Like a lot of American designers fresh out of school, Todd Bracher found himself, in the late ’90s, a newly minted graduate of the industrial design program at Pratt designing things like barbecue tools, remote-control caddies, and spice racks. “I remember scratching my head, thinking, ‘Oh my God, this is what design is?’” he recalls one morning from his studio in Brooklyn. Convinced there was something he was missing, Bracher applied for a Fulbright and ended up at age 24 heading to Copenhagen to pursue a master’s in interior and furniture design. What followed was a nine-year boot camp in the rigors of designing for the European market, studded with turns in Milan at Zanotta (where he was the legendary Italian company’s youngest ever designer), London at Tom Dixon (who poached Bracher to help build his London office) and Paris, where he taught part-time and eventually opened up a studio.
But personal reasons brought him back to the States in 2007, and the director at Pratt — one of the only people Bracher knew at that point on this side of the ocean — hooked him up with the space he currently occupies in the no man’s land that is the Brooklyn Navy Yard. “My fear, in some ways, is having a place that doesn’t feel like me — which is hard because I don’t necessarily feel like myself in America,” says Bracher. It’s a strange thing to say, coming from a guy who grew up on Long Island, but years of easy European living have made Bracher wary of the pace that comes with New York life. “Here, I feel like, oh, do I have to have staff of 30 people? I’m trying to keep it small and keep it mine, which is hard to do in New York.”
The Navy Yard, then, seems the perfect spot for Bracher to have landed. From his 14-foot windows, he can see the skyline of Manhattan, which keeps him tethered to the city. But he likes the fact that he can walk out the door and be someplace almost entirely unrecognizable. “I like the Navy Yard because I’m not familiar with it. It’s not like, ‘Oh, there’s that store that’s been there forever that hasn’t changed.’ The Navy Yard is weird and sort of abandoned. It’s owned and run by the city so there are all these empty delinquent buildings, there’s no public transport, and you don’t really see that much life around you. It’s nicely parallel to Europe: When you’re in a place that’s foreign to you, you become supersensitive to everything around you, and it becomes a neutral environment onto which you can project the ideas you’re working.”
Interior view, Bracher’s studio
What you can’t see in these pictures is that the Navy Yard — perhaps because of its psychic distance from the hustle of New York, and certainly because of its huge studios and relatively affordable rent — has become, over the years, a warren of tiny little workshops. Bracher laughingly calls it “a northern Italy in its own right. There’s a metal workshop upstairs, a wood shop down the hall, fabricators all throughout the building. When I need something mocked up, I go to them. It’s very much the way the Italians work, where you go down the road and there’s the guy who can bend the metal.” It’s come in handy as after three years back home — and having recently completed a creative directorship with the Danish company Georg Jensen — Bracher is set to unleash a slew of new products: a chair for Humanscale, a collection for HBF, a carpet tile collection for the Shaw Group, and, next month, lighting designs for Swarovski as part of the Austrian crystalmaker’s first ever mass-market collection. And as for those remote-control caddies? “It’s funny,” Bracher says. “Going through that whole journey, I don’t see that kind of project in the same way now. I would go about it in a completely different way.
Name one thing in your studio you can’t live without: “The light. We have floor-to-ceiling windows and a 30-foot-long wall. The harbor’s right there, and it’s like being on a sailboat all day, working.”
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