Oliver Haslegrave, current director and co-founder of Brooklyn-based Home Studios, is a by-product of the saying “start ‘em young.” Oliver grew up on a steady diet of home design—His dad was a residential architect in their home state of Connecticut and rummaging around on job sites was a constant for Oliver. A continual lesson in design, construction and manual labor, Oliver learned a lot about what would become his future.
Oliver remembers creating as early as age three—drawings, string bracelets, collages, elaborate block buildings and even Swatch watch designs that he mailed in to the company for creative consideration. A self-admitted introvert who studied film in college, Oliver worked as a fiction editor until 2008 when his life changed after helping his brother with a bar renovation and finding his true passion. He quickly formed Home Studios one year later in 2009 and has been changing the landscape of lucky patrons ever since.
First recognized for creating cult favorite bars and restaurants around its New York City neighborhood, Home Studios has evolved from a one-man interior design workshop to a nationwide name that delivers innovative atmospheres to hospitality, residential and retail projects through new materials and a team’s worth of novel ideas. Much like the award-winning packaging design and unique craftsmanship that represents Oribe Hair Care, Home Studios continues to push the envelope when it comes to individualized motifs and stunning hand-crafted finishes. We spoke to Oliver about his popular passion-project-turned-livelihood, which includes Home Studios off-shoot brand, Homework, an after-hours exploration into the process of studying proportion, texture and form.
Oliver Haslegrave as a child with one of his elaborate block designs.
What is the first thing you do in a raw space that you have been asked to design?
I research the building, the neighborhood and the client's inspiration. We are very narrative driven and research is always the first step. What surrounds the project, including the city, and what’s interesting about that particular set of circumstances is very important.
Describe your design aesthetic.
It’s completely based in materials and custom fabrication.
The world of design is ever changing. How do you keep current?
We put a high premium on staying inspired in general, and while we try to stay informed our style and approach is outside the trends. It’s evident that there is a consistency in terms of our continual method—we’re material based and always interested in new materials, new proportions and new ideas. I think those things are always evolving and to that degree we’re “on trend.” We also look to mood boards that include creative work from other fields such as architecture and travel.
Home Studios specializes in both residential and hospitality interiors. How do you approach these differently?
There are some similarities, but in general hospitality is more of a blend of influences from history, geography, food and drink, while residential tends to be more intimate and specific.
Rebelle // Nolita, NY
How does being based in New York City affect your creativity and taste preferences?
I love New York. I moved here in 2001 and the first few years were hard because I never lived in a city before. Eventually I found a rhythm and now just being here is a source of inspiration. My proximity to museums, galleries, concerts, theaters, bookstores, hotels, restaurants and bars is something for which I am eternally thankful.
What do you consider your breakthrough project?
We are still a little bit of a cult studio, and I don’t know that we’ve had a project that has broken though to a wide audience. Home Studios has yet to do a place that’s really well known, however we are doing our first hotel in Memphis, which could be a break. We tend to design neighborhood staples so our audience is pretty specific in terms of reach.
What has been your most challenging undertaking?
All of our projects are hard in a good way. We do so much custom work and don’t repeat much so the challenges are largely self-inflicted. We’ve had some back breakers for sure, and we have to figure out how to make it happen. I’m still waiting for that easy project…
If you could only make one change or add one piece to a space for a dramatic change, what would it be?
I'm not sure about a singular piece changing a room, but lighting is the most important element. That would have to be the focus of the change.
Mettä // Fort Greene, NY
If you could get your hands on a design project anywhere in the world, where would it be?
Europe, and if I had to pick one city it would be Paris. My grandfather on mom’s side is from Paris, so I have a soft spot for that location. Also, my wife is Greek and someday I would love to design a small hotel on the Greek Islands.
What’s one place that deserves a facelift?
I'm not sure if this would be considered a facelift, but there is a water tower in Greenpoint, Brooklyn, that we can see from our studio, and I've been wanting to make it into an event space for eight years. That would be a dream project.
How has design changed and shifted since you have been in the industry?
There has been a universal elevation in the hospitality business in terms of what people are doing in and outside of cities. When I moved to New York City 15 years ago you had a choice of a dive bar/diner or expensive, fancy fine dining. Expectations and culture is now elevated, creating a big swell of ambitious entrepreneurial projects, including event spaces, clubs, cafes, restaurants and bars—Now you can find everything. We’re maturing as a culture and this type of lifestyle is beomcing more important in the U.S.
What tips would you give to someone who is trying to break into the world of interior design?
Never stop learning. The more research and reading you do, the more trips you take to museums and galleries and the more travel you partake in, the stronger your designs will be.
As a life-long creator, I assume you are always learning something new. What are you studying now?
About a year ago I got very interested in photography, so that’s what I’m trying to learn now. I have to shoot all of my projects, which is how that interest was born.
Syndicated // Bushwick, NY
If you weren’t a designer, where do you think your career path would take you?
I studied film in college and I’m always making narrative-based cinema references. I would probably be a filmmaker.
What is one design staple that will never go out of style?
Attention to detail
Favorite design element in your personal home?
Most luxurious possessions you can’t live without?
Cameras and books