Ateliers Grow in Brooklyn

Ever since the first exhibition in 1989, the International Contemporary Furniture Fair (ICFF) draws me to New York City annually.

Ever since the first exhibition in 1989, the International Contemporary Furniture Fair (ICFF) draws me to New York City annually.

The first few exhibits were exciting, showcasing the most innovative products from around the world, as well as displaying the work of emerging new talent, by way of juried student shows. As the years passed, I continued to attend, more out of nostalgia than anticipation of discovering the next Holy Grail in furniture design. Things were sort of flat and expected without any real innovation.

About 15 years ago, I heard rumors of some break away artisans who were leaving the congestion and expense of Manhattan to set-up shop in Brooklyn. I even ventured across that “oft’ sold” bridge to find these enclaves. However, those early years were often marked by disappointment. Heavy, nuevo “Craftsman-esque” tables and chairs…nothing new…or was there? Fast-forward to 2009, another trip to NYC for the ICFF and a venture beyond the Bridge to Brooklyn. Wow, have things changed! Not only is Brooklyn becoming more interesting, the small Craftsman community has burgeoned into ever expanding districts of artists and artisans, such as Williamsburg, Dumbo, and Red Hook.

It was at the Williamsburg district that I discovered two of the most amazing artist I have seen in my 30-plus years in the design industry, Mary Kuzma and Tomas Tisch. Mary is an open, energetic mass of creativity. When it comes to furniture finishes, she is the best artisan I have ever seen. Knowing all about the Italians and the Japanese and the quality of their work, I would confidently add her name to the best of the best. This woman continues to create and invent finishes on wood, metal, glass…whatever. She is making the impossible both possible and beautiful.

“My friend Andy Warhol once told me, ‘Go to the edge – when you get there you are only at the center – you then go to the next edge – that is how you create art,’ and that is what we are doing here in Brooklyn,” says Mary, smiling brightly.

Her husband Tomas is as quiet as Mary is outgoing. However, he doesn’t need to speak. All he has to say is expressed through his exquisite glass and mirror creations. I thought that I had seen all that was new, and old, in glass. Wrong. This man does in glass what Bernini did in stone. He sees things in glass and mirror that I did not know existed, let alone could be created. His work is so revered that an über-famous French designer has claimed credit for some of Tomas’ glass and mirror confections. It is widely accepted that American craftsman lack the tools, ability, and training to create such gems. I now know this not to be true.
In addition to Mary and Tomas, I met with Luis and Celia De Campos of Inner Gaze. A husband and wife team, originally from Brazil, they are now firmly ensconced in America and Brooklyn. Beautiful furniture and exotic woods are their specialty. They create pieces for some of the most renowned designers and their celebrity clientele. They work, in the background, with focus and a commitment to always take care of the smallest, yet so important details. The entire workshop is watched over by a boisterous green macaw and peopled by craftsmen, as dedicated as Luis and Celia to produce furniture of great beauty and style. No computer-generated products here – they do everything old school. It is no surprise that Mary Kuzma finishes their most prized pieces.

I met with the young craftsmen from UHURU: Jason Horvath, Bill Hilgendorf, and David Gaynor. They are working to create the new by utilizing recycled, renewable, and green resource materials. Using the cutting edge of material technology, their designs show promise, even if design is less important than the material and execution.

Back across the Bridge to the Javits Center, the ICFF, and the true stars of the show: the young students, all immensely talented with show business savvy beyond their years. There is Sang Hoon Kim, who envisioned and created one of the most memorable pieces of the exhibition, a magnificent undulating and articulating wooden screen/room divider. Then, there is Jang Won Yoon, from Los Angeles, another beyond-talented visionary, who has recreated the contemporary chair and stool in lacquered finishes, both delicious to look at and smooth to the touch. It just doesn’t get much better. Finally, I turn down another aisle and there is this spongy, clear/greenish, rubbery, pillowy thingy, with bright orange zippers on four corners. It is Chelsea Frost’s vision of the future in comfort and design…an adjustable pillow, a flat soft floor pad, whatever you can imagine. I loved it. I loved what it could be, and the promise of what this young woman would design in the future.

Inevitably, there are too many highlights to list. But, what did I get out of this venture? Incredible new resources, inspiration, and a reminder never to be complacent. Stay creative. Then, create.


Mary Kuzma Finishing
Inner Gaze Furniture Design
Luiz De Campos
Chelsea Frost
Franklin Getchell, President
UHURU Design + Build
David Gaynor
Colgate Searle
Acme World Zoo

Jang Yoon
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