Design Changemakers 2022: Pieces’ Founders Are Breaking the Mold in the Furnishings Industry
Apartment Therapy’s Changemakers Class of 2022 is made up of 15 of the most talented and dynamic people (or duos or trios) working in the design world. This year’s honorees are all about connecting, collaborating, and disrupting the industry to steer the collective design conversation towards innovation and a better future. See the rest of the list here.
Who: Taisha Coombs, Chris Corrado, and Jenny Kaplan, founders of Pieces
Where to follow them: Instagram at @pieces_by_an_aesthetic_pursuit
Rainbow rugs, teddy bear-esque chairs, zig-zagged planters — these are just a few of the designs imagined by Jenny Kaplan, Chris Corrado, and Taisha Coombs. The three launched furnishings brand Pieces by An Aesthetic Pursuit in 2017 after careers in the fashion world. Since then, their eye for color, paired with their penchant for boundary-breaking design, have made them one of the buzziest new home design brands.
It all started when Kaplan began dabbling in interior design projects. She loved it, but she says, “I would spend hours searching for the perfect piece for my clients.” So, when she couldn’t find that perfect piece, Kaplan made it herself. Eventually, that practice became all too common. “[Chris and I] were like, ‘Should we just make this an actual furniture line?’” Kaplan says.
Then in 2021, the team introduced Pieces Homes, a shoppable Airbnb concept where people can rent out a vacation home decked out in Pieces’ designs. They’ve started out with a home in Kennebunk, Maine, which boasts modular furniture and a 60-foot-long version of their Wavy rug, which has become a sensation of its own. “The joke was, ‘No one’s ever going to buy this thing,” Corrado laughs. “This is purely an editorial piece. But, for whatever reason, it struck a chord and quickly became our best-performing single design.” (Although, at a more modest six to 12-foot length.)
Still, the brand’s colorful design isn’t just for wow-factor in an Instagram photo. Each product is intentionally made to be beautiful and livable, too. “For some brands, it can come off as elementary or juvenile bringing together so many colors in a space, but the way we’ve been able to do it, it still feels really sophisticated and chic and modern,” Coombs says.
Here, the trio shares their design inspirations, what’s next for Pieces, and how friendship is at the center of it all.
Apartment Therapy: Tell me how, when, and why you got started doing what you’re doing. What inspired you?
Jenny Kaplan: We all came from the world of fashion previously. I was getting bored and burnt out of it, so Chris pushed me to start doing more interior design on my own. Then, a couple years into doing interior projects, we were building one-off pieces of furniture for my clients, primarily because we live in New York City, and people had smaller spaces. And so, I started to have more ideas of my own about what kind of furniture and rug pieces I wanted to envision for their spaces.
Taisha Coombs: In that process, [Chris and Jenny] were like, ‘This is cool, but I feel like we can make this a bigger thing.’ So, they asked me if I wanted to come on and start Pieces with them. Chris is one of my best friends, and Jenny had become a close friend at that point, too. So, I was like, ‘Definitely, this sounds awesome.’ It’s something I never knew I had a passion for before, and something that I wanted to explore more.
AT: Who do you remember as being design inspirations growing up?
Chris Corrado: Both Jenny and I were inspired by our grandparents’ generation. Jenny’s grandmother and her mom have beautifully-styled homes and always cared about color use and art and having beautiful things. We also grew up with friend groups that really cared about design. My friends and I, when we all first moved to New York in 2000, would just wander around Soho, ogling at design objects and being enamored by beautiful spaces.
TC: My family’s all Caribbean, so we had lots of rich color stories in all the houses that we grew up in. Lots of things traveled from the islands and made their way into my aunt’s home or my grandmother’s home in Philadelphia. But, more so, my aesthetic inspiration came through fashion from my aunt. She always made sure you looked good and were ready to show face. It gave me a keen eye toward textures and colors and patterns.
AT: It seems like Pieces rugs are everywhere right now. Why do you think they’re resonating with people?
CC: It’s an amalgamation of different things all intersecting at the same time. We’re coming into a time where customers are more receptive to color than they were previously. The pandemic played an enormous role in making people look introspectively at their home — and our designs are a bit lighthearted, which I think is an antidote to the collective depression of a pandemic that people have experienced. We just kind of hit the sweet spot.
AT: What would you say sets you apart from your peers? What do you see as being your special thing?
JK: We created our own lane because we went into this with blinders on, not really paying attention to what everyone else was doing. When we launched our first collection with irregular shaped rugs, it was pretty novel — now it’s something we’re known for.
TC: People have attributed rich color stories to being something that we do uniquely, too.
AT: Tell us about Pieces Homes, where people can rent out a vacation home decked out in Pieces’ designs. Can you share the story behind how that concept came about?
CC: We debated for a while about what we should do for some kind of physical studio space. Back in the very beginning of the business, we thought, how better to demonstrate how one could live with our products than to actually do it in a home? I’m from Kennebunk, Maine, and Jenny’s also from Maine, so we’ve spent a lot of time up there. It’s this incredible vacation town, which made us think, ‘Maybe we should have some kind of vacation rental here as a side business?’
One day, we were like, we have to do it — we have to make it a Pieces thing. We started searching and ended up buying a house that I have passed by probably a million times in my life. Never once in my life did I think that I would own it or that it would be a good idea to own it. But, we were able to transform the space into something that completely belongs in the community and is also so Pieces.
AT: What do you like about working collaboratively/as a team?
TC: It’s awesome. Sometimes we’re all locked in, and we all have the same opinion about something, and then there’s other times where it’s literally three different opinions. It’s really cool to try and navigate past that. On top of that, these are my people: These are some of my dearest friends. So, we’ve been blessed to have a good working relationship.
JK: We don’t have any sort of ego between the three of us. That makes everything way more fluid and easier to ideate. It’s a really nice synergy — we inspire each other a lot.
CC: Yeah, we all feel like this is something that we’ll be doing for the rest of our lives. I can say that with confidence because we’re really good at working together, and we’re very close. We are family. There’s no other way to look at it.
AT: How do you define success in the design world? What makes you feel successful?
CC: When you design something that you’re proud of, that you really love and feel like you’ll always love. The intent is to create things that will be cool forever. I think we’ve designed some pieces that stand a really good chance of doing that.
JK: And also enjoying the process at the same time, having fun with it and with your team. I feel successful in the fact that we’ve created a business where we get to enjoy making really beautiful things — that’s what I do for a living, making people’s lives more beautiful.
AT: What makes you feel at home in your own space?
TC: I’ve been in my apartment for 11 years — so, I’m real comfortable. I moved around quite a bit as a kid, so the fact that I’ve been in my apartment for so long makes me feel at home and grounded. Just walking down my block and feeling like this is all very familiar.
CC: I think for us, smartly designed pieces, a good balance of color, art, and music. Also, our dog Zuko, who looks good in every room and tries to steal the thunder of every single photo shoot by situating himself in the middle.
AT: Any big plans for 2022 that you can share with us?
TC: Last year, we decided to create a mini grant for young Black and Brown students who were interested in getting into interior styling or furniture design. We have been flushing out what that program looks like and how we can be of service in that space.
CC: We also closed on our second property this summer, so hopefully launching the second Pieces Home by the end of this year. It’s a river-front house, which will also be in Maine. There will also be both new product launches and collaborations this year, but I can’t tell you what that stuff’s going to look like yet!
AT: What three words would you use to describe your work or style?
TC: “Cherish the day” — words from the incomparable Sade. Doesn’t really apply to my style, but it definitely applies to my spirit in the morning.
Interview has been edited and condensed.