All in the Family NY

Words: Editorial Team
Images: Hokkolo

April 04 2017

Dong-Ping Wong and Oana Stanescu, founding partners of Family NY, describe themselves as environmental designers, not architects. Evident in the naming of their office, the duo bring a familial warmth to their practice—a rarity in an industry marked by mathematical precision and stoicism. It was with this sense of community in mind that Need Supply Co. sought out the pair for the redesign of our Richmond, Virginia flagship store. Seeking to create an environment that was less retail shop and more a gathering space, it felt kismet to partner with Family NY, who forgo more restrictive connotations of architecture in lieu of holistic environmental design.

If you’ve found yourself in Richmond, Virginia (perhaps to scope out our unexpectedly vibrant art scene), you may have spied our newly renovated storefront in all it’s sleek, aluminum glory. We sat down with the designers who brought the concept to life to learn a little more about the process and inspiration behind crafting a physical space for Need Supply Co.

Let’s start at the beginning, where did you two meet? 

Dong-Ping Wong We met at REX here in New York. It was pre-recession, which meant we were working (and given way too much responsibility on) some nuts projects. It was fun.

Oana Stanescu It was certainly a special moment in time with such an amazing group of people at REX. Some of our closest friends are from that period. Dong was technically my boss; a pretty good one I might add. But to anyone who isn’t familiar with architecture internships, to give you a sense of how we became such a close knit group, we were rarely leaving the office before 10pm if not midnight, and would then grab drinks together. This was only possible because of the insane amount of enthusiasm and ambition we all had. Most of us had just landed in NY and barely knew anyone or anything outside the office, so in a way it was our only point of reference.

At what point did you decide to take the leap into business together? Was it a particular project or decisive moment?

OS I never really cared about having my own office, but at one point you get tired of working for other people, no matter how great they are. The connection with Dong was so strong that everything else paled in comparison, so it felt unavoidable to a certain degree.

DPW Our REX bosses (Josh and Erez) knew before we did, I think. They’d move us as a pair from project to project since we worked really well together. Afterwards, Oana did this international world tour of the world’s best offices, and I stayed in New York to try and figure out what starting a business even entailed. I still don’t think I’m 100%

You’ve designed bridges and pools and jungles and mountains – how do you describe what Family NY is when you’re meeting people?

DPW We just say that we design environments. I went to undergrad at Berkeley, and the architecture school there is named the College of Environmental Design.  That always seemed like an elegant way to describe what architecture is or should be.

OS That sounds about right. It depends a bit on who you are talking to. People are thrown off by our age usually. Some people ask if we are doing residential, as that is what they think architecture is. Others start telling you about how they like interiors. And then there are, of course, people who know quite a lot about architecture. But I find it quite interesting to see people’s interpretations of architecture, they are all valid and it says a lot about how the profession is perceived from the outside.

Family NY is known best in some circles for your work with Kanye West and his creative director Virgil Abloh – how did this relationship come about, and can you tell us what it’s like to help construct the universe of Yeezus? 

OS The beauty of working with Kanye, besides working with Kanye, is that you are one out of many people that are part of the process. So we played a role on the mountain, but we were lucky enough to have collided with many other super inspiring people on it. This is true for any Kanye project. We met Virgil through that kind of work, so by the time he was ready with Off White, it was natural to work together.

DPW A year or so after Oana left OMA NY, the firm that Kanye had hired to design a pavilion in Cannes, he called and said he had an apartment in Paris he wanted to work with us on. From there, it turned into a ton of other projects, like basically one giant ongoing stream of ideas. Yeezus was one of those. That was incredible since we’d never done or even been very familiar with the stage/tour/giant production world, so seeing all that come together was amazing.  Plus having 15,000 people cheering at your project every night was mind blowing. Generally, most stuff with Kanye is pretty mind blowing.

It seems that each of your projects can be boiled down to a simple concept. Can you elaborate a bit more on the idea behind the re-design of the Need Supply Co. store?

OS The challenge today is to create a space where people want to go to. When you can have everything online instantly, why bother going to a physical place. But Need Supply Co. had this entire community built around it, which was so amazing to see. For people in Richmond, the store was an important place to be. We wanted to make sure anyone could be in the store and learn about the company or the other brands, or just meet someone, or read a magazine, without the pressure of buying something.

DPW It’s really just a place to hang out. The main function of the project was pretty straightforward: to hold more product than the old store did in a clean and simple way. But Need Supply Co. and co-owners Gabe and Chris, have also built up this rad creative community, both online and locally in Richmond. We wanted to make a place for that community to call home. A real, physical, off-line home. The heart of the space is just a giant bench and table to sit around. On the perimeter of the shop sits almost all the product, simply organized and easy to navigate.

What particular considerations go into the design of a retail space such as this one?

DPW With online shopping, and especially for a brand like Need Supply Co. that is predominantly online, stores are expected to be a lot more than just a place to try on and purchase clothes. They have to offer something that online doesn’t, and something more worthwhile than the convenience of the internet. It’s always a balance of the practical requirements (linear feet of hanging rack, square footage of flat display, square footage of storage, security and site lines, transaction sequencing, etc.) with some kind of experience or use or vibe that can only be created in a physical space.

OS In addition, the whole space needs to be cohesive. It needs to feel like a home and reflect (Creative Director) Gabriel Ricioppo and (CEO) Chris Bossola’s personal take on Need Supply Co. It can be difficult with such a varied stock to make everything feel part of a bigger picture, but that is where Need Supply Co. is doing an amazing job. The curation of everything that goes under its name is what makes it so unique and special.

Any unexpected details we should look out for in the shop?

DPW If the sun hits it right, the pink marble slab behind the cash wrap gets a little glowy and translucent. We were kind of hoping that might happen, so it was nice to see in person. One of the most satisfying things was to see how beautifully the floor turned out. We had to grind down the existing floor, removing a thin layer from the top and exposing all this nice aggregate below. I like that this floor was there all along, we just had to strip away some grime to reveal it.

OS For nerds, there are many moments to have fun with, but isn’t it nice when you discover something and think you are the only one to have noticed it?

And lastly – what’s next for Family?

DPW I need to go on a surf trip.

OS He does need to go on a surf trip. Some exciting things are underway, but there’s nothing more boring then reading the word exciting, so we will let images and spaces speak for themselves when the time is right.

DPW Exciting.