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DESIGN IN DUMBO

Annual showcase features boro-based designers & manufacturers

for The Brooklyn Paper
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Eat your heart out, Manhattan designers.

The third annual "Brooklyn Designs" is back, and it’s bigger and better than ever. In fact, this home furnishings designer showcase has become such a phenomenon that some sneaky artists who don’t hail from the Borough of Kings have tried to infiltrate the application process, according to "Brooklyn Designs" event manager and producer Karen Auster.

But Brooklynites, fear not: this year’s edition of "Brooklyn Designs" will exclusively showcase the best of Brooklyn’s up-and-coming furniture designers in a three-day extravaganza - May 6-8 in DUMBO - that will also include speakers, seminars and hands-on demonstrations. The public is welcome to view the exhibits, too - even if they’re from Manhattan.

A few years ago, Brooklyn Chamber of Commerce President Kenneth Adams embarked on a mission to give talented, but struggling, designers from this borough a chance. The result was "Brooklyn Designs," presented by the chamber.

"It’s very hard for designers to market and sell their work," Auster told GO Brooklyn. "These exhibitors are all real people; they’re not arrogant. They’re trying to grow their businesses, and they have great designs."

Amy Helfand, a Red Hook mom and one of the artists new to "Brooklyn Designs," will be debuting her custom-made rugs, which are hand-knotted in Nepal as part of her involvement in the Rugmark Foundation, a nonprofit organization working to end illegal child labor.

"I feel very lucky to be able to do this," said Helfand.

Boerum Hill native Bill Gray of Here There Designs will be showing off his 100-percent recyclable lighting pieces, all made from non-toxic, fully sustainable, archival material that won’t degrade or wear out. When Gray first began designing in a cramped Williamsburg loft, he didn’t want to work with materials that were hazardous to his health.

"My work grew out of enlightened self-interest," Gray said. "As I hired people, I didn’t want to ask them to work with materials I wasn’t willing to work with myself." Gray described his aesthetic as more "organic sculptural forms" rather than "reminiscent of potatoes," like other natural designs he’s seen.

"Nontoxic is sort of a side note for us - it’s a process that allows us to make shapes and designs that aren’t available otherwise," he said. "I’m surprised that more companies haven’t taken this position, because it’s so easy."

Helfand and Gray are just two of 47 designers that will be featured in the "Brooklyn Designs" showrooms in DUMBO; St. Ann’s Warehouse has 8,600 square feet of exhibition space while the Brooklyn Designs gallery has another 7,200 square feet.

"All of the designers are amazing this year," said Auster. "We had a record number of applications, and these are the best designers in Brooklyn."

The overwhelming success of previous "Brooklyn Designs" showcases has attracted competition from other boroughs.

"A lot of people have tried to sneak in from Manhattan," said Auster. "They did things like use their grandmother’s address. But to qualify, the exhibitors must either design or build their products in Brooklyn."

David Liatti, of DUMBO’s Glide Inc., will be featuring his signature fusion of furniture and lighting products with technology integration. Customers can set their own wheels of creativity in motion with his twist-together lamp, a collection of resin blocks in sets of four or six which allows you to "build your own decorative luminary."

And couples might be drawn to his desktop cabinet for the security-conscious, which features two drawers in a high-gloss stain, each with its own independently controlled, fingerprint-recognition lock pad. Only the user’s recognized fingerprint will open the drawers.

"It’s very discreet," said Liatti. "Plus, it’s realistic."

Other exhibitors will offer glamour and glitz. Returning Zia-Priven Design of the Brooklyn Navy Yard will show off its 1940s-inspired Lucite and crystal lamps with tall shades and sensual glass finials, and Aviva Stanoff Design Inc. of DUMBO will showcase its sophisticated and colorful handcrafted, luxury home collection.

Attendees will also be able to check out the modern elegance of Niche Modern’s hand-blown light fixtures which are manufactured in the Brooklyn Navy Yard (although Niche Modern is an East Village company); Igloo children’s furniture, by Park Sloper Lisa Albin, featuring organic, natural shapes with contemporary sensibility; and the architectural line of stainless steel and aluminum panel doors by Greenpoint-based Material Process Systems.

Other exhibitors will be available to commission personal designs, such as Williamsburg’s Decoradar, a decorative service that produces murals and installations for interior spaces, and furniture-maker Michael Puryear, based in the Brooklyn Navy Yard, who designs and builds pieces for his clients using the concept of "shibui" (Japanese for "simple elegance").

One of the event sponsors, Pratt Institute, will feature innovative new student work from its industrial design department.

The weekend’s highlights include a variety of special seminars, including "Breakthrough Design Ideas: From Brooklyn To Beyond," a presentation by Metropolis magazine editor-in-chief Susan Szenasy, and a panel discussion, "The Big Apple Goes Design-Build," with Virginia Gardiner of Dwell magazine.

DUMBO-based, world-renowned public sculptor Tom Otterness and various interior designers and architects will also give talks throughout the weekend.

"Brooklyn Designs" gives the public a unique chance to meet the artists in person.

"The designers are approachable, and they love to share their stories," said Auster. "You don’t have to go to some Web site. It’s more personal. You can find someone to build something just for you."


"Brooklyn Designs" will be held at the St. Ann’s Warehouse (38 Water St. at Dock Street in DUMBO) and the Brooklyn Designs gallery (37 Main St. at Front Street in DUMBO) on May 6, from 10 am to 8 pm; May 7, from 10 am to 7 pm; and May 8, from 10 am to 5 pm. Tickets: $10 (includes admission to both exhibit venues as well as design seminars). Trade members can pre-register for free tickets to May 6 events online-only at www.brooklyndesigns.net. For more information, contact Karen Auster at (718) 243-1414.

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