Susan Doban doesn’t believe that great design belongs on a pedestal, to be admired at a distance. So the president of Brooklyn-based Doban Architechture and her affiliate business, Think Fabricate, is going to this year’s edition of BKLYN DESIGNS with materials meant for interactivity. A wall installation composed of walnut hexagons will be filled with origami creations made by visitors to her space at the expo. “It’s a very consumer-based show,” Doban said, adding that some people bring their kids. “It enables people to think a bit, and take their time looking.”
The home-grown, hand-crafted quality of BKLYN DESIGNS will be on display when the annual show opens tomorrow for a three-day run at the Brooklyn Expo Center, 72 Noble St., Greenpoint. More than 70 exhibitors will show their furniture, tableware, lighting, textiles and jewelry, much of it made right here in the borough of arts and crafts. But the show has kept evolving since its start in 2003, with another wave of innovation this year. “We have a greater cross-section of different categories: more ceramics, more lighting, more architects, textiles,” said a co-founder of the show, Chris Abbate of Novità Communications.
The expo will feature elements of technology, including the show’s “first connected-home exhibition,” a collaboration by Brooklyn interior designer Gunnar Larson, Con Edison and the A.J. Madison home-appliance retailer. The 10-by-30 foot space incorporates energy efficient, WiFi-enabled technology, which Larson and other panelists will talk about in a discussion on Friday at 2 p.m. In an area called the “makers space,” visitors (and their kids) can take classes on textile design and other crafts.
Several of the prospective exhibitors who applied for the show this year do work that revolves around philanthropy, said Kristin Coleman, vice president of Novità. Public- Supply produces stationery and donates 25% of the profits toward art programs in public schools. Another, Refoundry, works with formerly incarcerated people to start businesses involving woodworking and other crafts.
Among other notable exhitors are Maria Castelli, a leather-goods brand run by a team of mother-daughter architects; New Market Goods, a textile brand whose products are designed in Greenpoint and manufactured in partnership with a Bangladeshi artisan group; The Brooklyn Block, which takes videos of neighborhoods in Brooklyn, processes them into code to generate surface patterns, and turns them into silk scarves; and Casa Kids, which designs and builds contemporary, modular children’s furniture.
When the Brooklyn Chamber of Commerce launched BKLYN DESIGNS 14 years ago, the borough’s emerging design community wasn’t necessary world-famous. “It started with the chamber wanting to capture and shine the spotlight on the creative community that was very active,” said Coleman. The word got out, of course, to the point that a Brooklyn style of repurposed materials used in a post-industrial context has even been resentfully accused of “colonizing the planet.” But the Brooklyn look doesn’t stand still. Visitors to BKLYN DESIGNS may observe that the style is changing again, with exhibitors showing a tendency toward a more refined aesthetic.
Part of that stems from a growing diversity of ideas. “I feel like the design community in Brooklyn has greatly expanded,” architect Doban told The Bridge. “Now Brooklyn is known for [design] throughout the world. And people emulate what the perceive as the Brooklyn style. It’s interesting to attend the show year after year and to see how that’s changed.”
While the Brooklyn show is aimed at consumers, and is part of New York City’s three-week-long NYCxDesign extravaganza, it also serves as a reunion for the borough’s design community. “It’s a really good bonding experience among the designers and manufacturers in Brooklyn,” said Doban, “because you’re there together for a few days and you really get to know each other.”
(Editor’s Note: Readers of The Bridge can get a $5 discount on general admission tickets to BKLYN DESIGNS by using the code BKD-BRIDGE. The Bridge is a sponsor of the show.)