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Designing Host | Glenn Pushelberg

He's kept busy by clients like Tiffany, but designer Glenn Pushelberg still has plenty of parties.

As half of the design team Yabu Pushelburg, based in Toronto and New York City, Glenn Pushelberg has created modernist spaces as diverse as the airy, serene Four Seasons Marunouchi in Tokyo and the playfully striped Cosmos restaurant in Minneapolis; he's currently updating the Tiffany flagship store in Manhattan. Pushelberg is equally innovative when it comes to throwing parties. Here he talks about how he applies his talents to entertaining.

What have been your most extravagant parties? At our staff Christmas party this year, we had a 1930s decadence theme based on the movies The Night Porter and Cabaret. We transformed a studio space into a cocktail lounge and had a peep show at the entrance and cabaret performances for three hours. All the guests dressed up, and the bartenders were shirtless and wore bowler hats. We started late, at 10 p.m., and kept going until 5 a.m. We served breakfast and had cabs to take people home. Right now, we're working on an idea for a wig party. Wigs transform the way people act. And when you switch wigs, it's wild to see what happens.

Tell me about a great party you've attended. I went to one at an apartment that's all black and white, and the hosts asked everyone to wear only white. It's great to be chic, but to do it in a way that joins everyone together and acts as a point of conversation.

What plates and platters do you use? My favorite plates are Calvin Klein's "Platinum" ($52 each; 800-294-7978)—they're like blank canvases for displaying food. For serving platters, I'll pick a variety of shapes and colors. For example, I'll use a long, black one for a side of Cajun seared salmon or salt-roasted duck. Then I'll add sleek, architectural serving pieces, like Georg Jensen's "Copenhagen" stainless steel salad set ($105; 212-759-6457).

What are the best hostess gifts? It's important to bring something, and let's hope it's not a bottle of wine! The other night I bought some of my favorite cookies, Belgian florentines, from Pusateris, a great Toronto food shop (1539 Avenue Rd.; 416-785-9100). A beautiful little book is nice too. I just gave a friend Yves Klein by Sandra Stich. Klein is the French conceptual artist who created his own color, International Klein Blue, which I love. I have a crystal bowl in a similar shade, Elsa Peretti's crystal "Thumbprint" for Tiffany ($175; 800-843-3269).

How do you choose cocktails? I try to think seasonally. In spring, I'll do a Bloody Caesar—it's a Canadian Bloody Mary made with Clamato—with a garnish of Thai barbecue shrimp and an edamame bean. Tom Collinses are good in the summer. Also, I love shots of really great tequila late at night. A friend recently brought me a bottle of Con Orgullo, which you can only get in Mexico. When I use Moser's "Rainbow Bar" glasses, almost any drink looks great ($75 each; 800-267-2155).

Are you ever inspired by travel? We've been in Tokyo, doing a restaurant called Imaiya for the company FoodScope. They've just opened the sushi place Megu in Manhattan (62 Thomas St.; 212-964-7777). So lately I've been into anime—movies like Astro Boy, Tatsuo Sato's Cat Soup and any animation by Rumiko Takahashi—she's become one of the richest women in Japan. I can imagine having a Japanese-inspired party where you remove all the furniture, sit on the floor on tatami mats and eat off low tables—they could be just plywood covered with fabric.

Do you have any restaurant-design tips that can be applied to home entertaining? At a Toronto restaurant we designed called Bymark (66 Wellington St. W; 416-777-1144), diners enter at the bar then head downstairs to the main dining room. At home, you want to have two separate areas for cocktails and dining. You might start a party with cocktails out on the deck, go to the dining room for the meal and then have coffee and after-dinner drinks in front of the fireplace in the living room. You need to decorate all these spaces, because you don't want people to stay at the dining room table all night.

What about when you have a big party? Moving the furniture around is key. Be adventurous and push the dining table against the wall so it becomes a buffet. Set up the bar at the opposite end of the dining room so not everyone gathers in one place. And it doesn't have to look like a bar—you can use a desk or a table.

How do you create ambience for a big party? "Think grand. If you have a deck, fill it with torches in the summer. If it's a Christmas party, put up a half a dozen trees, or place one in every corner, so it smells like Christmas."

What music do you like to play at parties? For a party of 60 or 70, I'll bring in a DJ to play dance music. For a smaller group, I'll put on something eclectic, like Pink Martini; they perform everything from "Que Sera Sera" to French jazz.

How do you light a room for parties? For intimate get-togethers, use the fireplace and keep everything candlelit. At Takashimaya, I found ceramic votive holders with a great texture, like tree bark ($25 each; 212-350-0100). Keep the lighting low and centered on the sitting area. People are drawn to light and fragrances. Scented candles, like Sicilian Fig & Basilic by Mizensir, my favorite, are calming ($70 each from Boutique Sérénité; 416-924-6398).

What do you wear when you entertain? I think D2 is a great men's clothing line for fun and sexy parties. If you're aiming for casual chic, I'd choose a pair of loafers from Bottega Veneta ($450; 800-362-1715) and a Balenciaga shirt; if you're going for total comfort, like at a barbecue, then it's retro Nikes with Hollister surfer pants.

How does your entertaining style reflect your design philosophy? The most successful parties are dynamic; they mix eras and influences in the themes. The same theory holds for interiors: Don't say "We're going to do '60s Italian today." It's all about creating balance and contrast—putting a heavy coffee table, like a vintage mirrored piece by Fontana Arte, with a more modern lounge chair like the "Carlisle" chair George Yabu and I designed with IFC Nienkamper (from $2,615; 416-362-3434).

Published July 2004
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