Casual Living Staff -- Casual Living, August 1, 2008
The Coast of Kenya, home to safaris and primitive beaches including Nyali and Zanzibar, was an inspiration for his first two collections to be shown next month at the Casual Market. Premarket attendees got a sampling last month of his comfortable safari style and ethnic chic luxury lines.
At the High Point Market in April, retail buyers who visited Acacia’s showroom saw Cabana Joe’s island-influenced styles for indoor or covered areas. His Santa Isabella Collection, inspired by the island of Cuba, features pencil rattan and vintage shell embellishments. The Veradero Collection has memorable coconut embellishments on a woven abaca crescent sofa and duffle pillows.
Cabana Joe’s lifestyle brand also extends to lighting and wall décor collections with Stylecraft Home and rugs with Surya.
“I’m proud of all of the designs we’ve put out as a team,” O’Brien said. “I don’t so much favor one or the other because they are all conceived at different places in time and reflect current trends or what I think is really happening in that moment. I am proud to be associated with fine manufacturers like Acacia, Surya and Stylecraft, who understand the lifestyle and how it speaks to people. We have attracted new bedding and botanicals companies who want to add their personality to this team and create product for the home that creates a haven for people.”
While growing up in Florida, surfing and sophisticated beach lifestyles were part of O’Brien’s early life and continue to influence his philosophies of design. “I always viewed my surroundings as something that can be molded or changed to accommodate what I sensed as a feeling of comfort,” he said.
Although he had no formal training, he began working as an interior designer in Southern California about 20 years ago, adding furniture design five years later. O’Brien opened his first Cabana Joe’s retail store in 1994 in Venice, Calif., creating a sophisticated home furnishings store that reflected his relaxed lifestyle.
“I learned everything as I became more eager to find out exactly how things were done,” he said. “My retail location also allowed me freedom to arrange the environment to suit my desire for casual, comfortable surroundings.”
O’Brien said he found many designers influential when he was younger, including Craig Wright and Rose Tarlow, both of Los Angeles. “Today though I’m not so much influenced by other designers,” he said. “When I work I mainly like to get a sense of what the client’s desires are, and then help create their world for them. I also look to antiques and imagine how I can interpret them in natural materials.”
Always eco-friendly, O’Brien uses a mixture of materials but finds his favorites are rattan and bamboo. “A great casual furniture design would be comfortable and reflect a sense of style that allows it to look like it could fit in anywhere, either in a million-dollar beach house or cabin in the woods,” O’Brien said.
When in need of a creative boost, O’Brien finds inspiration by going back to nature. “Living in Hawaii on the island of Kauai makes that easy but it really doesn’t matter where I am, there is always a place to find beauty in nature,” he said. “I surf and run the beach. A good hike also helps me operate from the right vantage point. The thing that matters most to me in life is to be comfortable, mentally and physically. I do my best to bring that home.”
At home in Kauai, developers, model home builders and contract buyers are buying into the casual elegance of his designs. “I believe your living or working environment should reflect what you are most comfortable with,” O’Brien said.
If there is anything he wishes he had known earlier in his career, O’Brien said it would be, “That I can be myself and people relate to the lifestyle I actually am blessed to live.”