Sharing the Light

On Thursday Primo, Verda and Perry will make their way to the Arthur Ross Terrace and Garden in mid-town Manhattan for the 2016 Cooper Hewitt Design Awards—America’s most prestigious design event. At the gala they will pick up the award for Interior Design, an honor that looks at the totality of a firm’s work and that in O+A’s case, happens to land on the company’s 25th year in business.

And the Cooper Hewitt Award Goes to…

“I’m always excited when we are recognized for our contribution to the workplace conversation,” Verda said. “And [this award] is the cream of the crop. It’s the top.” Primo echoed that sentiment. “I am so honored. It’s like winning an Oscar.” When the call came months ago informing O+A that the firm had been selected both Verda and Primo were out of the office. Perry remembers thinking, “Cooper Hewitt is calling us?

Time to Reflect

It’s the sort of honor that makes a company look back and take stock. Verda remembers the days when O+A was just her and Primo. “We were kids—just doing our thing. Some nights we pulled an all-nighter and sometimes we had nothing to do and we’d take off for the afternoon and go shopping.” Right from the beginning they had a sense of mission. Verda credits an early client, Cunningham Communications, with opening the conversation about how workplace could be different and recalls being inspired by the thought of making a difference in the way people live. “I always thought that a quality environment improves people’s lives. If you live on a tree-lined street versus a littered street you’re going to be a happier person.”

For Primo, who came to design from an engineering background, it was all about re-engineering the traditional floor plan. “I remember that was a hard thing to do. Taking people off the window line, getting executives to give up their windowed offices. For a long time, that was our biggest achievement: switching the floorplate, moving them to the core and sharing the light.” Those two incentives—to improve people’s lives and to re-think old forms—formed the heart of O+A’s design philosophy. They are the reason O+A will be honored Thursday night.

Embrace the Quirks

Here’s another reason. In addition to changing the way people think about workplace, O+A has been an extraordinary incubator of talent. “We’ve had some very talented people come through this firm,” Perry said, “and everyone who has come through the door has learned a lot.” Verda concurs, citing a hiring strategy that looked specifically for creative potential. “We always looked for people who maybe weren’t quite your average designer—a little different, a little quirkier. We understood from our clients how important cultural fit was.” That quirkiness may be on display at the gala. “I know what shirt I’m going to wear,” Perry says. “I know what suit I’m going to wear. But what shoes do I wear?   And of course more importantly, I’ve got to have the right socks. My design expression comes out in my socks.”