Since leaving their day jobs as architects to found their namesake studio, Jean and Oliver Pelle, turned what were once several smaller studios into a burgeoning company headquarters. With a singular design sensibility and a growing collection of furniture, lighting and products PELLE is a true testament to the importance of choosing the right partners.
So before PELLE was founded you were both working as architects. In your former careers were you already designing products for the projects you were working on?
Yes, many architects do. As project architects in our respective offices we had to sometimes develop the complete design for any given project. That usually entails a whole range of scales – it can be as large as the overall site design or as small as the construction details of cabinetry and wood paneling, to name just a few examples. Sometimes this included special features like sculptural water fountains or custom light fixtures in a building’s corridor. In architecture though these ideas are always in context of the larger project vocabulary and are rarely considered a stand-alone ‘product’. The chances to work on these sorts of special projects were always very welcomed but they were also quite rare.
The follow up question to this is were the original PELLE products designed from your experience as architects and having a sense of what was missing in the marketplace?
We learned a lot during our time as architects and it certainly affected the way we work and think today. When we started PELLE we meant it as a new endeavor and as a bit of a departure from what we were doing before. This time we were not working under someone else’s direction, but rather we were looking to explore our own ideas. Several projects like the Egsu Dining Table or the Entry Console originated from us looking for something for our home.
Our ideas about lighting are a bit more oriented towards what we think we can add to the marketplace that allows our products to stand out. Jean’s first version of the Bubble Chandelier goes back to 2008 where she published it as a DIY article. Back then no one used cotton cord as a decorative feature in modern lighting. The material combination was unique and the lights offered a level of craft and detail that was uncommon at the time. In more general terms though we do not really analyze what is missing on the marketplace but rather look for opportunities where we can articulate our own point of view.
As PELLE has grown, the array and scale of your work has gotten really diverse with products ranging from furniture and lighting to beautiful soaps. When you’re working on a new design is there a conscious effort to make sure each piece is cohesive within your collection or does this just happen naturally?
We do have moments where we think about our work in those terms. There is a certain economic logic of why one would want to specialize in one particular field, but our interests are broader than that. We want to learn new things with every project and we like to push ourselves. It feels more rewarding in the end. It opens up the design process and makes it less predictable to us.
Ideas of ‘cohesion’ often get confused with notions of ‘style’. Style is typically more marketable since there is an obvious relationship between things. Our work so far has had many different expressions but we hope that people recognize our approach and sensibilities in the work we produce. So maybe ‘sensibility’ is a better word to describe what unites our work.
Despite the occasional post rationalization, we do not really theorize about work or design intent ahead of actually designing. We rather look for meaning in the piece and the process itself. We judge our work and ask the question if the design is beautiful. Beauty we find is a very important idea and is not just a matter of superficial/visual preferences. A design object connects on some emotional level when it means something to the person. It is this sort of connection we are looking for.
Looking at your studio and showroom in Red Hook it seems like you’ve really been able to grow organically here. What brought you to this neighborhood initially and what has kept you here over the years?
We came to Red Hook when we needed a larger place to live with the birth of our first daughter. We regularly biked through the area and always loved it. Living here seemed a natural extension of that. Jean rented her first small studio right across the street from where we lived. We have been able to grow over the years by renting our neighboring studio spaces. Three years ago we connected them into one studio with distinct areas of production with a showroom on the second floor of the building.
Beyond its natural charm and still reasonable rent prices, Red Hook is a concentration of manufacturing and craftsperson/maker. We have made many contacts here, which we are still using for the production of our lighting fixtures and furniture.
Lastly, for anybody out there who sees what PELLE is doing and says to themselves, that’s what I want to do, what advice would you give them and what are the things they need to know that might not be so apparent from the outside looking in?
That is a tough question to answer. Everyone’s experience is or will be very different. We feel lucky that we have had the opportunities to grow and make a real company out of this. In the end though, it took a lot of work to get to this point. We don’t mean it in a self-congratulatory sort of way but we mean to call attention to the important yet often mundane daily tasks of running a studio. The majority of time goes into management of our staff and projects, tracking down invoices, coordinating schedules and the like. It is a long list of tasks. We have to make sure everyone has what they need to do their job. Actually sitting down to design feels like a luxury and is time hard-earned. It also really helps to have some prior work experience to learn how to work through problems quickly and efficiently, meet deadlines, to communicate well with others, and in general just to have a good attitude towards work.