Brooklyn is only a short distance from Manhattan yet it has its own, highly distinctive identity. Talk to Brooklyn’s tight-knit but burgeoning community of designer-makers and you get the impression that this New York borough is widely seen as more romantic, bohemian, less overtly worldly than the more commerce-focused Manhattan. Yet it’s also easy to exaggerate the differences between these two creative hubs. After all, Brooklyn’s new generation of designers are, in their own way, highly ambitious and entrepreneurial. Even so, the ethos of their businesses is more leftfield, possibly more laid-back than those of Manhattan.

Comparatively leafy Brooklyn is generally seen as a gentler place, albeit one teeming, like never before, with industrious creatives working in a multitude of fields. ‘Brooklyn has an energy that springs from all types of talented people,’ say Jean and Oliver Pelle, who, in 2011, set up their lighting and furniture design studio Pelle in Red Hook, western Brooklyn, a port area that boasts a high concentration of designers. ‘There’s a big entrepreneurial spirit, a groundswell of activity in one spot – designers, restaurateurs, beekeepers making honey on rooftops.’ ‘There are all kinds of industries here,’ concur Jason Horvath and Bill Hilgendorf of design studio Uhuru, which is ‘dedicated to sustainability and local craftsmanship’. Its Coney Island furniture is fashioned from the eponymous Brooklyn peninsula’s demolished, weathered boardwalk, originally installed in the 40s. ‘People are brewing beer, designing wallpaper, lighting, you name it... It’s amazing.’ There are many advantages to being Brooklyn-based, many designers point out. For starters, there’s its strong community spirit: many creatives know each other, help each other out and sometimes collaborate.

Jumbo 36 Bubble Chandelier by PELLE

Made in Brooklyn | News

Jumbo 36 Bubble Chandelier by PELLE

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Summit Media Unit by Uhuru Design

Made in Brooklyn | News

Summit Media Unit by Uhuru Design

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Split Base Table by Uhuru Design

Made in Brooklyn | News

Split Base Table by Uhuru Design

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Traditionally, Brooklyn’s main economy was manufacturing, but in the mid-70s this shifted to a mainly service-based one. Yet an infrastructure of local, highly specialist suppliers which designers make use of – from timber yards to metalworkers and machinists – still exists. ‘Brooklyn has great resources,’ says Will Kavesh, co-founder with Emrys Berkower of furniture and lighting company Token. ‘We produce most of our work ourselves but use some external manufacturers.’ In fact, Token is typical of many Brooklyn design outfits in that it’s relatively self-sufficient. According to Kavesh, one reason for this is economic: ‘Brooklyn’s factories can be expensive, which encourages designers to produce their own work.’ Another reason he cites is America’s ‘long designer-maker tradition’. ‘We have a strong DIY culture – Americans are equally interested in making and designing pieces.’

Catenary Bar Stool by Token

Made in Brooklyn | News

Catenary Bar Stool by Token

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Lemp Pendants by Token

Made in Brooklyn | News

Lemp Pendants by Token

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By contrast, for now, Brooklyn’s rents are relatively inexpensive. ‘Many designers can’t afford Manhattan’s rents so they’ve colonised outlying areas like Brooklyn and its disused warehouse spaces in such neighbourhoods as Red Hook, Bushwick and Sunset Park,’ says Oliver Pelle. While many designers prefer to live in Brooklyn than Manhattan, they acknowledge that they’re dependent on the latter, one of the world’s biggest furniture markets. Many of their clients are based in Manhattan, too, although this is changing, according to Asher Israelow, whose eponymous company’s custom-made furniture often combines traditional woodworking with brass inlays in complex geometric patterns. ‘My customers used to be mostly Manhattan-based but many now live in Brooklyn.’ For Mark de la Vega, founder of luxe homeware brand DLV, Brooklyn’s proximity to Manhattan is a boon: ‘Our customers are there. It only takes me 10 minutes to drive through the Brooklyn-Battery Tunnel to meet them.’

Anamorphic Console by Asher Israelow

Made in Brooklyn | News

Anamorphic Console by Asher Israelow

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Dante Table by Asher Israelow

Made in Brooklyn | News

Dante Table by Asher Israelow

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Giac Chair by DLV Design

Made in Brooklyn | News

Giac Chair by DLV Design

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Then there are Manhattan’s fairs, including the Architectural Digest Home Design Show, the Armory Show, Collective, and, of course, ICFF – New York Design Week’s largest exhibition. (All the designers mentioned in this article are showing either at the fairgrounds or in one of the city’s hotspots. What’s more, they also appear in Architonic’s brand-new app, being launched just in time for May – Architonic Best Brooklyn NY Brands app.) ‘When it comes to shows, Manhattan has the edge,’ opines designer Brit Kleinman of the firm AVO, who hand-paints cowhide rugs and cushions with bold geometric prints inspired by traditional patterns found in Guatemala and New Mexico.

Desert Sand Stripe Leather Pillow by AVO

Made in Brooklyn | News

Desert Sand Stripe Leather Pillow by AVO

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Blue Geometric Rug - Full Hide by AVO

Made in Brooklyn | News

Blue Geometric Rug - Full Hide by AVO

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But Brooklyn, too, has its fairs, notably Brooklyn Designs, founded in 2003 and located in northern neighbourhood Greenpoint. ‘We launched our company there last May,’ say Aaron and Heather Shoon, the husband-and-wife team behind Pletz, which makes lathe-turned lamps out of FSC-certified cherry, maple or walnut, the best-known being the Delhi light with a turquoise-dyed neck that, the duo say, ‘offers a fresh take on mid-century design’. They describe their designs as being of ‘heirloom quality’, a popular Brooklyn term implying durability and by extension sustainability. Indeed, sustainability is a major concern for its designers, according to David Gaynor, who initially worked for Uhuru, then set up his eponymous furniture-making firm devoted ‘to a contemporary exploration of modernism’ (the movement many Brooklyn designers are inspired by): ‘There’s been a great push here for green furniture, upcycling and furniture with integrity. One aspect of this is makers taking pride in their pieces’ construction. Otherwise furniture falls apart and ends up as landfill.’

Delhi III by Pletz

Made in Brooklyn | News

Delhi III by Pletz

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Marty by Pletz

Made in Brooklyn | News

Marty by Pletz

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Inverted Live Edge Table by David Gaynor Design

Made in Brooklyn | News

Inverted Live Edge Table by David Gaynor Design

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DGD Lounge Chair by David Gaynor Design

Made in Brooklyn | News

DGD Lounge Chair by David Gaynor Design

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There are some drawbacks to being in Brooklyn though. ‘Many of my customers won’t leave Manhattan to come to my Brooklyn showroom,’ says Angel Naula, whose long-established company Naula creates bespoke furniture for a raft of celebrities, from actor Hugh Jackman to singer Norah Jones. According to Greenpoint-based designer Farrah Sit, whose stripped-down homeware often incorporates lines that create illusions of volume – take her Graphite planter-cum-light – another downside is the area’s creeping gentrification: ‘I’d prefer to stay in Brooklyn at all costs as it’s accessible to everything needed. But it’s uncertain how long we can stay here as land is increasingly being bought by developers for residential use.’ Designers’ survival here is threatened, too, by escalating property prices, notes Stefanie Brechbuehler, co-founder of Workstead, which designs interiors, furniture and lighting. ‘People are being priced out of parts of Brooklyn – the media has reported on it being one of the least affordable areas in the US.’

Abyss Mini by Naula

Made in Brooklyn | News

Abyss Mini by Naula

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Plaza Bed by Naula

Made in Brooklyn | News

Plaza Bed by Naula

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Noir Chair by Farrah Sit

Made in Brooklyn | News

Noir Chair by Farrah Sit

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Graphite pendant lamps by Farrah Sit

Made in Brooklyn | News

Graphite pendant lamps by Farrah Sit

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Chandelier by Workstead

Made in Brooklyn | News

Chandelier by Workstead

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Industrial Collection by Workstead

Made in Brooklyn | News

Industrial Collection by Workstead

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It was not always thus, remembers furniture and lighting designer David Weeks, who began working for jeweller Ted Muehling in the 90s: ‘Back then, New York had a fledgling design scene. It was very craftsy, dominated by hand-made wooden furniture,’ recalls Weeks, whose work is manufactured in Brooklyn and sold at his showroom in Tribeca, Manhattan. ‘Later, a new generation of designers moved to Brooklyn during the recession when Manhattan wasn’t affordable and the Bronx was too far.’ ‘Some credit for the scene has to go to the 2008 economic slump,’ believes Ian Collings of Fort Standard, whose furniture and products are minimalist while ‘referencing craft traditions’. ‘People were being laid off or weren’t being hired, so they had to start their own companies, be self-sufficient, learn to get products to market quickly. Now, with the economy recovering, and some good experience under our belts our growth can finally be more focused.’

Kopra Standing Lamp No 316 by David Weeks Studio

Made in Brooklyn | News

Kopra Standing Lamp No 316 by David Weeks Studio

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Loop & Hook Standing Lamp No 308 by David Weeks Studio

Made in Brooklyn | News

Loop & Hook Standing Lamp No 308 by David Weeks Studio

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Sprue Candelabra 1 and Sprue Candelabra 5 by Fort Standard

Made in Brooklyn | News

Sprue Candelabra 1 and Sprue Candelabra 5 by Fort Standard

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Sprue Candelabra 4 by Fort Standard

Made in Brooklyn | News

Sprue Candelabra 4 by Fort Standard

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Today, slogans such as ‘Made in Brooklyn’ and ‘Brooklyn Brands’ are used to summarise the area’s designers and their aesthetic. Some, however, are sceptical about them. ‘They generally create a caricature of reclaimed, rough-hewn, handmade furniture. Yet people are doing a variety of things in Brooklyn, often creating very sophisticated work,’ says Mat Driscoll, founder of furniture firm Bellboy. ‘At trade fairs, I hear people say Brooklyn must be a fairyland for designers,’ says another designer. ‘You graduate, set up your business there and you’re up and running. But it’s not easy. It’s an interesting incubator of ideas but not the utopia some imagine.’

Cirque Mirror by Bellboy

Made in Brooklyn | News

Cirque Mirror by Bellboy

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Chairs Academy by Bellboy

Made in Brooklyn | News

Chairs Academy by Bellboy

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That said, many designers, such as Jason Miller, whose company Roll & Hill produces polished lighting in brass, bronze, leather, rope and mouth-blown glass, are ‘proud’ of being Brooklyn-based: ‘It’s a great place. There’s a confluence of cultural strands here. Most people I bump into are part of the creative world, be it the relatively commercial field of advertising or food or design.’

Agnes candelabra hanging 10 candles bronze by Roll & Hill

Made in Brooklyn | News

Agnes candelabra hanging 10 candles bronze by Roll & Hill

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Modo chandelier 21 globes bronze smoke by Roll & Hill

Made in Brooklyn | News

Modo chandelier 21 globes bronze smoke by Roll & Hill

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EVENTS AND SHOWROOMS DURING NEW YORK DESIGN WEEK

1. Pelle
ICFF, booth 1144

2. Uhuru
ICFF, booth 1448
Uhuru Showroom
74 Franklin Street
New York, NY 10013
Opening hours: May 16th–19th, 10am–6pm
Shuttles going between Javits Centre & showroom

3. Token
WantedDesign Manhattan
Terminal Stores, 269 11th Avenue
New York, NY 10001
Opening hours: May 5th-18th, page 15

4. Asher Israelow
Brooklyn Navy Yard, Building 3, 11th floor
Brooklyn, NY 11205
Studio visits by appointment: +1 914.413.9925

5. DLV
WantedDesign Manhattan
Terminal Stores, 269 11th Avenue
New York, NY 10001
Opening hours: May 15th–19th, page 15

SELECT Contemporary Art Fair Center 548
548 W. 22nd Street
New York, NY 10011
Opening hours:
May 15th, 2pm–10pm
May 16th, 12pm–10pm
May 17th, 12pm–6pm

6. AVO
Sightunseen Offsite @ Hudson Mercantile building
500 West 36th Street
New York, NY 10018
Opening hours:
May 15th, 12pm-7pm
May 16th-19th, 11am-7pm

7. Pletz @ David Gaynor
ICFF, booth 1047

 8. David Gaynor
ICFF, booth 1047

9. Naula
ICFF, booth 2218

10. Farrah Sit
Colony, the designer‘s co-op
324 Canal Street, 2nd Floor
New York, NY 10013
Opening hours: May 4th–29th, 12pm–6pm
Cocktail party: May 14th, 6pm–10pm

11. Workstead
ICFF, booth 1962

12. Fort Standard
175 Van Dyke street, unit 325B
Brooklyn, NY 11231
Studio visits by appointment: +1 718.576.2204

13. David Weeks Studio 38 Walker Street
New York, NY 10013
Cocktail party: May 14th, 6pm–9pm

14. Bellboy
WantedDesign Manhattan
Terminal Stores, 269 11th Avenue
New York, NY 10001
Opening hours: Fri–Mon, page 15

WantedDesign Brooklyn
274 36th Street, Sunset Park
Brooklyn, NY 11232
Opening hours: May 9th–19th, page 15

15. Roll & Hill
The Future Perfect
55 Great Jones Street
New York, NY 10012
Opening hours: Mon–Fri 10am–7am, Sat–Sun 11am–7pm
Cocktail: 16th, Wonder Room Opening 7pm–9pm
Cocktail: 7th, Roll & Hill 2015 Collection 6.30pm–9pm
Coffee with Jason Miller: 18th, 9.30am–12pm

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