In 2006, after working for various New York design firms and receiving his master’s degree from Columbia University, architect Jeremy Barbour attended amfAR's annual benefit gala.There, he met with a young fashion designer, Phillip Lim. "Of course, I had no idea who he was at the time," says Barbour, laughing. "Little did I know he was about to explode onto the scene." The pair hit it off and went out for drinks afterward. After a casual conversation about architecture and design, Lim mentioned that he was looking to open his first store in Soho and offered Barbour the job. The high-profile project was a jumping-off point for the Virginia native; he founded his Williamsburg-based firm, Tacklebox, later that year.
Since then, Barbour has worked with a spate of fashion and retail brands, from stores like Saipua and Thomas Sires to design showrooms for Shipley & Halmos and Vena Cava. This spring, he’s designing Aesop’s first stand-alone U.S. boutiques — set to open next month — as well as the beauty brand’s new Grand Central Terminal kiosk. The Elizabeth Street store’s walls will be covered in 3,000 hand-shredded and pressed New York Times newspapers. “My favorite designers create things that are going to be as relevant 50 years from now as they are this season,” he says. “Similarly, we try to avoid stylish architecture. We want to build something original and timeless.” We caught up with Barbour to discuss his upcoming design projects, backwoods sources of inspiration, and Brooklyn Flea impulse buys ("anything made out of metal or wood — I can’t help myself").
Why do you think your firm has been a fit for so many fashion brands?
Fashion designers and architects work in similar ways; both have a strong sense of play. The fashion designers we’ve worked with take a naïve, almost childlike approach — they pick up materials and fabrics and see what ways they might use them to create something new. Similarly, we try to find new ways to use common materials while still maintaining their essence. At the 3.1 Phillip Lim store, for example, that meant stacking the original tongue and groove flooring on the walls to create this beautiful, striated backdrop to the clothes.
Some of your designs are unusually intricate, like the upcoming Aesop store. What went into that concept?
The walls will be covered in pressed newspapers, so it took four weeks alone to tear all the paper into strips. We often collaborate with mill workers, artists, and steel workers at Tacklebox. We’ll go to someone with a crazy idea and say, “I know this is ridiculous, but would you be interested in working on it?” Even if it’s a lot of work, usually you can find someone who's excited and invested in creating something new.
You also teach architecture at Parsons, the New School, and Columbia. How does teaching shape your perspective?
I’ve realized that, at this point, I would no longer be able to practice architecture without teaching or teach without practicing. There are a lot of difficult aspects to architecture in New York; if you’re not careful, sometimes you can lose that sense of optimism and excitement. But with students, you can still see that sense of awe and discovery. It’s contagious; you can’t help but bring it back to the office. My best days are the days that I teach and design.
Where do you find inspiration?
I visit my parents in the Blue Ridge Mountains in southwestern Virginia, where I grew up. They have a small cabin surrounded by natural forest land. It’s heated by a wood stove, there’s no cell phone reception, and there’s not another house anywhere in sight. Something about going and spending time in the woods keeps me grounded when I come back to the city.
Who are your favorite fashion designers?
I tend to wear a lot of Shipley & Halmos. I really love their clean, sharp take on classic American style; I feel very comfortable in their clothes. And I absolutely love Billy Reid. My dad’s a truck driver, and I always admired his worn-out jeans and work jackets when I was a kid. Something about Billy Reid’s clothes remind me of that. His clothes manage to be both unique and very familiar at the same time.
How would you describe your personal style?
I like to mix old classics, like worn-in jeans, with a nice button-down and a tie. Occasionally, I’ll pair work boots with a bow tie.
Where do you like to shop in New York?
I wander around the Brooklyn Flea almost every weekend. I never go there with anything in mind, but I always seem to leave with something. The last thing I bought was a package of brass clock pins, these repair parts for a clock. I have a bad habit of picking up old tools, typewriters, and drafting utensils. I also really like Build It Green in Queens — it’s a great source of inspiration.
Are there any trends you’re appreciating at the moment?
It’s nice to see the classic Americana trend; I’m curious to see if it will stick around for a while. Either way, I’ll probably still be dressing this way.
What’s one item you’re saving up to buy?
A piece of land or a small one-room cabin somewhere in upstate New York or Pennsylvania. If I end up staying in New York long-term, I need a place to get away and sit quietly.
What’s something you never leave the house without?
My sketchbook: It’s a mix of jotted-down ideas and sketches of normal everyday things. Sometimes it’s just nice to sit and see the world through drawing.