Editor’s Note: Based on the success of our previous designer workspaces article, we decided to delve a little deeper into the spaces in which designers create amazing things. Where I Work is a new series, brought to you by Intel, that explores the offices, desks and tools that help unleash the creativity and productivity of some of today’s top designers. Is there a particular designer whose office you’d love to take a peek inside? Tell us!
Brad Ascalon is principal designer at Brad Ascalon Studio NYC, which he founded in 2006 but design is in his blood. His grandfather founded a metal arts company in the 1930s, and his father is both an artist and designer working with mosaics, glass and metal. In just a few short years he has made a name for himself designing for such prominent brands as Ligne Roset, Bernhardt, and – most recently – Design Within Reach, for whom he designed a simple, modern menorah.
Brad opens his doors to us for a peek into his space. We discovered that not only does he create some fantastic furnishings, but he’s quite the Renaissance Man…
Brad spends most of his time in his home studio on the upper east side of Manhattan, but also develops a number of his prototypes, art pieces and one-off and limited editions at Ascalon Studios, Inc., the 5,000-square-foot art studio run and owned by his father outside of Philadelphia, where he does metalwork, stained glass and mosaics, as well as where a lot of experimenting takes place.
Ascalon Studios, Inc. Photo courtesy of Brad Ascalon Studio NYC.
We caught up with Brad in his home studio and asked him to tell us more about how he works:
Design Milk: You have just about every nook and cranny jam-packed (but neatly!). What is your typical work style?
Brad Ascalon: I can’t start my work day until my studio is spotless – everything is in its right place and the trashcans empty. At the end of each workday, I clean it for the following day. I have my design days and my “managing-the-business” days. On design days I can’t end my day feeling satisfied if I haven’t created absolute havoc. By 7 PM, I generally have a mess of paper, cardboard, wire and tape piled up on the floor and on my work stations, and there are sharpie and hot glue marks all over my hands and desks. On my managing days, I keep everything in perfect order so that I can keep a clear head while I’m working on contracts, doing research, or focusing on strategies for a new project.
What is your favorite tool when designing?
My brain is my favorite tool! That’s where the ideas happen. Everything that follows is simply the recording of those ideas. That being said, I don’t go anywhere without a notebook and a Pilot Razor Point pen! Only once I know the directions I want to explore, will I use other materials or software.
Working at home has its challenges, one being a healthy work/life balance. What are the pros and cons of doing the majority of your day-to-day work from home?
Honestly, I don’t see any disadvantages in having a home studio. I’ll admit that when I first started out I worked way too much. Then again, that got me to where I am now, so I think it was a necessary step. Now that I’ve managed to find a really nice balance of life and work, I spend a lot of time with my wife and our friends. And on those occasions where I have really tight deadlines and late nights, I can still accomplish what I need to without being away too far from my wife, or for too long.
Let’s talk about how you’re wired. Can you tell me more about your tech arsenal?
I’ve got one PC with two monitors that acts as my main work computer. This is where I do my 3D modeling, rendering, Photoshop work and presentations. I also spend a lot of time on Skype from this computer, talking to clients and manufacturers in Europe and Asia. I have another PC at my second workstation, also with two monitors, where my freelancer or intern works. This computer also runs the same software programs as my main computer. Then I have my Acer S3 Ultrabook, which is used either when I have more than one freelancer in the studio, or when I’m working outside of my studio. I also use it to work in the common areas of our home, doing contracts or internet research, chatting on Skype or just keeping up with the news. I’ve got all my computers linked to Sugarsync, so I can access any file from any of my computers from anywhere in the world. It’s very convenient. Lastly I have my Blackberry Bold, which is used mainly for email and phone obviously.
What amazes you about what your technology can do that you would have thought impossible just a few years ago?
The fact that I can conceive an idea, model it with 3D software, share it with a client on my computer screen, email it to a manufacturer, have that manufacturer feed the geometry into a CNC machine or 3D printer, only to get a prototype into my hands by the next morning still boggles my mind, and probably the minds of most designers. And this almost instant prototyping is something that designers are already accustomed to.
You have quite a collection of guitars. I assume you play?
Yes, I play. Music was my first calling in life. I played the piano from a very early age and guitar since the age of 13, composing at 14. Actually, I only broke into design after working on the business end of the music industry for a number of years. After being in that industry, I realized that I cared too much about music to work in such a terrible and largely uncreative and uninspiring industry that allowed marketability to supersede talent. So I left, went to graduate school and started my own studio shortly after. I don’t play as much as I’d like to but I still manage to pick up a guitar a few hours a week.
I love that you feature the WWTWD? (“What Would Tobias Wong Do?”) print above your workspace. Do you frequently conjure Tobias Wong’s spirit when you need inspiration or are stumped?
The one in my studio was the proof for the limited run I created for the Brokenoff Brokenoff exhibition last year. I keep it up because that show meant such a great deal to me and to my friends and colleagues who were part of the exhibition (Marc Thorpe, Joe Doucet, David Weeks, Frederick McSwain, Dror Benshetrit, Steven Burks, Todd Bracher, Josee Lepage). We were honoring, paying tribute and remembering a friend and one of the most brilliant voices in design. The show was both heartfelt and exciting because it gave the public a chance to see firsthand how Tobi truly and honestly influenced us. What I loved about Tobi’s work was that he was his own and only censor. He didn’t care what others thought. If he loved an idea, he followed through with it, and he always treated his work with an air of playfulness. I definitely try to take some of that with me whenever I’m overthinking or taking my work too seriously.
Brad in his father’s Philadelphia-area studio working on the stained glass piece he created for the Brokenoff Brokenoff exhibit.
I notice you have something on your desk that looks like a paper model of a fence. What is it?
That’s an idea I’m developing for a gallery show during New York Design Week this year. It represents a white picket fence, one time a symbol of the American Dream, slowly being relinquished into blackness. Lots of experimenting to do before I know if it will work the way I envision.
You use pieces of packing Styrofoam as storage – how clever! How did you think up that idea?
The first time I did that, we had just bought a new vacuum cleaner, and I was frustrated at how much unnecessary waste came along with it. I thought to myself, “what can I do to keep this from going into the trash?” With all their nooks, I figured I could re-purpose them by shoving knick-knacks into them, stabbing them with pushpins and pencils, etc. One foam piece is dedicated solely as storage for my watches. Your readers should do the same! They make a great desk accessory or wall shelf.
What is the story behind your labeled corks?
A couple of years ago, I was with a few friends out on the North Fork of Long Island doing some wine tastings. There was a bottle that I absolutely fell in love with, a 2005 Cabernet Franc from Osprey’s Dominion, so I bought a case of it. Knowing that I’d go through it in no time, I made a rule that I would only crack one open upon my first design launch with those companies for whom I’ve always had a huge amount of admiration. Shortly after, Bernhardt Design launched my Pillar lounge chair. For Ligne Roset, the Lovey table was my second launch with the company, but my first launch with them was in 2008, prior to acquiring the wine, so I cheated a bit. Then DWR launched my menorah this past October. I have a lot in the works with DWR, actually, which forced me to make the rule that only my first launch with a company warranted an open bottle. Otherwise they’d make an alcoholic of me! I’ve got a handful of bottles to go, and if all goes as planned, I’m cracking open the next one in April for the Salone in Milan!
I notice you have some of the pieces you designed in your home, do you have a favorite?
It’s hard to choose a favorite, but I’m partial to Lovey (above) because of its simplicity and whimsy. To me, it is symbolic of my approach as a designer. It isn’t minimalistic, but rather reductionist. It merges form, function and concept as simply as possible. I also really love the Pillar chair that I did with Bernhardt Design in 2010. It was designed for more of a contract setting than a residential one, but in our space it works nicely.
Speaking of your work in your home, you have some original abstract work. Are you also a painter?
I haven’t really painted in years. I was an avid painter from college until around 2002, but once I began designing, that took precedence. I always tell myself that I’ll get back into it, but I can’t seem to find the time anymore, sadly.
I notice you have a Philippe Starck gun lamp, which is a bold choice. Can you tell me more about how it came to live in your apartment?
When FLOS launched that piece, I fell in love with it. As subversive as it is, it’s so striking and beautiful. So my wife and I eventually decided we had to have one.
What’s with that broken mirror?
It’s called Broken/Fixed. In 2009, Architectural Digest hired my studio to design the Ligne Roset-sponsored VIP Lounge for the PULSE NYC Contemporary Art Fair. The space featured furniture and lighting from Ligne Roset (my Spindle Table included) as well as a number of custom pieces of mine. I wanted to experiment with shattering mirrors as a form of mosaic art, so I developed a method in which the pieces all remain in place so that they can be exhibited in these found decorative frames. What I discovered was so beautiful. Every mirror broke in such a unique, breathtaking way. It was incredible. I did an edition of five of them, but broke around a dozen to hand pick the five I thought were most successful. A few went to private collectors, but I still have a couple laying around. In addition to designing the space, my brother Josh and I wrote a 30-minute ambient composition for the lounge.
What can you tell us about a current project you’re working on?
I’m currently working on various projects in Europe, Asia and the US: furniture for the contract, residential and hospitality markets, packaging, silverware, lighting, bathroom accessories, decorative objects, as well as developing designs for galleries in Paris and San Francisco.
Portrait of Brad Ascalon and photos of his home studio by Kate Glicksberg for Design Milk.
With support from our partner, Intel, we’re exploring the offices, desks and tools that unleash the creativity and productivity of today’s designers. Intel is committed to improving our lives with fast, light, wireless (and stylish!) technology. Their goal is to develop tools that help us create amazing things. And we think that’s amazing.