Q&A with Robin Osler

From founding her own firm to working with Anthropologie and Kate Spade, this architect shows it takes more than genes and luck to succeed.
Posted August 31, 2009
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How did you earn your first dollar?

My first real job was in a clothing store called The Bagpiper in downtown Ann Arbor. I had a thing about clothes and my mother essentially said that if I wanted them, I’d have to buy them for myself.

Your father is the architect David Osler. Did you always think you’d follow in his footsteps?

No. When I was younger, there were no female architects for me to look to as role models so I didn’t think it was an option. But my father taught me to see by taking us all out to job sites and explaining what the space would become. This sensitivity to my surroundings emerged when I was living in Europe and modeling. When I returned home, I decided to go to architecture school.

What was your first job in the industry?

Designing for Kate and Andy Spade. It was a 7000-square-foot space in Chelsea that included a showroom, design studio, offices, fabric storage and manufacturing.

Share one lesson you learned at that job that you still carry with you today.

The importance of observation and listening throughout the entire process. Andy wanted the company to retain a transparency of structure, so spatial adaptability and an open program were integral parts of the plan.

Name one architect who inspires you.

My father, for his humility, talent and perseverance.

Examples of architecture that inspire you?

Peter Zumthor’s spa in Switzerland and Hans Scharoun’s Philharmonic Hall for the Berlin Philharmonic – two vastly different buildings but representative to me of a perfect meditation on architecture and purpose.

You’ll be talking about your work with Anthropologie at IRDC. What three words come to mind when designing for the Anthropologie brand?

“I’m so lucky!” But if you’re looking for what I use to get ideas flowing, it would be: layers, light and materiality.

If you could visit any place in the world, where would you go?

Yemen. The images I’ve seen of cities there, built of earth, are extraordinary.

What three items are always in your refrigerator?

Herring, lemons and Raye’s Mustard from Maine.

If you could live in another decade, which would it be?

Paris of the ’20s. It was an exciting time creatively in absolutely every field –
all bets were off.

Finish this sentence: “I’m most proud of...”

My marriage.

NOTABLE QUOTE: Osler on Anthropologie:
“Each store makes you feel, as a customer, like it’s speaking directly to you. There’s an intimacy that astounds me considering the fact that this is a national brand.”