Get to Know Oliver Haslegrave of Home Studios

Meet Oliver Haslegrave, Founder & Principal of Home Studios, now in their 10th year of business. If you’re in New York, you’ve probably experienced their hand in these beloved restaurant interiors: Elsa, June, Metta, Fausto, Torst & The Spaniard, among others. TORTUGA founder Andrea Hill spoke with Haslegrave about the Wave Shelf’s origins and how details make all the difference.

Home Studios, Elsa, 2017.

Andrea Hill: I remember when we first met two years ago at Elsa, a bar you designed, and I ordered a cheese plate but then realized you were lactose intolerant!

Oliver Haslegrave: (laughs) It’s ok, we had just met.

AH: At Elsa, you mentioned that you like to start with a story, and for this place it was the Viennese Secession. This description struck me as cinematic and scene-setting because it put me in a time and place with a set of artists and historical references.

OH: Thank you, that was the goal. The original Elsa (in the East Village) was actually the first project we ever did. Home Studios is approaching 10 years now. Before this, I studied film and worked as an editor - so whenever we approach a project it’s always from the point of view of a story. We like to take disparate elements in materials, and try to combine them to make some kind of cohesive story. So in the end, it always comes down to: What’s the story we’re trying to tell?

Josef Hoffmann (Viennese Secession), Stoclet Palace, 1905.

AH: I know that Home Studios has a film club that screens films that have been influential to set design - tell us more about how cinema influences your work? 

OH: I find a lot of inspiration from directors who are fanatical about detail and getting everything right. It’s called “auteurism,” which is a dirty word at this point because it sounds so pretentious. You’ll hear stories of directors doing dozens of takes in the belief that every little detail counts. I’m the same way - I believe that you can’t just get some of it right, you have to get all of it right. That’s why Home Studios does so much custom work, even though it can be hard. I know that when you put it all together, details make all the difference.

AH: Is there a film or director that operates in a way that speaks to your design process?

OH: Stanley Kubrick is the archetype auteur - but David Lynch, Paul Thomas Anderson, Wes Anderson, the Cohen Brothers are big influences as well. Sally & David Wasco, who did a lot of set designs for Wes Anderson and Quinton Tarantino, are huge as well. For Home Studios’ film club, we typically pick films because of production design across genres. We picked Bottle Rocket because it was a super budget movie, Crouching Tiger Hidden Dragon because it was not in english, La La Land because it’s a musical, Band of Outsiders because it’s 60s French New Wave. We try to study how people with different conditions respond to each film, and then we eat pizza and talk about it. It’s really fun.

Stanley Kubrick, 2001: A Space Odyssey, 1968.

AH: Does your design approach change when shifting from the macro (like an interior) to the micro (a specific object as in the case for TORTUGA)?

OH: The biggest difference is with an interior project, we always have to consider how one element relates to all of the others. With TORTUGA it was only one element, which was more freeing. Designing the Wave Shelf felt more like an engineering exercise. When we’re designing interiors we generally don’t get as much time to prototype or innovate. Collaborating with TORTUGA, we could really take time to figure out how to make the Wave Shelf ideal for modular living - by making it flat-packed with no tools required assembly. We got to iterate multiple times, which was incredible for the perfectionist in me.

Photo by William Jess Laird, Wave Shelf, 2019. 

AH: You've gone from designing neighborhood restaurants to taking on major hotel and international projects. What keeps you inspired during the design process?

OH: I think one of the coolest things about design is that there’s always a new way of doing something. We have the chair, the mirror, the table - and every year, multiple people come out with a new take on it. It will never end, and it’s endlessly inspiring in that way.

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