“I like practical and useful
things as well as fine and
Thomas O’Brien is an interior and home furnishings
designer based in New York City. He is the founder
and President of Aero Studios, one of America’s
leading design firms, and the proprietor of Aero
Ltd., the iconic home boutique that is the retail
face of the studio, open to the public at the
Since establishing Aero in 1992, O’Brien has
been celebrated for translating modernism into
a warm and livable style. From private residences
to commercial properties, product design to
brand and fine art consulting, his work is known
for its collected, vintage elegance, even as it is
sympathetic to the most practical ideas of home.
His sense of the modern comes from filtering
together elements from different historical origins,
in combinations that can seem at once familiar
and revealing: the shared simplicity between
20th century and classical forms; the balance
of rustic and refined, comfort and rarity.
In such connections and in his love of the local
O’Brien is an American designer at heart. He draws
from the farmhouse as much as the townhouse,
and he is a lifelong student of American vernacular
antiques and architecture as a foil for modern
generations of design. His mix of the modern and
traditional extends to the eponymous Thomas
O’Brien brand of home furnishings, with furniture,
lighting, tableware, textiles, carpets, and bedding
and bath collections for both fine and daily living.
As both merchant and designer, O’Brien chooses
the old-world model of a design enterprise: keeping
a one-of-a-kind store with a curated viewpoint
as the anchor to a popular lifestyle brand. This
approach allows him to continually create a world
unto itself for people to discover, and a laboratory
in which to work out the ideas that find their way
into his many projects and interiors.
Thomas O’Brien published his first, best-selling
book, American Modern, in 2010. His follow-up,
Aero: Beginning to Now, was published
in 2013. He lives in New York City and Long Island.
- "I really think of myself as a collector first. Everything I do is about finding things to share."
- "I am interested in how to bring things of the past into better design for the time of now."
Tradition and Creation in Japanese Architecture
This book has been a continuing source of
inspiration to me. I have always loved the color
and feel of the bookcloth cover and the simplicity
of the layout. It is out of print now, though a few
copies pop up online every now and then.
I have an original portrait of my handprint that was
made by my friend and neighbor, Gary Schneider.
It sits on my mantel at my Long Island home.
We have had a large format version made
for the store, and we often commission
personalized versions for our store and
interior design clients.
Classic Aero Tote
One of the first original items I created for the store
nearly 20 years ago, the Aero tote has retained a
timeless quality. I use it all the time , and we still sell
it today, unchanged from the first production.
This sculpture was shown to me by one of my favorite antique dealers, Joel J. Mathieson. I have a collection of framed portraits on my apartment walls, and I feel this ancient bust added to a modern feeling of portraiture in the space. At the same time, I love its mysterious sense of history.
Rand McNally Star Chart
This large-format celestial map has been with me in all of my apartments in New York. I picked it up many years ago at a yard sale for $75, and haven't been able to find another one like it since.
I gravitate to industrial objects, and we always
have a choice selection available for sale at Aero.
As inspiration and resource for new product design,
they populate the behind-the-scenes areas
of the studio as well.
A PERSONAL HISTORY
Whenever I am asked about the work of what I do, I tend to
point out that, basically, I am
a shopkeeper and a homemaker.
My designing comes out of those twin worlds, public and private, and makes up the two parts of the business that is Aero: a studio and a store. I am lucky to create homes and the products that go into them. And now, this online Aero that is a different window onto those worlds. A third way in design that is both immediate and as meandering and full of discovery as an actual walk through the physical place of Aero, in New York City.
I’d always dreamed of living in New York. Eventually I did come here to go to art school; to study at the museums, absorb the architecture. Both this city and the wonderful training I received exist in the way I think about design. The location of Aero was chosen for its connection to the downtown world of artists and galleries that I first witnessed during school. Our first clients and many since have come from that world of creative arts. We started here and we are still here, twenty years later.
Designing anything, from the details of a lamp to the interiors of a whole estate, is still an art project to me. It is always a learning process: fun, hopeful, considered, and a little bit reverent. It is to know the past in order to invent something new for the time of now.
Designing beautiful graphics and typography; taking constant pictures; writing fine words… these are parts of the art project, too. I have always been interested in graphic design, printworks, storytelling, and of course, photography. And these elements have always been part of how Aero has been presented over the years. I am endlessly fascinated with the idea of the library and frequently build ones for my clients (both the room and the collection). I have written two books of my own. It may be old fashioned in one way, but I still like the true object of a piece of film, or
a book, or an elegant sheet of stationery. Or, the singular location of a special store and the collections in it. These things slow us down. They turn us away from the ever-present screens and speed of modern life. They hold history. They are personal.
The challenge, and the art, of making Aero exist online was to capture something of those physical layers and history: to invite you to slow down and wander through stories and among pictures. To linger and
to return. I think of it as a new kind of library. A shop in the making.
And a home away from home. Welcome.