Point of View

Collected interiors are having a moment — but for Thomas O’Brien, the impulse to see and gather is a way of being in the world.

There are rooms we remember for their standout parts: a painting, a rug, a vignette. Thomas O’Brien, on the other hand, makes spaces meant to be recalled in full sense memory. His rooms are quietly legendary, his own homes pinned and bookmarked for all time — and long before it was de rigueur for designers to keep shop, O’Brien opened Aero in New York’s storied Soho neighborhood, ushering in a new era of lifestyle design.

Just like his celebrated career, O’Brien’s line for Visual Comfort & Co. teases at the edges of easy description.

By turns soulful and vital, these iconic pieces (the slim and stately Bryant, the jubilant Hicks, the elegant Elizabeth) impart a presence and a point of view. The effect is no accident. “Lighting plays an essential part in the story of a room, and that role is always interesting to me," he says. “It’s what I hunt for when I’m antiquing and collecting, and what I draw from to create my products for Visual Comfort & Co.”

Hunt and gather: scenes from O’Brien’s living laboratory.

Here as ever, the job of the designer is to see — and across all of O’Brien’s collections for Visual Comfort & Co., an ongoing dialogue speaks to his boundless curiosity.

Even his most modern forms have an inherently referential element that signals his deep appreciation for the beauty of functional objects. “I’ve got way too many dishes and candlesticks and everything else,” he says. “l’m always looking, imagining and merchandising at the same time. The amount of detail and creativity that goes into these things amazes me.”

No shortcuts: O'Brien at work.

From first sketches to full-scale modeling, O’Brien considers the smallest parts of a fixture.

As he masters new finishes and materials, he asks at every turn whether a better solution exists. If this sounds like perfectionism, well, it is. “There’s a lot of persistence to it,” he says. “In everything I do, I’m always saying, let’s look at that again.”

Part of his gift is a commitment to authenticity rather than novelty for the sake of itself.

O’Brien continues to turn out collections that build character, shifting the focus, attitude and style of a space in clear and distinctive ways. This is good design with a lowercase d — the kind that leaves a bit of breathing room for life to come in.

My lights have a continuity. There’s a set of qualities I’m always drawn to. When you find the well-done thing — a detail, a finish, a fabric — you go back to it. It has an ethical goodness, an essence that feels correct and true. You get to this point where something feels like it’s always been there. That you can trust it. It could be from before. And then — it could be for the future.

Shop the Thomas O'Brien Collection