Brooklyn Designs: Showcasing the Best and Brightest

You'll find makers of many kinds, whether you’re in the market for a $1,200 chair or a cool dock for your iPhone

Inspired by the rigidity of gemstones, designer Hannah Fink's Gemmy Chair is made for the outdoors (Photos for The Bridge by Denise Bosco)

If you want a good reason to text the head-explosion emoji to all your friends, might I suggest you get yourself down to the Brooklyn Museum?

That’s where you’ll find Brooklyn Designs, the annual design event showcasing product designers, artists, architects, and interior designers, whose work will not only blow you away—but remind you of how many pockets of creativity exist in the borough.

Open to the public May 12-13, the survey acts as an egalitarian space for the 50-plus independent designers and longtime design brands, selected through an application and jury process. Metalworkers still in grad school feature their pieces next to decades-old design studios.

There are people making intricate jewelry, intricate light fixtures, intricate coffee tables. Everything is intricate! And awe-inspiring! (And for sale, of course.) Some designers are still working out of their apartments or small studio spaces—others have expanded into giant workshops.

The Brooklyn Museum provides a worthy backdrop to the impressive collections, and the move from the Brooklyn Expo Center to the august institution was spearheaded by outgoing Brooklyn Chamber of Commerce president and CEO Andrew Hoan, who, when spotted at the design show, said he had 12 more hours to go in his Brooklyn post before his eventual move to Portland, Ore.

Here are one dozen of the design pieces, studios, companies, and makers that caught our eye. Say hi to them from 11 am to 6 pm this weekend. 

1. For When Black and White Won’t Cut It

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Susan Steinbrock Design makes a splash at the entry to the design show, featuring the textile designer’s hand-painted scarves and custom-made rugs in bold primary colors. Working out of Brooklyn since 2004, she debuted her new collection of rugs at the show, which begin with collages of colored papers.

2. For a Perfect Wedding Gift

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Caroline Quinio founded her jewelry line PLAITLY last year, combining her architecture background with an eye for beautiful statement accessories. With pieces designed using 3D-modeling software, printed nylon, and beads, PLAITLY seamlessly merges the traditional with technology. Especially intriguing is the Heliodon line, which uses sun-angle charts from a specific date and time chosen by the wearer to construct one-of-a-kind rings, earrings, or necklaces that curve to the specific sun angle of, say, a person’s wedding day.

3. For Your Brownstone

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It’s a feat for a business to last three years—three decades is worth accolades. Lights Up has been located in Brooklyn since 1987, producing bespoke lighting—table lamps, flush mounts, pendants, they have ’em all—across a wide range of uses, from homes to commercial or hospitality spaces. Founded by Rachel Simon, Lights Up recently made the move from Industry City to the Brooklyn Navy Yard.

4. For Your Outdoor Space

These steel, powder-coated chairs by metalworker Hannah Fink are worth obsessing over. Inspired by the rigidity of gemstones, the Gemmy Chair (which runs $1,200) is made for the outdoors—no cover necessary.

Fink first began welding six years ago as an undergrad, and now the metalworker is completing her master’s degree in industrial design at Brooklyn’s Pratt Institute. She loves the medium; it’s like working with a “giant electric glue gun,” she says. “It makes me feel incredibly powerful” to miraculously zap things together, she adds. But she doesn’t limit herself to the glue gun, and works in a variety of mediums, with one of her lighting fixtures to be shown at San Francisco Design Week next month.

5. For the Transformers

Brooklyn Designs

Using “reclaimed” materials isn’t exactly a new idea, but mebl takes this idea a few steps further, acting as a hub for artisans championing re-use in their practices. Mebl works with more than 100 furniture makers reimagining old wood and metal into new, completely different pieces ranging from dressers to console tables to eye-catching credenzas. Founded by Michael Hirschhorn in 2015, mebl is opening a 6,500-sq.-ft. pop-up showroom in Union Square in two weeks featuring pieces like a split Ravine Coffee Table, made from spelted maple and designed by Ethan Abramson, to pieces created through Refoundry.

6. For Noodle-obsessed Design Fans

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How’s this for a clever concept: the showroom for Shuya Iida’s beautiful furniture is his ramen shop in Astoria. With Shuya Design, Iida uses old-style technology with contemporary materials like marble to create sleek and deceptively simple custom designs rooted in his original home of Tokyo, where he worked as a designer before moving to the U.S. to learn English and because he appreciated this country’s design aesthetic.

In the U.S., Iida worked at a construction company for a time. Years later, he now operates out of his studio in Red Hook. But back to the noodles—crowds flock to Shuya Cafe de Ramen, where they can experience Iida’s furniture in the flesh.

7. For the Constant Traveler

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You can never have too much travel gear. Aubrey Ament, owner and designer of design studio AMENT, creates bold, minimalist products, including a clever Daypack inspired by Bauhaus design and Japanese streetwear. The packs and travel pouches feature marine-grade packcloth—just the kind of thing that can hold up to city life.

8. For Couples Who Want to Spice it Up

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The original idea for Leon’s Electric Trout came after founder David Stychno and his girlfriend were fighting over electronic charging cables. With a background in graphic design, Stychno admits he likes well-designed order, so he invented a solution to heaps of cables. His 3D-printed Dokku docking station ($69) holds the Apple Watch, iPhone, Airpods, and most Apple gear, while the laser-cut Trout Rak ($29) acts as a dock charging station for the iPhone.

Stychno purchases his acrylic in Chinatown and manufactures the pieces with Brooklyn-based 3D printer Voodoo Manufacturing. And the Dokku apparently offers a solution for reluctant digital detoxers: a shared home for a couple’s devices. Stychno gave one to a friend, who told him he and his girlfriend “put their phones on the nightstand and now have sex or read in bed” instead of scrolling their phones. If that doesn’t sell a hundred Dokkus, I don’t know what will.

9.  For Low Riders

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With a background as a filmmaker and photographer, Francis Assadi had long designed furniture for his own use when living abroad, but after leaving his job at the U.N., he decided to expand into designs for the public. The results of his Francis Assadi Design Studio are two stunning statement pieces—the two-seater felt-and-wood Rumi chair, inspired by Afghan prayer tables, and the Platonic lounge chair ($16,000), a complex and customizable piece comprised of steel, Avonite, and solid walnut sourced from Long Island. “I was interested in design pieces that don’t exist,” says Assadi, who works with high-end furniture makers in the borough because “in Brooklyn, you can find that kind of craftsmanship.”

10. For Thoughtful Home Owners

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Geometric wall-mounted systems? Beautiful bathroom cabinetry? Hexagons for days? Check, check, check. Think Fabricate creates furnishings for homes and commercial spaces, and collaborated with Brooklyn-based artist Tuere Lawton to feature colorful paintings inside the company’s eye-catching hexagonal designs. Founded in 2009 by the architect Susan Doban, the Greenpoint-based Think Fabricate also showcased its Dialogue Table, featuring maple with brass inlay, and its new Wingspread Bench, whose name comes from the Frank Lloyd Wright house.

11. For a Blast from the Past

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The metal and architectural fabrication shop Argosy Designs has been around for 14 years, producing pieces for the likes of Bergdorf Goodman and Ian Schrager’s PUBLIC Hotel, but Brooklyn Designs acted as the launch of its Argosy Product Division, inspired by the 1940s industrial aviation industry. Founder and designer Erik Johnson worked on prototypes for years, bringing them home and, he says, “living with them,” until now debuting the bold steel Plate Chair (weighing a mere 160 lbs.), the leather-and-steel H Chair, and more gorgeous lights, tables, and benches. Johnson started the company in a basement on the south side of Williamsburg; they’re now in Greenpoint, where items are handcrafted and made to order. To hear more about Argosy Designs, you can listen to our podcast with co-founder Erik Johnson here.

12. For People Who Love Patterns

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Travis Fitch loves repetition. His work began as part of his thesis in architecture school—he was interested in the geometry of how a piece repeats itself—and Fitch spent years coming up with his “Super Patterns.” He replicates these intricate designs in different materials and scales via 3D printing to produce lamps, vessels, necklaces, and more through his collaborative design studio Fitchwork. The lamps will draw you in like a moth to a flame housed in, well, a porcelain-based, 3D-printed shade.

Fitch was interested in using technology to make shapes and objects you couldn’t make otherwise. Working out of a small studio in Bushwick, the pieces are, like most of the unique and clever pieces featured at the Brooklyn Designs show, made to order.

Kara Cutruzzula is a writer living in Fort Greene. Her articles, essays, and plays can be found here.