Moving Parts: Brooklyn Furnishings Design at The Factory Floor

SMALL, MEDIUM, AND LARGE: Otherwise, it’s hard to categorize the ingenious designs of Brooklyn makers at The Factory Floor in Industry City in the recent two-weekend show. But starting small, Brooklyn Artisan will do our best, for the record.

Small batch, small scale, big thinking at bhold design: Product development under the eye of Susan Taing, founder, takes certain characteristics from the MakerBot desktop 3D printer used to produce prototypes in the bhold lab. Double-walled thermal saki cups, for instance, with little fingerholds on one side.

Using the MakerBot 3D desktop printer, b-hold can turn around and refine prototypes in a few hours that might take days in traditional development cycles.

Using the MakerBot 3D desktop printer, bhold labs can turn around and refine prototypes in a few hours that might take days in traditional development cycles. (Photo: Brooklyn Artisan Photo Pool/dfs)

Or—our favorite, above—colorful little two-tone, two-piece objects that separate: the outer C-shape that hangs on the restaurant table and holds your bag or helmet by its handle or chin strap; and the inner part that emerges to wind and store your earbuds tangle free. You can work with the bhold labs on your own designs; contact susan@bholddesign.com. Or like us, you can just stand at a design show and play with the appealing objects fitting them together and taking them apart over and over again as minutes tick by. 

Founder/owner Mark Righter crafted sliding shelves that don't tip, thanks to the sliding dovetail joint.

Founder/owner Mark Righter crafted sliding shelves that don’t tip, thanks to the sliding dovetail joint. (Brooklyn Artisan Photo Pool/ams)

Small detail, big advantage: Cambium Studio is a Brooklyn-based woodworking furniture and design company founded by Mark Righter. From its Greenpoint location, Cambium will create custom designs for clients, and on its website offers a portfolio of pieces of its own design.

Talking shop with a potential client, Cambium Studio's founder Mark Righter, with coffee, is next to his shelves with sliding dovetails. (Brooklyn Artisan Photo Pool/ams)

Talking shop with a potential client, Cambium Studio’s founder Mark Righter, with coffee, is next to his shelves with sliding dovetails. (Brooklyn Artisan Photo Pool/ams)

What caught our eye at The Factory Floor was deceptively simple but elegant shelving for display of favorite small objects—a place to put the candles, the Japanese vase, the framed photo—that can be adjusted as the array of objects changes. How?

The framework is hung from a secure cleat on the wall, but individual shelves operate on a sliding dovetail joint. The shelves, using bamboo, are beautiful finished and the sliding function gives you an excellent excuse to pat them and fiddle with them for the pleasure of touch.

Then there’s the MidCentury-looking coffee table with lift up hinged covers on its four storage compartments. Three of the covers are in a 60s’s orange and one is in bamboo strip laminate. Fittingly it is named Mod Quad by Wonk, its maker.

David Gotl lifts the four cubby covers of the streamlined coffee table,

David Gotl lifts the four cubby covers of the streamlined coffee table,

Other combinations of finishes to suit individual clients are possible, Wonk’s website says.  In fact, since each piece is custom-made for you, you are confronted with swatches and urged to pick from them. Takeaway notion? Wonk if you love finishes.

The laminate frame holds the cushions in place; upholstery fits cushions closely.

Pratt grad’s design: The laminate frame holds the cushions; upholstery fits cushions closely.

Change the color statement (or hide the pizza drippings) at will.

Change the color statement (or hide the pizza drippings) at will.

Along with others, Pratt Institute was a co-sponsor of the design show at The Factory Floor.  At the Pratt Industrial Design booth—Pratt Institute is, by the way, based in Brooklyn—Brooklyn Artisan was engaged by a very clean-lined yet comfortable loveseat. The foam cushions made it quite sittable. And as its Pratt graduate designer demonstrated, the cushions can be flipped to your choice of color contrasts.

More coverage from the recent Brooklyn design show at The Factory Floor in Industry City, Sunset Park, is to come in the next few days. For Brooklyn Artisan’s prior coverage, follow these links:

Overview by Bruce A. Campbell

Alexandra Ferguson: Done is Better

Sleeping on The Factory Floor

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Chalk It Up: A Romantic Notion for Autumn

Seen outside of Poppy at 217 Fifth Avenue in Park Slope. (Brooklyn Artisan Photo Pool).

Seen outside of Poppy at 217 Fifth Avenue in Park Slope. (Brooklyn Artisan Photo Pool).

‘Done Is Better Than Perfect’ Proves It’s a Winner’s Slogan

Alexandra Ferguson started small on etsy.com but now it's her full-time career.

Alexandra Ferguson started small on etsy.com but now it’s her full-time career. She has more ideas in the pipeline and at least one already in production.  (Photo: Brooklyn Artisan Photo Pool)

INSPIRED BY  Bruce Campbell’s report, yesterday another Brooklyn Artisan team visited the design show at The Factory Floor (Industry City, 241 37th Street in Sunset Park, just across from Costco), and there encountered Alexandra Ferguson, about whom we’d written earlier. Hers  would easily win a “Cheeriest Booth” award, with its colorful pillows enticingly arranged. You could almost hear the mental clicks of recognition as visitors to the show read them, nudged their companions, pointing out favorites to each other.

As Alexandra has recounted in her blog, she started her business in 2009 just about on a whim and a dime, posting on etsy.com a few pillows she’d made and expected to give friends as surprises. Business plan? Nada. Capitalization? Ditto. “Done is Better Than Perfect” was her slogan.

Sales were great, so she added more designs—sticking to environmentally friendly materials, of course—and her business grew and grew until it became her full-time livelihood. She moved it out of her apartment and into Mom’s garage in Westchester.

Alexandra Ferguson: The Business has taken another great leap upward, Alexandra (the person) says. Last summer she had four people working for her, but now to keep up with fall and holiday demand, she has added nine more employees. Her office and production space? Right here in Industry City. She moved it back to Brooklyn in July of this year. There are new product ideas, too. A makeup case, for instance.

Brooklyn Artisan had to ask: Where did she get her mantra? From Sheryl Sandberg, the author of Lean In, Alexandra said. And yes, we couldn’t resist; we told the story of originating the “Done is better than perfect” saying at Redbook magazine in 1979. You can read that backstory here.

Until we were starting Brooklyn Artisan, we had no idea the quote had gone viral. Cool.

Anne Mollegen Smith is editor and publisher of brookyn-artisan.net, and is a former editor-in-chief of Redbook, Working Woman, McCall’s, and the Art of Simple Living. 

Brooklyn’s Newest Greenmarket Opens Outside Barclays Center

BasrclaysGreenmarketTomatoes BarclaysGreenmarketwholerow BarcleysGreenmarketCorn GrowNYCBoothSign BarclaysGreenmarketKaleTODAY WAS LAUNCH DAY FOR THE NEW BARCLAYS CENTER GREENMARKET,  in cooperation with GrowNYC. The market’s regular hours are 8 am to 4 pm on Wednesdays now through November. (Food stamps are accepted, even incentivized, at GrowNYC partner-markets.) Brooklyn Artisan braved today’s extreme heat to browse the farmstands and talk with the vendors, but didn’t stick it out for the mid-morning food demonstration of corn salads.

The inflatable critter now marks the corner by the new greenmarket.

The giant rodent sits at the corner next to the greenmarket.

The new greenmarket is at the crossroads of Atlantic and Flatbush (look for the huge inflated rat), just outside Atlantic Terminal, so commuters-special shopping is definitely an option. Because of the heat, most stands closed early today, around 3 or 3:30, but they had opened bright and early, definitely ready to serve customers by 8. The familiar truck farm offerings included a few surprises such as nicely cleaned fish presented in well-iced cases (Hint: A sprinkling of salt on the ice makes it hold up better in the heat, the folks from Suffolk County’s American Seafood told us. If you’re planning to pick up some of their fish next week, though, best bring a cool pack and insulated bag to get it home.)

John D. Madura Farms had the biggest spread, from corn to carrots to kale plus potatoes (see photos above), radishes, and plenty more, grown at Pine Island in the Black Dirt Region of Orange County, NY. Staffing the booth was John D.’s young son Skuyler, who spoke with pride of the community-supported agriculture part of the family business.

2013-07-17 11.31.01

Need goodies for a morning staff meeting? Ah, ask James.

The Body & Soul Vegan Bakery booth offered yummy-looking fancy breads and gluten-free items, many made with locally grown ingredients. James, behind the counter, was more than ready to explain the options and thought special orders could be arranged for pick up by particular customers. Body & Soul is long-established at the Union Square Market Mondays, Wednesdays and Fridays, where a dozen reviewers on a food site gave top marks to this year-round regular. (BTW, job shopping today too? Check on the bakery’s Brooklyn-based food prep and production jobs at indeed.com.)

Matt stood ready to explain Applestate Hilltop Family Farm's  varieties of pure honeys

Matt was our guide to Applestate’s pure honey varietals.

Matt in the Applestate Hilltop Family Farm booth knows his bees, or at least their honeys, the way a vintner knows grapes. He was ready to share his expertise — the sweetest honey came from the clover-fed bees, he said, whereas the wild-flower nourished bees produced a more nuanced flavor. The pure-honey complexities are interesting. (As he talked, Brooklyn Artisan imagined friends-and-family brunches built around honey-tastings.) The Applestate Hilltop aviary is in Calicoon, Sullivan County, NY.

Of course, it wouldn’t be Brooklyn artisanal without pickles! Rick’s Picks of Dutchess County has been producing hand-packed and all natural pickles “since 2004” and today was pushing Rick’s Picks’ Hotties – referring not to the smiling gentlemen in the booth, but to their crenelated cucumber and julienned veggies bottled with special hot (“but not searingly so,” one New York Times writer judged) pickling spices. Rick’s Picks pickles come in sweet flavors (4 choices), savory (6 choices), spicy (3 — hotties, mean beans, and smokras) and several special proprietary blends. Gift packs can be ordered from Rick’s Pics and you can even get low-sodium pickles from them. 

Rick's Picks' artisanal pickle vendors sport shirts that don't permit taking themselves too seriously.

Rick’s Picks’ artisanal pickle vendors sport shirts that don’t permit taking themselves too seriously.

GrowNYC’s handy credit-card sized fold-out of greenmarkets and farm produce outlets that take EBT credit lists nearly 50 in the Heartland (Brooklyn), and another 100 in Outer Brooklyn locations. Photographs: Brooklyn Artisan Photo Pool.

What’s Your Business Mantra? And When To Commit to It

“Ready, Aim, Fire” or “Done is Better Than Perfect”?
Business and career coach Bill Jones first appeared on motivational posters in the 1920s and 30s.

Here’s the conventional wisdom, but does it still apply? (Business and career coach Bill Jones first appeared on motivational posters in the 1920s and 30s.)

WHY DONE IS BETTER THAN PERFECT, says the Etsy Blog title for the June 20, 2013 entry by Alexandra Ferguson. And then the art shows a cute cushion with the message, Ready, Fire, Aim.  As the originator of “‘Done’ is better than ‘perfect'”  (explained in an addendum to an earlier post to this blog), I like to think that in today’s conditions these mottos make more sense than they did in Bill Jones’s day.

Ms. Ferguson observes that many businesses get stuck in “paralysis by analysis” rather than going forward. Her own story is a case example that encourages leaping from the daydream stage into production and selling – in her case, selling her handmade cushions on etsy.com. Her first offering of message pillows she’d already made cost $1.60 in listing fees, a very low capital requirement to enter a business! No lease. No significant inventory. No staff. No equipment beyond what she’d needed for gift-cushion making as a hobby. Her launch served as a market test — and a commitment test. Was this really a business she could stay in? DUMBO-based etsy.com made it not only cheap and easy to get her product to market, but the market itself is global.

Smorgasburg and the Brooklyn Flea help other artisan-entrepreneurs test themselves in the food business by providing venues and some basic disciplines. The Brooklyn Botanic’s celebration of hot chiles is another. Ample Hills Creamery founder Brian Smith took his unusual ice cream flavors to market via ice cream trucks and kiosks before committing to that first lease in Prospect Heights. Brooklyn’s growing network of co-working spaces and commercial kitchens keep equipment and production space costs thinkably low. Share-and-learn facilities like 3rd Ward  in Williamsburg can graduate their biggest successes to Industry City in Sunset Park.

Brooklyn Artisan Executive Editor Basia Hellwig reports in “Start Ups Aren’t for Sissies” on some entrepreneurial thrills and chills. Her stories provide mental preparation. BA Executive Editor Joy Makon’s look inside Alchemy Creamery gives another window into what’s involved. BA Executive Editor Phil Scott and Contributor Bruce A. Campbell have reported on Brooklyn’s Makerbot, pioneer of 3D printers. There’s venture capital out there to back some winners.

Tomorrow, Brooklyn’s first food and drink trade show, Brooklyn Eats, presents a new opportunity. It is sponsored by the Brooklyn Chamber of Commerce and a host of corporations like commercial Citibank, Fairway, Whole Foods, National Grid, Verizon, and Acumen Capital Partners LLC and Jamestown Properties, as well as the Daily News and Edible Brooklyn as media partners.

The bright line between artisan and entrepreneur shines when the Alexandra Fergusons and the Brian Smiths of the world realize they’re not just creating cute cushions or unique premium ice cream flavors, they’re creating businesses. Should they move beyond bootstrapping? How much bigger can small-batch get before small-batch loses its edge? Sounds like it’s time for a serious, stage-two business plan. That’s when a trade show like Brooklyn Eats or a presentation to a venture capital fund really starts to make sense. It’s only been a very few years since Makerbot stepped up, after all, and it’s now valued at $403 million. Who’s next?

Brooklyn Artisan Editor & Publisher Anne Mollegen Smith was editor-in-chief of Working Woman magazine when its circulation grew to 950,000.

Be an Operator, Not a Hustler…and Other Tips for Business Success

BUSINESS OWNERS SHANE WELCH, FOUNDER OF SIXPOINT BREWERY in Red Hook, Matthew Tilden, founder of SCRATCHbread in Bed-Stuy and Charlie Sahadi, proprietor of Sahadi Importing Co. in Brooklyn Heights, showed their business scars and shared some hard-earned wisdom at a recent Brooklyn Public Library conversation, “Fantastic Food,” led by photographer Randy Duchaine, whose “Created in Brooklyn” exhibition of portraits inspired the series:

If the adjoining property comes up for sale, buy it.—Charlie Sahadi
Sahadi remembered this advice from his father when two buildings on Atlantic Avenue came up for sale in 1977 for what seemed, at the time, an impossibly astronomical price. “Owning your property is a very big plus. Landlords want to become your partner without doing the work. We scrimped and bought the buildings. Now when I look back at the price, of course, I feel as if we stole the property.”

“You have to innovate—adapt and change with the times,” says Charlie Sahadi (above). “Sahadi’s is an ingredients store, but then we opened a deli to show off what you can make with these ingredients.” Photograph © 2013 by Randy Duchaine

“You have to innovate—adapt and change with the times,” says Charlie Sahadi (above).
“Sahadi’s is an ingredients store, but then we opened a deli to show off what you can
make with all these ingredients.” Photograph by RandyDuchaine.com

When a cohort of producers grows up in a neighborhood, that’s good. —Shane Welch
“We all root for each other. If there’s only one place in a neighborhood, it might be hard to get people to come to you. But now in Red Hook you have roving bands of food tourists who make a day of it and stop at three or four places.” (Similarly, Sahadi talked about Trader Joe’s opening up near his store, which far from being a competitive threat, is introducing a whole new set of customers to Sahadi’s, he says, and helping make “downtown Brooklyn a foodie paradise.”)

“We knew Brooklyn would grasp what we were doing with beer,” says Shane Welch, front, with his Sixpoint Brewery crew. “And the mineral profile of the water here is virtually perfect for brewing.” Photograph © 2013 by Randy Duchaine

“We knew Brooklyn would grasp what we were doing with beer,” says Shane Welch, front, with his Sixpoint Brewery crew. “And the mineral profile of the water here is virtually perfect for brewing.” Photograph by RandyDuchaine.com

Don’t take yourself too seriously, but do serious work.—Matt Tilden
“Be humble. Work hard, focus on community betterment and sharing knowledge. A brand is a living breathing thing; for us, it’s a statement about food.”

Make the transition from hustler to operator—a perspective Tilden remembers Welch sharing with him over dinner one night.
Welch explains: “Everyone starts out hard-scrabble, hustling. But as you and the business grow and mature, you legitimize. Operators figure out how to get things done the right way. It can be poisonous if you remain a hustler. Say you do building without permits and then someone gets hurt. That could be the end of your business.”

Matt Tilden, founder of SCRATCHbread: “Brooklyn is approachable sophistication. It’s a family culture with an edge. I relate to raw and rustic.” Photograph © 2013 by Randy Duchaine

Matt Tilden, founder of SCRATCHbread: “Brooklyn is approachable sophistication.
It’s a family culture with an edge. I relate to raw and rustic.” Photograph by RandyDuchaine.com

Give people a good product, at a fair price, with good customer service.—Charlie Sahadi 
When Sahadi says, “Our customers become our friends,” you believe him if you’ve ever stepped inside his store. “Shopping with us has to be a pleasurable experience. We’re part of our customers’ lives. Otherwise, we’d just be another store on Atlantic Avenue.”

Can’t the City Make It Easier?

This is one they all could agree on. Regulations are one of the biggest threats to New York City small businesses, they said. You have to be on top of them, and there are hundreds of them—city, state, federal—and they seem to change almost hourly. Dept. of Agriculture, NYC Dept. of Health, Landmarks Preservation, Dept. of Buildings, the list goes on.

Yes, of course these owners value their customers’ safety and health. But can’t it be easier? A 2008 update to the NYC building code complicated everyone’s lives enormously, they report. Sahadi’s first planned a store renovation in 1999; they got all the approvals, but then decided to postpone construction when they bought a big warehouse in Sunset Park. By the time they were ready to build, the 2008 revision was in effect. “It drove us a little crazy to get all the right permitting,” says Sahadi, “especially since our buildings also come under the Landmark Preservation Commission.” He credits his son, Ron, and his daughter Christine with managing the project and getting it done.

A sole proprietor can find it overwhelming to manage the contracting, building and running back and forth to city offices for permitting while keeping the business going—not to mention staying on top of the regulatory changes. Shane Welch finds himself dealing with the Dept. of Homeland Security now, since the Tax and Trade Bureau, which governs the excise tax on beer, was swallowed up in it. Day-to-day, it’s a little like being nibbled to death by ducks. For instance, SCRATCHbread got a ticket recently because its benches were three feet further out than they were supposed to be—one of hundreds of details a business must keep track of. “Now don’t you think the inspector could simply have pointed it out?” Matt Tilden wondered. “I’d have been happy to move them.”

The “Created in Brooklyn” exhibit is on display at Brooklyn Public Library until August 31. The conversations continue in June and July, on Wednesdays from 6:30 to 8 pm: June 26, Design Crafts; July 10, Urban Adventures; July 17, Art & Music.

Start-ups Aren’t for Sissies

Created in Brooklyn: Food and Drink Entrepreneurs Talk Shop 
Sharing their business stories: from left, Matthew Tilden of SCRATCHbread, Shane Welch of Brooklyn Brewery and Charlie Sahadi of Sahadi's

Sharing their business stories: from left, Matthew Tilden of SCRATCHbread, Shane Welch
of Sixpoint Brewery and Charlie Sahadi of specialty food retailer Sahadi’s.

ANY BUDDING ARTISANS IN THE AUDIENCE at a recent Brooklyn Public Library panel, “Fantastic Food,” would come away both sobered and heartened. Three business owners—Shane Welch, founder of Sixpoint Brewery, Matthew Tilden, founder of SCRATCHbread and Charlie Sahadi, proprietor of Sahadi Importing Co.—all shared disaster stories and cautionary tales but there they were, smiling happily about the businesses they ran, unanimous that they’d go through it all again in an instant.

The June 19th event was the first in a series of conversations the library has organized around an exhibition of portraits by photographer Randy Duchaine called “Created in Brooklyn,” which will be on display until August 31.

Photographer Randy Duchaine led the conversation.

Photographer Randy Duchaine, whose portraits inspired the conversation series.

Duchaine, who led the conversation, has evocatively captured dozens of Brooklyn makers and creators who “come here to live their dreams, express themselves, start a business and contribute to society through their talents,” as he puts it. “They represent…a sense of independence and the ability to stand on their own two feet and proudly say, ‘This is what it means to be an American in Brooklyn!’”

The lively interchange was followed—lucky us—by samples of the businesses’ artisanal breads, beers and Mediterranean appetizers. Here are some of the start-up war stories they shared:

Shane Welch, Sixpoint Brewery  “It’s hard to secure a commercial lease with no assets, no credit, no money. So we had to hard-scrabble it.” In 2004, he and a partner found an 800-square-foot garage to rent in Red Hook, not exactly ideal for a brewery and full of old equipment. “It was a junkyard really.” They cleaned it out and bought a couple of used tanks for a few hundred dollars at auction—one had been a dairy tank and another was rusted out. That one came with its own craft brew karma. It turned out it had been used originally by the Sierra Nevada Brewing Co. in California and had probably literally worked its way to the East coast, being handed from hopeful brewer to brewer. “I have a background in chemistry so we made a solution that no living organism could survive. We emptied them, scrubbed them out, sanitized them, bleached them.”

Bright Side: Sixpoint just closed on the purchase of property next door and is establishing power cred in the red hot world of craft beer. It is on the brink of a big expansion, planning to build a new brewing facility to suit this time.

Charlie Sahadi, Sahadi Importing  “I was 23 when my father died suddenly. I’d been working in the business, but my father’s approach was, ‘Let me worry about the business, you take care of the customers.’ So when he died, I had no idea how to do certain things. ‘Where do we get the feta?’ I asked his partner. ‘I don’t know.’ ‘How about the olives?’ My father had been the dominant partner so all the details went with him.” Luckily, Sahadi was able to get in touch with a bookkeeper his father had used in the past, to come in and temp. She knew exactly where they bought the feta and a lot more besides, and her “temp” job has lasted 25 years.

Bright Side: Sahadi Importing has become an institution on Atlantic Avenue and is celebrating its 65th year in business. “You wake up and every day’s a challenge, but that’s what I love.” The store went through a recent renovation and expansion, overseen by his daughter Christine and son, Ron. Charlie Sahadi has justly earned the title of the Ambassador of Atlantic Avenue.

Matt Tilden, SCRATCHbread: “I was working as a chef 115 hours a week and wanted out. I kept thinking, I really don’t want to work somewhere where a pan gets thrown across the room because someone made a mistake. I answered an ad: ‘We have wood oven, you make bread’ and began moonlighting as a baker. I traded bread for rent; for a while I lived out of my car. Four years later, I wanted my own place. We raised a little money from selling at markets and Kickstarter. With no capital there are so many adjustments you have to make. You can’t always do things the way you would with proper funding. I got a friend to deposit money temporarily in my account so I could get approval for a lease. I staffed with interns, lots of interns.”

Bright Side: Everyone’s on payroll now. After doing a wholesale business with restaurateurs like the Union Square Hospitality Group of Danny Meyers, SCRATCHbread has refocused on its retail presence in Bed-Stuy. “We are all about being a conscious owner. Eating healthy is hard, I know that. When you put something in your body, it’s fuel. We like giving people good nourishment, caring for people. We play good music, focus on hospitality, something I’ve always admired about Danny Meyer.”

More, later, on some of the business tips they shared—and one thing they all agreed on. Plus a few of Randy Duchaine’s photographs.

Mark your calendar for the next conversations in Brooklyn Public Library’s “Created in Brooklyn” conversation series led by photographer Randy Duchaine. Held Wednesdays from 6:30 to 8 pm in June and July: Design Crafts, June 26, Urban Adventures, July 10 and Art & Music, July 17.

Photographs by Basia Hellwig

Correction: An earlier version gave an incorrect date for the Design Crafts “Created in Brooklyn” event. It takes place on June 26.

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