Where I Work: PELLE 2017

Just over 3 years ago, we visited the offices of married design duo, Jean and Oliver Pelle, who formed their eponymous studio PELLE back in 2011. Since we last checked in with them, a lot has changed! Just a few months ago, the pair moved their design brand from Brooklyn’s Red Hook to Manhattan’s Flatiron neighborhood. The move brings more space for their vision to grow and expand while also offering a stunning showroom that will make you want to live a simple life surrounded by nothing but beautiful things. Each piece of theirs is a work of art, and strategically placed together, the work eloquently displays their thoughtful vision. Take a look at their brand-new showroom and workshop in this month’s Where I Work.

What is your typical work style?

We try to be as organized and efficient as we can when we’re at work. We’re married and have 2 small kids so we’re constantly juggling work, school and family schedules throughout the week. We try to stay focused during the time that we’re in the studio because we know once we step outside we just won’t have the time! These days, we block out afternoons throughout the week for “creative time” so that we can work uninterrupted. We just started this, so we’ll see!

Photo by Georgia Nerheim Photography

What’s your studio/work environment like?

We moved our studio/showroom from Red Hook Brooklyn to Manhattan in September this year. The new space was completely raw so we had the opportunity to build it out to our needs. With the move came a huge purge of all things that we had collected over the years in our old space in Red Hook. So for the time being, our new space is very orderly and neat. A lot of thought went into the layout of the space and everything now has its place. Since a 1/3 of the space is our showroom, it’s also important to keep a presentable overall appearance of the studio at all times. And we feel it makes for a better work environment.

Photo by Georgia Nerheim Photography

How is your office organized/arranged?

In our space, there are six bays that are roughly 50 feet by 15 feet. Two of those bays are dedicated showroom space, one for design & sales office, and the three remaining bays are for our working areas which includes lighting assembly areas, a finishing/tool room, a staff dining lounge & kitchen, a shipping area, and the Project Room where we do our creative work. All the rooms more or less flow into one another and it’s all pretty open; we don’t really have doors into rooms except for the tool room.

How long have you been in this space? Where did you work before that?

It took a few months to get the new space ready and we were finally able to move in by mid-September last year. We simply ran out of room in our Red Hook studio. There, we grew organically over time into three adjoining spaces as well as a showroom on the second floor. We pretty much used the shared loading dock as an extension of production and storage we knew something had to change. When our lease was up we had a chance to evaluate our needs and we looked for a larger, more flexible space that allowed our clients to come to us more easily.

If you could change something about your workspace, what would it be?

We are pretty happy right now.

Is there an office pet?


Do you require music in the background? If so, who are some favorites?

We usually have music or WNYC running throughout the space on the Sonos app. Generally everyone gets a go at the daily choices of Pandora or Spotify. There is a tendency towards talk radio in the mornings and music later in the day. Some faves of ours are Wild Beasts, Bon Iver, Blood Orange, Moderat and the like.

How do you record ideas?

Oliver: It is a bit different between the two of us. Jean uses her notebook that is always in her bag a lot. That way it is more spontaneous and ideas can be recorded on the go. It is also a way to make sure all sketches stay together. I personally prefer trace paper. There is something soothing about a seemingly endless roll of trace paper and the ability to continuously layer the sketches on top of one another. They are a bit harder to keep around but if there is something to a sketch, it stays on the table for a while. A lot of ideas linger in our heads, notebooks and trace paper sketches until they get a bit more attention when moving forward into physical models form and computer models.

Do you have an inspiration board? What’s on it right now?

We don’t really work with inspiration or mood boards. That part of our work is internal where we carry ideas and influences around with us. Once ideas emerge more clearly they get put up as material samples, study models often at full scale and/or full scale drawings.

What is your creative process and/or creative workflow like? Does it change every project or do you keep it the same?

Jean: I think about our design process as an ongoing conversation between Oliver and myself. The act of designing is done mainly verbally where we’re sharing or commenting on a thought or an idea throughout the course of days, weeks or months. We just talk about the thing that may interest us, whether it’s a piece of furniture, a photo shoot, or an even larger idea and we just continue to layer on top of one another’s comments or observations until we know if it’s worth the financial and physical efforts of making the object. At that point, it’s pretty clear what the piece should be about and we’ll switch over to drawings and models. Then there’s a whole other level of tweaking, but it’s always a shared and constant exchange.

Oliver: Working together over the years, we’ve become a really great team where our abilities and intuitive areas of interest and expertise create a bigger whole rather than working alone. Jean has an amazing ability to think big picture. She often can somehow see what the next steps are, what the pieces are we are missing and how something should look like. Therefore she has become our Creative Director whereas I take on more a role of Project Development. There is a lot of designing between the two of us but we have slightly different ways of how we go about it. At this point we really trust each other.

Photo by Georgia Nerheim Photography

What kind of design objects might you have scattered about the space?

We were very deliberate about creating a personal environment in our new studio since we really want to feel at home in our work place. We brought into the studio many objects with personal meaning such as paintings and a series of photographs taken during grad school by Oliver. Beyond that, we have all around the studio pieces from fellow designers such as a bowl and trivet by Fort Standard, a Third Eye Vessel by Chen Chen and Kai Williams, wood sculptures by Pat Kim, pottery by Eric Roinestad, an Aura Chime by Ladies & Gentlemen Studio, a painting from Erie Basin, marbled objects from Calico Wallpaper and a coffee cup set by Helen Levi. In our office area, we have Vitsoe shelving, USM cabinets and desks, and Eames Executive Chairs.

Are there tools and/or machinery in your space?

Right now we have started to fit out our tool/finishing room to serve our immediate needs. We have a few chop saws, drills and sanders and other hand tools that we need. We want to add a metal lathe as well as Bridgeport but that will have to wait a bit.

What tool do you most enjoy using in the design process?

Oliver: My mechanical pencil, a black ink pen and an Olfa knife.

Jean: Faber-Castell color pencils, scissors, transparent tape, black Pentel sign pens, sketchbook, and iPhone.

Let’s talk about how you’re wired. Tell us about your tech arsenal/devices.

Our entire space is networked for desktop stations throughout the space; design office, sales, reception, lighting studio, as well as all other spaces where a computer might be needed. We recently installed internet phones – we can call each other at different stations instead of racing or shouting across the room!

What design software do you use, if any, and for what?

For our design work we mostly use AutoCAD, Rhino 3D and Sketchup. We also use them for all production specs and drawings. We use the Adobe Creative Suite – mostly InDesign, Illustrator and Photoshop – for most of the post-production like upkeep of website, cut sheets etc…

Photo by Georgia Nerheim Photography

Photo by Georgia Nerheim Photography

Is there a favorite project you’ve worked on?

In a way our new space is probably our favorite project currently along with the new furniture pieces we designed for the showroom. Just designing the layout and coordinating construction (electrical and mechanical plans, lighting and AV layout, etc…) was really challenging since we had to accomplish the build-out in a very short amount of time. It really felt amazing when it was all done. Walking through something you designed rather than looking at it as an object, is still one of the most satisfying experiences.

The furniture we designed for the space has a lot of ideas in them we always seem to come back to. We call the collection ‘Lost & Found’ because we used stone offcuts left to be discarded and construction-grade timber typically covered over by other finish materials.

The collection includes an expanded metal bar cabinet, a wood bench seating group, and a marble coffee table. The expanded metal bar cabinet is called ‘Louise Cabinet’ since it reminded us of Louise Bourgeois’ ‘Cell’ sculptures in which she used expanded metal to create a series of strikingly beautiful metal enclosures. The two wood bench pieces are called ‘Stiletto’. Heavy large timber sections are balanced by very slender brass legs. Each bench is around 400-500lbs and celebrates the contrast between rough cracks and burl marks in the wood to a finely finished surface texture accentuated by the polished brass leg.

For the ‘Lost & Found Table’ (image above) we used a large stone cut off where we worked with the given dominant curve already cut into the stone. We shaped the stone further by breaking off pieces along existing cracks and by cutting and polishing additional sections. The tabletop’s existing curve became a cue for the radially patterned array of brass leg supports.

Do you feel like you’ve “made it”? What has made you feel like you’ve become successful? At what moment/circumstances? Or what will it take to get there?

We think it is all a big journey. There are always immediate goals and once you get there the goal post gets moved yet again. Maybe it is good that way since it keeps us moving. We try not to think about it much even though accomplishing certain goals always feels really good. It is also nice to get feedback from your fellow designers and design professionals whose work you really admire and respect. In the end though, it is probably good not to think about this whole issue of success vs. failure too much.

Tell us about a current project you’re working on. What was the inspiration behind it?

We are very excited about an upcoming project with a special collaborator for New York Design Week 2017. Look for it in May of this year…

What’s on your desk right now?

Oliver: My coffee, a parking ticket, a mechanical pencil next to a roll of trace paper and a Max Beckman monograph from his exhibit in the MET.

Jean: Paperwork, material samples, notebooks, headphones.

Do you have anything in your home that you’ve designed/created?

A lot of our designs came about from needs we had at home. When you come into our apartment, there is our Entry Console with a XL Bubble Chandelier hanging right over it. The living room has our Quadrat Coffee table with the Glass Puddle as well as a Jumbo 29 Bubble Chandelier installed over our Egsu Dining table.

Caroline Williamson is Editor-in-Chief of Design Milk. She has a BFA in photography from SCAD and can usually be found searching for vintage wares, doing New York Times crossword puzzles in pen, or reworking playlists on Spotify.