Eric Villency is the CEO of Villency Design Group, a company founded by his grandfather. Villency however is not one to coast on his family’s laurels; in fact he has successfully turned a family-run furniture business into one of the most internationally influential product design and interior firms. Not only has he overseen the transformation of lounges for Mercedes-Benz Fashion Week and Citi Field, but he has worked with brands like Peloton, Organic Avenue, Equinox, and SoulCycle, helping them develop some of their signature products and apparel. Now, despite having countless projects in the works, Villency has launched his own line of fitness apparel, which has already been picked up by Bloomingdale’s. We chatted with the design maven to find out more about his impressive career.
Did you always have an interest in design and think you would follow in your grandfather's footsteps?
I grew up in a very creative family with painters, sculptors, and craftsman. I was exposed to artistic expression from an early age and my parents always encouraged me to follow my passions. While I wasn't always sure what path I would take, being involved in design was something that was inevitable.
What's the first thing you notice when you walk into a new space?
It depends on the space. Some have dramatic features that are impossible not to notice. In general, people interact with a room without even thinking about it. Temperature, lighting, and comfortable seating elements come together and create a sensory impression in us all, and if it is done well, that experience will be positive.
How would you describe your aesthetic?
I would say that I am a constructionist in that I really care about how things are fabricated. Materials and details are extremely important to me and even the most simplistic designs can be beautiful if they are expertly executed. Despite the diversity of projects I work on I think a common thread runs through every project, and for me, it is an uncluttered sensibility realized with great attention to detail.
Can you highlight some of your most memorable design projects?
Citi Field, home of the New York Mets, because sports stadiums are built so infrequently, The Delta Crown lounge in Miami involved working on the construction of a brand new terminal, and the post 9-11 St. Vincent's urgent care unit dedicated to Rudy Giuliani had great meaning for me as native New Yorker along with the innovative sustainability and wellness concepts we introduced into an emergency room environment; sadly the hospital closed and was demolished last year.
How did you get into product design and can you tell us about some of your most memorable projects?
Traditionally we were a furniture and design company, but as our company evolved and we became involved with large-scale commercial projects our scope of work expanding to product design and it's an area that has exploded for us in the last five years. Every project is unique and special in it's own way. For a diverse sampling I would say the Peloton interactive streaming bike because it involved creating a bike platform for groundbreaking technology and video streaming. Our performance apparel brand Feats of Strength was one of our first internally created brands and recently debuted in Bloomingdales, and on a more fundamental level the Rockstar LED signs had many technical and budgetary parameters that had to be met while producing huge quantities in large-scale mass production.
What are some of the most challenging parts about your job?
Designing and producing things is difficult and each part of the process has it's own challenges. Creating appealing products while meeting budgetary and timeline constraints is a constant balancing act. After all... A "good" design that is beautiful but isn't durable or is prohibitively expensive to produce is not a "good" design at all. We never know what we will work on in a given week. However, it is the challenges and the process of overcoming them that are the most fun and rewarding part of what I do. I'm fortunate to work with an incredible team of talented and dedicated people that make me feel like we can collectively accomplish almost anything.
How do you handle stress?
I do my best to maintain perspective while staying calm and weathering the storm. For me exercise and being active, especially being outside and around nature, is something that is incredibly soothing for me and appreciative of life's gifts.
Have you always been into wellness? Fashion?
Wellness is a term that really popped up in in the last 10 years and over time it has had different incarnations as far as exercise, nutrition, and finally, mental wellbeing is concerned- in the 80s eating non-fat frozen yogurt was probably the tip of the spear of healthy living trends. I've always loved sports and the outdoors and been interested in the various aspects that make up wellness. As for fashion, my grandfather was a huge design influence for me and he had an amazing personal style that was effortless and made a big impression on me. Fashion is a very personal form of self-expression and something we all do everyday.
With so many performance apparel brands already out there what made you decide to start your own and how are working to set it apart?
Making private label performance apparel for so many of today's most influential fitness brands gave us a lot of insight into the category and we saw an opportunity to create our own brand. Quality, utility, and versatility along with great fit are characteristics we've worked hard on refining. We've developed our own unique technical fabrics and styles and that has helped us create our own identity.
You've worked with a ton of fitness studios and wellness brands - any brands you'd love to work with that you haven't yet?
I love working in the category because everyone is incredibly passionate with a great sense of what they want to achieve and that is very inspiring as a designer. I think about future projects more in terms of categories and products as opposed to specific brands since there are so many talented people and great companies. Outdoor sports equipment (cycling, snowboarding/skiing and running), is something that would be very fun to work on.