Snubbed by Architectural Digest: The struggle of the American artisan

This week on Disruptive Design, Gerald Olesker of ADG Lighting discusses a recent dispute with Architectural Digest‘s March cover story featuring the home of actress Sofia Vergara, which ignited an industry-wide conversation over attribution. But the story spans beyond AD not giving proper credit to designers and makers. The story is about what happens after: how it affects Main Street USA. Click play on the video below to watch their discussion.

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Courtney Porter, DNN: By this point, most people who are going to tune into this already know the gist of what happened. To recap quickly, the March cover of Architectural Digest featured actress Sofia Vergara in her Beverly [Park] home, and the spread gave credit for the project to the interior designer who finished but did not start the project.

Gerald Olesker, ADG Lighting: That’s certainly how it plays out in Architectural Digest, yeah.

Courtney Porter, DNN: Yes, so you fill in some of the blanks for me here. What is your relationship to the project and to Timothy Corrigan, [the designer] who started the project?

Gerald Olesker, ADG Lighting: Oh, I’d love to. The first part of that is, this is my 29th home in Beverly Park that I’ve worked on, designed and fabricated, and I started in the early 90s there…Now as they’re coming through and recycling with remodels or even tear downs, we’ve been blessed to be invited back in and work on some of these projects.

The contractor at the time had given me a heads up that they were working on the project and put me in touch with Timothy Corrigan’s office. Meanwhile, he and I were Instagramming…back and forth as he was working on the Chateau… and [I] said, ‘hey, what do you want me to do on this project?’ …Serve the client, make them happy, work with my team…Sophia [Vergara] and Sylvia, who works for Tim, had put together a list of [what they] really love…They brought me images and they said, ‘we’d like this on the house.’

ADG Lighting renderings for actress Sofia Vergara’s residence, part of the proposed scope or work with Hoffman Ospina, ResideREside and Timothy Corrigan.

It goes back to when people used to tear pages out of Architectural Digest or take a picture. And I told them lovingly, no, I can’t make those for you because those are two lots in Beverly Park that I’ve already made those [for other projects]. I’ll create something new.

So we make a nice rendering, create a profile for the client, discuss what their needs are. And it’s just a hand wash on tissue that everyone knows I do. And I always says, add your [spin on] it and make it beautiful…Our team then turns that into CAD drawings, three-dimensional drawings, full size, we hold them up. That was the process…

Now we say curbside to poolside. We really mean that… because lighting is part of the architecture and should be continuous. So we had pieces at the gates and the welcoming. And Sophia’s like, ‘oh, I want this. I want that.’ So you admonish the elements to represent the homeowner’s taste while sticking true to the architecture. And that’s how we work….Then some time had passed, and there was a changing of the guard. And the new designer came in, who we work with and have done other celebrity homes with and whatnot.

Somewhere in there, there was a, ‘hey, can you also make a couple extra pieces? The gym, this [and] that spot.’ And I had even created a whole series of other renderings of what should be at the pool.

We [designed] this beautiful furniture where I was inspired by the key to Cartagena that Sophia had received. [It] was this giant key. So there was a little bit of that nod in the pool furniture. We didn’t make that in the end, but I have some other designers who want it. So that’s good. And then there were some other things within the landscape.

Time went on, and Architectural Digest published the article. And we know we don’t always get credit. And it’s acceptable, but in today’s market, where their digital versions can provide that credit for you, they can change [it on a dime]. Luxe magazine has always helped us out with that. California Homes, they’ve been wonderful over the years…

We are developing and creating a service along with the architects and designers, the landscape architects. And the byproduct of what we do, the fact that we have American artisans building product and applying that to the homes, that functional detail becomes something that is important to the architecture…

Crazily enough, I went through multiple rounds of writing to AD and the global editor of Condé Nast said, nope, we’re sticking to the story. We’re not going to change anything. Even after Sophia in her video says, ‘I love the patio, [it] is my favorite place. I’m like Don Corleone sitting here on the patio…’ They show all of the lanterns we had created. [And they didn’t] give me credit.

This is very odd. At the same time, Timothy [Corrigan] had his issue with them and they’ve corrected it with him. He even pointed out in an [Instagram] post…He gave the accreditation [to ADG] where it needed to be. But Architectural Digest still said, no. So what do you do? You take your lumps and you talk about it in town and it’s become a hot topic… attribution is really important.

Courtney Porter, DNN: Since you and I first spoke about this, I’ve been giving a lot of thought about what I would do in this situation as an editor because it’s easy for me to see myself in that position. If I’m meeting with a homeowner and a designer is there and they say, this is the designer who designed my house. It would not be my instinct to say, “did you do the whole house?” …On the front end of this, I’m sympathetic to Architectural Digest because I think an honest mistake was made.

Past project featuring ADG Lighting | Photographed by Manolo Langolis

Gerald Olesker, ADG Lighting: Oh, I think so too.

Courtney Porter, DNN: But I’m so confounded by their reaction to being confronted by you. When you showed me your correspondence with them, it was a little bit of an acknowledgement, but barely. And I just don’t really understand why…Who are they really serving at the end of the day?

Gerald Olesker, ADG Lighting: Right. I think that today’s marketplace for shelter magazines has drastically changed. A number of architects, well-noted, have had a discussion with me about it too…Look, we can’t all have attribution, but maybe you can because in a digital world, if you think of the rolling credits in a movie, the grip who helped the other guy at the taco truck and then brought someone their coffee is getting credit. And I think if we look at architecture in the same manner, it takes a lot of people to build these magnificent projects or even a simple project. So what we have to do at that level then is ensure that we are respecting everyone involved.

ADG Lighting: Saddlery leather wrapped Pyrex pendants with x stitch and buckle detailing, a nod to the stables around the Hidden Hills estate. 

And the trades work hard. They’re not just the people who pay for ads in a magazine, but have valuable experiences to add and elevate the essence of architecture. That’s what we say is the “hashtag ADG advantage.” [It] is elevating the essence of architecture.

Courtney Porter, DNN: I don’t want to speculate too much, but I do think it’s fair to say Timothy Corrigan is going to be okay. We don’t really have to worry about Tim, but who does something like this affect the most? You started to touch on it, the trades. How many people do you employ and how affected are they by not receiving attribution?

Gerald Olesker, ADG Lighting: We have 30 plus families that it probably affects by not receiving the attribution. We’re not necessarily getting the next level of work. And this rolled through with AD in the Kourtney Kardashian issue, which was the first one with a double cover to sell over a million copies [without attributing our work].

And Martyn Ballard [the designer on the Kardashian project] had [commentary about that]. [In] the video Martin said, ‘thanks to ADG lighting,’ probably seven times. It was cut out. So this wasn’t even Kourtney and her people cutting us out, but it was the editor’s choice to do that, [to] not give attribution even in print [or the digital caption].

“We have 30 plus families that it probably affects by not receiving the attribution.”

That’s very harmful because all of those pieces were original pieces for that home. And as Martyn came in and redid the home, he worked with us and Kourtney worked with us continually, from the previous owner. So our work shows and is kept.

When he received calls [asking], ‘hey, where did this piece come from?’ He shot people over to us. Because again, he’s a gentleman and someone we’ve worked with for a lot of years.

At that level, where’s the harm? The harm is how many people out of a million plus would have said, ‘oh, that’s so cool’. Not [necessarily] ‘I want that from her home,’ but some people do.

But [rather], ‘it looks like you’re working with the best of the best. [Where can we get something like that?]’ …They then proceeded to do that [to] us with Molly Sims [too]. For some reason, I have three amazing women celebrity clients that we’ve done the work with in AD and never got credit…

And with social media, the virility of someone saying, ‘oh, this is the person that made that,’ is the difference between someone coming to us and someone just going to a store or going to another vendor saying, ‘hey, can you make that?’ Because it’s not worth their time to find the resources. And this is where we work hard to share that click, give acknowledgments even when we are posting.

Photographers always want their credit. And we’re like, ‘well, wait, you’re photographing our IP and we’re not getting credit’. But that IP is selling magazines and that IP is selling their photographs.

So without that in and of itself, where do we go? I even had that with Heidi Klum’s house, too, where I did it for someone else. She bought the home. And a photographer got upset that we shared a photograph. I said, I’ll pay you your whatever, $150 for the photograph if that’s the case. Because most photographers are willing to do that. Manolo, he’s an amazing photographer. Anytime he sees our work or we tell him, we just, hey, can I buy those? Can we go back and forth? And there should be that wonderful sharing. But A.D., Condé Nast rules really, I know, wasn’t that mind-blowing, Courtney?

Courtney Porter, DNN: Yes, I’m still racking my head trying to figure out why. And you said something earlier about the nature of, or the reason for shelter publications changing….I’m wondering if that has something to do with it. It’s not an excuse in the slightest, but because they’re appealing to a much larger audience that’s not [always] shopping custom, maybe they just want that easy retail product. Is that why they will credit the side chair from CB2, but not something beautiful and custom?

Gerald Olesker, ADG Lighting: Large companies have bigger pocketbooks to chase after their PR and their marketing and try to keep everyone in balance, right? And they have bigger dollars. Smaller companies, Main Street America, the artisans like ourselves, we have weathered this. ADG has been around for 20 years this year. And I’ve been doing this 30 years. I had another family business prior that’s still running and very successful.

And we note that our passion towards the trades are why and what these other kind of resources, if you may, CB2 and the other ones, are looking to the nod of what someone did creatively, and then creating a mass market item for that. And we’ve seen that even with licensing now, with restoration or some of the others where they’ll take not mainstream, but more noted artisans who’ve been in showrooms and push that name out in this branding experience, which doesn’t make it a better product and doesn’t fit the architecture. The reason an architect does what they do is because this pen in hand designs, creates and crafts the embodiment and the soul of the architecture and design supplements that. Together, you have this built environment.

Courtney Porter, DNN: Yeah…From a public perception standpoint, this is a double-edged sword…there’s a fairly large disconnect between the artisans and the makers who, like yourself, create luxury products and the public associating you with also having the budget and the resources that your client does.

Gerald Olesker, ADG Lighting: Potentially.

Courtney Porter, DNN: …There’s an expectation that you can just hire a pricey PR firm and chase after this…take care of it that way, but not necessarily.

Gerald Olesker, ADG Lighting: We’ve taken a guerrilla approach. I don’t advertise. I have here and there…We will sponsor organizations when in turn members of those organizations have really given us a lot of work. So thankfully, we will become a sponsor…

The ability to do this is not just me. I have an entire team behind me, right? My days of welding and doing things are few and far between. That’s only for a cathartic moment in the studio when I can put some patina on it and do an art piece. The guys and gals that I have in the studio, in the shop, they’re very skilled. They can do old world. They can do modern. They can do anything in between. We can reference and replicate an antique and a vintage piece to elevate and create a one of a kind.

“This story is not being told in the shelter publications.”

This story is not being told in the shelter publications. I’ve been lucky with Luxe here and there. They’ve given us a few articles, [The] LA Times.. wrote an article. [Then] it’s off the shelf and gone. The leverage point isn’t the prolific reverberation and over and over bylines that keep happening.

CB2 or they use many other entities. It’s not that they’re the best. They’re available and that’s okay. Everyone needs something beautiful. I think the retail stores are making some really wonderful pieces. At the same time, that’s not architecture. That’s just decorating and that’s okay too for those that need that.

There’s a place for everyone in this design community. Attribution though is so important. So that our mission critical is the American artisan becomes more prolific and doesn’t die away.

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Many studios have closed over the years. A lot of guys on Melrose are gone and in New York and San Francisco, they’ve come to us and want us to buy them. I’m like, what am I buying? My same audience. I’d love to see those competitors still there or their legacies [living’ on. There’s a story there.

I appreciate, Courtney, that you said the story goes beyond this debacle of AD not giving us attribution. The story is what happens when you’re not given attribution and how does that affect Main Street USA?

“I think the retail stores are making some really wonderful pieces. At the same time, that’s not architecture. That’s just decorating and that’s okay too for those that need that. There’s a place for everyone in this design community.”

Courtney Porter, DNN:  Right, absolutely. How often would you say this happens and what sort of industry standards should we change, if anything, going forward?

Gerald Olesker, ADG Lighting: The other day I had ordered Jake Arnold’s book and Martyn Ballard’s book because I knew our work was in there. And I know in the books we don’t get attribution. It’s a rarity.

Several months back, there was a week where I started looking at all these books. I’m like, ‘oh my God, five Rizzoli books that came out within the last year have our work in it.’ We’re blessed that we can brag that our work is on those pages.

I said, ‘I’m just gonna go to Barnes & Noble and go thumb through the magazines to see if I even have any attribution this week,’ just because I was so angry about the AD issue. And sure enough, House Beautiful, I’m going through… ‘Here’s a Jeremiah Brandt project’. And look at that. They gave us credit on the lights in the arbor and oh, we’re so thankful. Immediately we post that [on social media] because we are, thankful and we’re excited…

It just gives us a level of excitement and appreciation that a client like Jeremiah Brandt, who’s coming into his own now and… is giving us that credit. And that’s what this should be about…And when you offer the ability for them to correct digitally, it should be without a thought. Verify. The verification is easy. Call Ohara [Davies-Gaetano]. It’s not Ohara’s fault that we weren’t in there. She knows who we are…Call Timothy, call the builder, call the homeowner.

“When you offer the ability for them to correct digitally, it should be without a thought. Verify. The verification is easy.”

I made Sophia a beautiful little bronze flag– we have a laser engraver here at the studio– with the Barranquilla flag, which is from her hometown. And in one of our meetings, I slipped that to her. It was during COVID, with the mask on her face, her eyes lit up and I got the biggest, ‘muchas gracias‘ and…that made me feel good.

It really was about the connection between us, the architecture, the homeowner, the designer, the builder, the contractor, everyone in the landscape architect, everyone involved. And we know we’re not the only ones out there, but we’re a part of it. This is the struggle for the American artisan is the non-commercialization with the opportunity to grow.

Courtney Porter, DNN: It also sounds like they missed out on all of these cool little stories too. There’s so much else going on, so much other nuance that they missed out on, unfortunately.

Gerald Olesker, ADG Lighting: Well, you’re not missing out on the story.

Courtney Porter, DNN: I’m not.

Gerald Olesker, ADG Lighting:  Your audience isn’t. You know, when I go to Texas to lecture for ICAA, this won’t even be a blip on the radar, even though some of us there share the same experience from working on that project… it’s more about the move forward….80% of what we do is brand new, 80%. And I now have a team of 22 salespeople, design advisors throughout the country working with people to build this up so that we can enhance our factory experience, the shop experience with the American artisan, building more people.

I want to teach more people the metalwork and the artistry, because this is what projects deserve… If we can share more positive experiences and let people know it’s good, there’ll be a million short plumbers by 2030. What’s wrong with the trades? Why are we not pushing and promoting that? Because we have a housing shortage. So people are working on their homes, adding [onto] them

And the more people that we can touch, the more experiences architecturally we can do. I think the world’s a better place by having prettier things. And you have a smaller waste footprint too, doing it our way, because it’s not a mass-produced item.

Courtney Porter, DNN: That’s a pretty good note to end on… Is there anything else that we didn’t touch on that you think is super important to get out into the world?

Gerald Olesker, ADG Lighting: From [the] business side, as they say, network to get work…[Engage] in a community group, talk [with] the students. We’re working with a woman with the Mexican and Norwegian consulates to talk about these same issues, about green… construction, fabrication. How do we really make [a positive] impact? And that’s the message: how do we do it? We’re doing it and we’d like to do it more… I appreciate that you took an interview on to have your audience learn more about it. And we can really…take it to another level. So thank you.

Courtney Porter, DNN: Well, thank you for all the work you do, Gerald. Our community appreciates you.

To learn more about Gerald Olesker and ADG Lighting, visit them online.

View Comments (2)
  • This was a great interview! So timely too. Most times in a magazine, if it’s a new build, I’ll see architect, designer, maybe one other firm accredited. I think what needs to be done – if a magazine editor won’t add in our information? Post in the comment section the fact that you did whatever the work was. I saw a huge really upscale built-in posted in several groups on FB – from a rendering I did for a client’s entire room. He didn’t give me credit for the design, as he wasn’t aware of my part in this. IN FACT, the OWNER gave my drawings/elevations to him. He thought THEY had done this.

    Call me shocked.

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