There’s a new wind blowing through the design scene in the United States, and it is bringing over some of the most awe inducing work of its time. One of our personal favourites has to be Workstead. They create true works of craftsmanship that have a completely modern air about them. To get to know their craft better, we sat down with designer Robert Highsmith; who brought us up to speed with everything you need to know about this holistic design house.
How and where did Workstead begin?
Workstead was founded in 2009 in Brooklyn, NY by Stefanie Brechbuehler and Robert Highsmith. We were joined by Ryan Mahoney in 2010, all three of us graduates from the Rhode Island School of Design. With backgrounds in Architecture, Music, Interior Architecture, and Sculpture, we founded Workstead to create interiors and products for our friends and eventual clients in New York City and beyond. The studio has evolved to include an interior design division and products division, all sharing our approach of hand-crafted, context-driven, and American made interiors and products. While we started working on small residential projects, our portfolio has now grown to hotels, bakeries, coffee shops, restaurants, and numerous other public and private projects under development. The products division was born out of a desire to create bespoke fixtures for our client’s projects, yet has grown into several distinct collections that we sell around the world.
What’s your biggest source of inspiration?
Context is king. We create products and interiors that respond to a historical context, yet exist in a contemporary setting.
How would you describe your design approach?
We have a holistic approach to design – meaning we often incorporate all scales of a project into our approach – from the fork on the table, to the detail of the wall paneling, to the fill in the pillow, to the fixture hanging above the table. We also think a lot about Authenticity. Authenticity to us means attention to detail, context, and materials. It could also be called thoughtfulness towards place, time, and participating in a dialogue that takes cues from the past while living in the present, and pushing towards the future.
What’s the first thing you notice when you walk into a room?
The lighting! Also, texture, probably more important than color in terms of first impressions.
We’re seeing a lot of amazing design emerge from the U.S. lately, what is this new wave of American design to you?
Design in America today is at an exciting juncture. There is an emerging framework, not just in New York, but in cities through the country, that has reinvigorated manufacturing and craftsmanship. This framework enables American designers to engage with a design process that is not just about themselves, but about a community of people who are genuine in their efforts to improve upon a place, be it through buildings, interiors, or objects. This landscape is incredibly exciting for us, as we get to have a dialogue with those who produce our work. For us, we look at early America design movements – from the Dutch to the Shakers to Art Deco – and find an incredibly inspiring tension between beauty, utility, and ornament, that is so uniquely American.
You live and work in Brooklyn, what are your favourite spots to hang out?
Stefanie and I divide our time between Brooklyn and Charleston, with Ryan in Brooklyn full-time. We also have a small cottage in the Hudson Valley.
What’s next for Workstead? Any sneak peeks you can give us?
On the Studio side, we are working on a 70-unit residential project on Prospect Park in Brooklyn. It’s a very exciting project, in a beautiful pre-war building, in a phenomenal location. We just completed a 155-room hotel in Charleston, where we have just opened a studio. Also in the works is a Wine Bar in Tulsa, OK and a Coffee Shop in Washington, DC. In addition, we have several residential projects in the works, in Brooklyn and Manhattan. On the products side, we will be developing a new collection of lamps, which we plan to debut in 2017-2018, as well as smaller tabletop objects for the first time. Having designed our first line of Case Goods this past year, we are also looking forward to continuing the dialogue between the two scales of our work – the architectural and interiors scale, and the furniture and objects scale. With the opening of our second studio, we are excited to grow our product offerings in 2017.
Thanks Robert and the team at Workstead for giving us your time.
Curious to see more? Come check out their work during the upcoming Loft pop-up!
All pictures courtesy of Workstead.
Words by Sara Martín Mazorra.