Todd St. John’s Gowanus studio is one of many faces — literally. There’s a wooden man with a rounded nose peering over the edge of a shelf in one corner, and another with an aqua blue combover, also crafted of wood, next to a pair of candlesticks on tabletop display. There are woodblock animals — an alligator, a bluebird, and a marigold-yellow lion with a sharp-toothed underbite — in a glass case; a face with parts held together with yarn sits in the studio’s adjoining workshop. “I do a lot of animation, illustration, and narrative work,” says St. John, whose background is in graphic design, and whose clients have included The New York Times, Prius, Nickelodeon, Pilgrim Surf Supply, and MTV. “So I’m often experimenting with and developing new characters. There are tests around here everywhere.”
The designer, whose 15-year-old studio, HunterGatherer, specializes in animation, illustration, film, and video, has made multidisciplinary experimentation a way of life since childhood. “I was one of those kids that was interested in too many things,” he says. “I liked music, drawing, animation, video. I’ve always had a polymath way of working. Often one thing feeds into another; I’ll work on a project and it’ll give me an idea for something else. That process works really well for me.” St. John’s most recent endeavor, and the one that caught our eye, is a five-piece furniture collection of classic household staples, reimagined in brass and walnut. With it, he was able to combine a lifelong penchant for building (a hobby his father encouraged over the course of his childhood in Hawaii), with a well-honed eye for sophisticated design. It’s an undertaking that started much like his others: “Sometimes when I start a project, I’ll have no idea how to go about it,” he says, “but I’ll teach myself. I identify a point that I don’t know how to get to, and then it becomes about figuring out how to get there — and what happens after that.”
As always, he’s got his mind on what’s next. “I think designing a whole library would be interesting,” he says. “A library has everything: a learning aspect, an environmental aspect, a graphic aspect. That sort of 360-degree project appeals to me. I’m drawn to exhibit design for the same reason: It combines a lot of skills that I’m interested in that are normally split up among lots of different people.” No matter where his work takes him, St. John’s trademark virtue — the one that’s driven his creativity since childhood — is sure to remain constant. “I’m curious,” he says. “I like trying to figure out how to do things myself. There’s an excitement to that that never goes away. That’s just who I am.”
It goes without saying that not every artist who grows up in Toledo, Ohio, famed birthplace of the American studio glass movement, ends up dedicating their life's work to that medium. But for John Hogan, that's exactly what happened — he started experimenting with glass at a young age and, even after relocating to Seattle a few years back, hasn't stopped since.
On a shelf in the home office designer Kiel Mead shares with his girlfriend, the performance artist Sarah Boatright, sits a set of drawers stuffed with backstock of his Forget Me Not rings, little string bows cast in precious metals. Mead’s breakout design when he was still studying furniture at Pratt, the rings were the genesis of the 27-year-old’s fascination with casting objects into wearable reminders — of childhood, of holidays, of lost loves, of an old car he once drove. Boatright, 23, also deals with the preservation of memories in her work, dressing up in goofy wigs to make reenactment videos of family Thanksgivings or furtively recorded interactions between strangers, which go on to enjoy eternal life on YouTube. So if you’d expect the couple’s Brooklyn apartment to be decked out with the kind of overstyled chicness typical of two young creatives, one of whom practically runs the Williamsburg branch of The Future Perfect, you’d be mistaken: Like their creations, the possessions they keep on display are more about storytelling than status.
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.