BKLYN Designs 2014

by Grace Bonney

Over the past ten years, design in Brooklyn has changed dramatically. My very first posts on Design*Sponge were inspired by and dedicated to the exciting and innovative independent designers that were filling every garage, studio and pop-up shop in the borough. Student designers were informing and shaping the design landscape along with self-taught artists and designers and their work had an electricity and intensity that was palpable. They were creating outside of the mainstream and doing something so different from what we were seeing across the country at the time that everyone noticed. But like all movements, things change. There is always a moment when what was counter-culture or outside of the mainstream starts to become the norm, rather than the exception. In the case of Brooklyn design, I think the legacy of that first generation of designers is an appreciation for salvaged, recycled and recyclable materials. I remember seeing scrap wood used prominently for the first time and now almost every major retailer highlights found materials and salvaged objects as being a part of their collection.

That change was evident at this year’s BKLYN Designs, which reflected a slightly more corporate and higher-end market than the community I associate most with our borough. The press event that preceded the opening touted the major real estate developments taking place in DUMBO and we were jokingly encouraged to buy apartments in these new buildings. While I’m aware that comment was made because of several development firms were among the show’s sponsors, I couldn’t help but think that those same designers who made up the first wave of Brooklyn design would never be able to afford the multi-million dollar apartments that are now being associated with “Brooklyn Design”.

The affect that Brooklyn design has had on the international design community was celebrated at this year’s show with a display of Japanese design work held at the Brooklyn Roasting Company. Their exhibition was touted as being inspired by Brooklyn design, though the overall aesthetic (which was beautiful and one of my favorite parts of the show) was distinctly Japanese. Some techniques were on display that reminded me of the early 2000s in Brooklyn (using copper plates and natural oxidation to create patterns), but overall I thought the show was a wonderful celebration of the sort of clever, functional and wonderfully minimalist design that we’ve come to associate with contemporary Japanese design.

There were several highlights at the show this year and I’m still so glad that a show exists to celebrate the talent coming from this borough. I hope that in future years there will be a place for more small-scale independent designers (there were just over 30 vendors at this year’s show), but perhaps trade shows in general are becoming harder for independent artists working outside of the higher-end market to afford. Either way, we’ll continue to visit them all looking for the latest and greatest in our community.

Click through for our favorites from BKLYN Designs 2014

Coffee Table and Cutting Board by Coil + Drift

Charlie table by SAW Home

Side Tables and console by Katy Skelton.

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Skateboards made from wood veneer and from copper sheets (that have been taped off and exposed to different weathering methods to create a contrasting pattern) by Chaki Japan

Coat rack and table by Rather Well Design.

Cups made of coffee grounds, magnetic rings and naturally oxidizing copper trays from Oy Objects of Japan.

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Metal switch plates and trays by Aizara Japan (this is the URL on their press materials, though it seems to be down at the moment. I couldn’t find a working website or social media page for them).

Oxidized copper collection from Tone Japan. (Oxidized copper was a big theme of this section of the show)

Bags, brooch and furniture by Kurasuhito Kurasutokoro.

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  • Hi. I was at a trade show last Sunday in London (Pulse by Top Drawer) and I had the same feelings with regards to how hard it must be for these independent artists.
    I think a key point you made is that we must continue to celebrate their brilliant work and go and visit them at these shows :)

  • We were so happy to see you at BKLYN Designs – posts like this really do help independent artists and designers raise awareness about their work, especially for those of us who are just getting started. Thanks for the coverage, we really appreciate it!

  • A very important article, thanks for writing it and for including our work in the piece. Small Brooklyn makers are alive and well, creating work and doing it because we love design and we love Brooklyn!

  • Such beautiful objects- I especially love the skateboards. Maybe I should learn to skate- ha! Thank you for touching on the fact that many creatives are being priced out of Brooklyn, and NYC in general. I went to Pratt Institute in the mid-90s, right when BKLN started gentrifying (I was never living on the “cool” side of gentrification, trust me). My partner and I were priced out of that borough by ’05, and out of the city altogether by ’12- and many of my talented friends decamped for greener pastures and more affordable (and funkier!) lifestyles elsewhere, where they can actually make some money from their art because there is less competition. I hope more artists realize they can be a big fish in a small pond elsewhere, rather than one of too many fish in one very crowded pond, one where the fishers only want luxury fish. Nothing wrong with “luxury fish” themselves, though- Respect! (:

  • Thanks for this post Grace. These pieces look beautiful! I showed at one of the first Brooklyn Designs, participated in the first Renegade Craft Fair, and was in the first round of Brooklyn Flea vendors. I’ve recently been trying to gauge the impact of that time in Brooklyn design and how it’s influenced where we are now. There was a real renegade feeling to making things 10 years ago. I *think* the added value of the brand of Brooklyn is good for us as designers, makers and craftspeople but as you noted, I don’t think we’ll be buying condos in Dumbo!