Uhuru, Furniture Designers

If you were familiar only with Uhuru’s work, it would be enough to surmise that the Brooklyn-based furniture designers are experts at creating something beautiful from practically nothing. (The formal term for this, we’re told, is up-cycling.) In the half-decade since RISD grads Jason Horvath and Bill Hilgendorf have been designing their own line, they’ve produced chairs from Kentucky bourbon barrels, loungers from the Ipe wood planks of a demolished Coney Island boardwalk, and scrapwood stools so stylish they were recently picked to decorate the café at New York’s SANAA-designed New Museum.

But while it’s true Uhuru are a resourceful bunch, step into their sprawling Red Hook studio and any assumptions you might have about their bootstraps process all but disappear. The 10,000-square-foot workshop is more like a complex, consisting of three or four buildings haphazardly connected and owned since the 1940s by the international fix-it company Golten Marine, which services massive engine blocks for container ships from its factory space beneath Uhuru’s. Upstairs, the place was practically empty when Horvath and Hilgendorf moved in in 2005, and their team built it up from scratch — installing the wiring and machinery, cobbling together the most impressive supply chest this side of the Hudson, and with their latest project, turning the factory’s former commissary into a street-level showroom and event space. “When we first got here, it was way too much room for us,” says Horvath. “But we’ve been growing into it ever since.”

Besides the sheer luck involved in finding real estate on that scale in New York City, he and Hilgendorf originally had an ulterior motive for investing in the massive space. “We actually originally had a third business partner who had this crazy idea to do a reality show with MTV where we would design and build a dance club. We figured if we were going to build this thing, we’d better have a bigger place. At the time, we were working with several other people from RISD in 1,000 square feet at the back of some girl’s loft.” Of the show, he says: “They actually ended up filming two or three episodes — but the video has never surfaced.”