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Credit: Flaminia Fanale
Class of 2020

Class of 2020: How Londubh Studio Is Reinvigorating Traditional Design, One Patterned Project at a Time

published Oct 18, 2019
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Who: Lisa Donohoe and Brynn Gelbard, the married duo/artists behind L.A.-based design business Londubh Studio
Nominated by: New York-based interior designer Sasha Bikoff
Where to follow her: Instagram

Apartment Therapy’s Class of 2020 Design Changemakers is a specially-selected group of the 20 people in the design world everyone should know about by next year. We asked experts (and you!) to tell us who they think should be included—see the rest of the nominees here.

Why Londubh is part of the Class of 2020: “The art of decorative painting historically has been a key element of the history of interior design. Unfortunately, it has almost become a lost art however the amazing Londubh ladies are keeping the dream and the art alive. They are also re imagining conventional styles and materials using things applications like Japanese pink silver leaf on surfaces. Their aesthetic is eclectic, imaginative, and unique. ” —New York-based interior designer Sasha Bikoff

On paper, Lisa Donohoe and Brynn Gelbard of Londubh Studio (pronounced “Lon-dove”) are already breaking the mold with their queer-, women-owned design franchise. But, take one look at their smorgasbord of delightfully eccentric projects alone and you’ll see that their originality screams loud and clear. Married for five years, design companions for six, they make the perfectly balanced partnership—Lisa brings the visual mastery and professional background, Brynn (a former writer) boasts an empathic intuition that’s practically a sixth sense. Londubh, Lisa’s brainchild post-UCLA’s interior design program, initially got its footing a decade ago, rooted in a desire to decorate beyond the mundane. “I just wanted to focus on less traditional, using the methods and materials that I had worked with—like Italian plaster or 24k gold leaf—but in a different way,” explains the Dublin-bred founder of the organization’s M.O. “Then Brynn jumped in with her punk-rock aesthetic, and it’s that sort of dynamic between both of us that drives the business and takes us where we want to go.”

Credit: Robert Malmberg // Designer: Gulla Jonsdottir

Since joining forces, the creative-minded duo has left their unmistakable mark on just about any surface imaginable, from custom decorative screens to bathtubs to diving boards—even a houseboat deck. Oh, and need help materializing a symbolic message into art form? Yep, they’ve been there, done that.

“It’s cool because I know people come to us now when they want something totally unique and they don’t know who else would do it—and would also stand by their work,” Brynn says of their “bulletproof reputation” for fearlessly tackling unexpected new undertakings. Lisa concurs, adding that they both strive to “do things that haven’t been before, and to outdo ourselves and what we’ve already done.” At the end of the day, the mission of their statement pieces comes across with flying colors (literally): to emphasize the pure magic of texture, sheen, and anything other than plain-old beige. We sat down with the print-loving pair to discuss inspirations, ambitions, and purple pearlescent zebra stripes.

Credit: Londubh Studio

Apartment Therapy: What do you remember as being design inspirations growing up? What is your inspiration now?

Lisa Donohoe: I grew up in Ireland, which was steeped in the past with historical art and architecture. One of my favorite places is Newgrange. You can still go there and see the art that was created like 5,000 years ago, stone carvings and stuff. I always loved that the art is very graphic, but also very organic. You can tell they were inspired by nature, and I loved how they translated that into patterns. I think the graphic nature in the patterns really inspires a lot of good design that comes out of Londubh.

Brynn Gelbard: I was definitely really influenced by my parents’ fashion. They were kind of hipsters, and our house had a burnt orange shag carpet and this amazing patterned velour couch. I was always just super fascinated by patterns, like the ‘60s, ‘70s—big and bold. I think, too, we get a lot of inspiration from nature. We both love to be outside and look for inspiration and patterns and geometries and color combinations in nature. We try to live in such a way that keeps our hearts and minds really open so that inspiration could come from anywhere. 

AT: What’s your favorite project you worked on in 2019 so far? (and why?)

LD: For me, it’s the “Greased Lighting” screens that we made for our collaboration with Sasha (see picture). We had such an exciting time both designing them with her and creating them ourselves here in the studio. We slept overnight in the studio, and I think one of the nights I slept for like 45 minutes and then got back up to work because I was just too excited. When that happens, when you get in the zone like that and you’re just so happy with what you’re creating, it’s just a pretty amazing experience.

BG: That project was also literally the perfect example of our love and support for each other and our complete admiration for each other’s skills. Even the gold-leafing itself was this moment where, honestly, it felt like a dance. It was just this amazing moment where there was no world around us.

LD: But there was lots of ABBA playing in the background.

Credit: Sarina Saletta / In collaboration w Sasha Bikoff

AT: Is there a specific piece or design of yours that you think is particularly indicative of who you are or what you’re trying to do?

BG: I would say the screens we did for Sasha. It took us 250 hours and we worked absurd, long days. The leopard print on gold leaf took like 20 hours to paint and the trim took 19 hours to paint and it challenged us. It’s bold and intricate and it really speaks to the dedication and fearlessness that results of us being in it together—just the willingness to go hard when we get to do it together.

LD: Also this pattern called “We Are the Hearts.” We came up with that design right after we got married and it looks like a heart, but also like building blocks and kind of architectural. We wanted it to feel dimensional because it’s about using love as your guide as opposed to fear. We had done that on one of our first art pieces we ever made together, which was a wedding present for ourselves. Then, last year, we got the opportunity to do it on a five-story building in Hollywood. We felt like, especially the way the world is now and how people are divided, that we wanted to be an inspiration and a beacon for people.

AT: What three words would you use to describe your work or style?

LD: Eclectic, definitely badass, and glamorous.

AT: What makes you feel at home in your own space?

LD: We have these purple, pearlescent, oversized zebra stripes in our living room. I had a vision of it when we first moved to L.A. 10 years ago, and Brynn was just like, “Ok….” But, she trusted me, and we did it. Now every time I come home or sit down on the couch, I see those zebra stripes and I’m filled with so much happiness and love. I just start beaming, even 10 years later.

BG: It’s all about energy for me. In our space, it’s really colorful, but it smells good and it’s open and there’s plants, textures, good music, good food, love. Happiness, joy, love—those are the things that matter more than anything and that make us feel at home.

Credit: Londubh Studios

AT: Any big plans for 2020 or beyond you can share with us?

BG: We’re developing a wallpaper line, which we’re really excited about. We’re hoping to develop fabrics and stuff like that, so that if you can’t get us to your house to do something or buy one of our pieces, you can get our products. And, obviously, they’re going to have a bunch of what is iconically Londubh, whether it’s geometric patterns or color, metallics, texture.

AT: What three words would you use to describe where you see the design world going in 2020?

BG: I think that people are coming back to taking more risks and using color. We see different designers willing to go there and be bolder. And, we hear from a lot of people that they’re tired of minimalism and the monotony of kind of looking like you live in an Airbnb that’s just generic for everyone. I feel like people are realizing that there’s ways to do things up, like if you paint a wall green.

LD: Hopefully it’s also leaning more towards longevity and moving away from things being disposable because we don’t have a planet of infinite resources. I’m hoping designers and artists are realizing that they have certain responsibilities, not just to their clients, but to the Earth.

Credit: Londubh Studio / Designer: Woodson & Rummerfield’s House of Design

AT: What legacy do you hope to leave?

BG: I definitely think that it’s important to leave a legacy of creating your own work, but also nourishing other people who are brave enough to even try to be an artist and have a voice. People don’t realize how hard it is to be an artist and to start your own business. I think that’s so important to talk openly about the trials and tribulations—and to not only reach out and support people who are coming after us, but to really be mindful of where people have come from who paved the way for us.