Michael Gabellini founded his eponymous practice in 1991. Kimberly Sheppard joined the studio in 1994 and became a partner in 1998 leading to the name change. Though they both earned bachelor of fine arts and bachelor of architecture degrees from the Rhode Island School of Design, they didn’t meet until later: when Sheppard moved back to New York after eight years of living and working in Milan with Laboratorio Associati.
Based in New York, the firm imparts an international footprint. Travel to Paris, Milan, Rome, and Venice, to London, Hamburg, Munich, Istanbul, and Beijing, and you’re probably not far from a Gabellini Sheppard luxury retail or hospitality project. They share the inimitable qualities of space, light, and minimal trappings. That’s true luxury.
Back home, current collaboration is with master architects Tadao Ando and Álvaro Siza on condominium buildings. Our Hall of Fame inductee and his partner let us into their world where they both work on all projects.
villamladebuky: What particular strength does each of you hold?
Michael Gabellini: I see the trees in the forest: detailed design focus, space, light, and materiality. I think of myself as an aspirational leader.
Kimberly Sheppard: For me, it’s the forest through the trees: spatial planning and overall design focus working as a collaborative teacher.
ID: You’re both steeped in the art world. What do you collect?
MG: Contemporary art and photography including works by Robert Smithson, Hiroshi Sugimoto, Roni Horn, and Louise Bourgeois.
KS: Eyeglasses, new and old.
ID: Do you paint, sculpt, or work in other mediums?
MG: I draw, sketch, and do watercolor and collage as part of the design process.
KS: To explore space inside and out, I do gesso and charcoal drawings.
ID: Where did you grow up and how did it influence your work?
MG: Upper Bucks County, Pennsylvania, where Knoll had moved from Cranbrook, Michigan, to the neighboring town. My father was an architect, interior designer, and artist who worked with many Knoll designers and collaborated on other interior projects. Other early influences were ties to the Bertoia and Nakashima families.
KS: The Catskills Mountains in upstate New York where there were lots of trees, but not many influential buildings. My first architecturally inspired thought was raking autumn leaves into intricate floor plans and then playing house.
ID: What are a few recent projects?
MG and KS: 56th Street condominiums, north of Manhattan’s Hell’s Kitchen, with Álvaro Siza; 152 Elizabeth condos in Nolita with Tadao Ando; the retail master plan for World Trade Center; and the Fibonacci furniture collection for Janus et Cie.
ID: Which projects are you most proud of and why?
MG and KS: The legendary Rainbow Room and Bar SixtyFive, which blend contemporary needs with the memory of art deco in New York. Landmark preservation and ecological stewardship were embedded in the project.
ID: Latest design obsession?
MG: Arte Povera and three-legged chairs.
KS: Design in miniature and Airstreams.
ID: A secret source you’re willing to share?
MG: Mira Nakashima, working in her father’s tradition.
KS: Eventscape, clever Canadians who can figure out how to build anything.
ID: Most admired interior?
MG: The Pantheon and Piero Portaluppi’s Villa Necchi Campiglio.
KS: The entrance lobby to Lincoln Center’s Metropolitan Opera House.
ID: Dream commission?
MG: A contemporary art museum and a mountain resort.
KS: A spa resort in the Maldives, Icelandic thermal springs, or Italian Alps.
Portrait photography by Noe & Associates