftspeople, just as we would do for a client on special projects.
As I find vintage furniture and lighting, there is a constant process of collecting, saving, and combining sets of things to refurbish as a group. Once a group is assembled, it becomes the basis of our next floor plan. Periodically throughout the year, I meet with my store staff to decide on the palette for incoming pieces. In the old days, I used to take fifteen to twenty wood samples from the studio, and then line these choices up, from light to dark. That’s how we would begin. At this point we have drawers and drawers of flat files with material samples that come from all the projects and product design that we do. The options are much wider, but the editing process is still the same. From light to dark, samples are pulled together into trays, including wood and paint finishes, fabrics, leathers, trims, and hardware. Some are classics. One of the tiniest little samples in the trays is the original transparent white finish that I first used on the floors of my apartment. It has been whittled down time and again, to now barely an inch long and three inches wide, after years of cutting to show in client presentations.
I’ve always liked combining opposites, in ranges of light and dark, cool and warm, polished and textured. The combination of ivory and ebonized finishes that I often use is what I call a “saddleshoe” effect. The name comes from a favorite photograph of vintage saddleshoes that has hung in the conference room since the very beginning of Aero. The cerused woods from the first years of the store alternate now with a newer range of smooth, cool, dry, pale grey paint treatments that I’ve developed. Deeper brown, natural shades come from favorite species of walnut, mahogany, and raw oak. Shine is added with crystal, silver, and nickel.
Design sessions can take hours, assigning each piece its proper materials and finish until the group hangs together as a whole. These choices might grow out of what the furniture requires, always an unpredictable element. A group of vintage-style two-tone finishes might prevail, or a set of matte, waxy paint colors with a few pieces in super-high shine. Special bookcloths and vintage leathers that I’ve saved get brought out for a certain edition of lamps or totes. Winter velvets give way to summer linens. A mix of rich cobalt and powdery cloud blue follows a period of earthy khaki and beige.
Original products can be recycled into new motifs. The first Aero trays, for example, were made to hold tissue paper at the cash-wrap counter. Now they have become a signature item of the store, and even the oval of their handles has been repurposed in the design of the current batch of tissue paper and shopping bags. Many store pieces are also regenerated like this into new products for my Thomas O’Brien collections.
In this way, every new generation of the store has its own unique direction that moves the whole company forward.