As we look back on Design Milk’s first 15 years, there are some designers who can’t help but stand out. Not only for the creations and successes we’ve tracked throughout their careers, but also for the roles they’ve played in our own. One of those names belongs to Brad Ascalon.
“If you were a young designer coming up at the start of the design blog sensation in the early 2000s, you knew of all of them. And, like me, you probably hounded them all trying to get your work seen by global eyes for the first time. I imagine I probably emailed Jaime to death until she caved in and starting sharing my work with all of DM’s followers,” he quipped.
Ascalon’s own start and ascent began in the music industry, oddly enough. While working at a major record label in Manhattan in 2003, he says he had a quarter-life crisis and realized he’d have to make quite a few compromises with himself to climb the ladder within the industry. “So, I left with no other prospects. Only the sense that I needed more than creative hobbies, I needed a creative career,” Brad shares. He went back to school, earning a master’s degree in industrial design. After graduating, Brad immediately began his own studio, comfortable in the fact that he’d never have a boss staring over his shoulder and blaming their mistakes on him again.
I had no knowledge of how to run a business, so it was sink or swim. I learned how to swim.
Only a few days into the start of his design career, Brad got a call from a project director at L’Oreal. Thanks to the sharing of earlier design concepts and a bit of luck, he spent the next while creating concept packaging for some of the company’s umbrella brands, including Maybelline, Redken and Shu Uemura. “That very fortunate phone call, and the two years of work that followed, afforded me the ability to put any additional time toward developing the first furniture pieces I would try to bring to market over the coming years.”
Brad truly believes there’s no lone project that helped propel his career, only that none of them would have been possible without the ones prior. However, there are two that hold special importance to him. The first was being invited by Jerry Helling and Bernhardt Design to showcase his work at ICFF Studio during New York’s International Contemporary Furniture Fair in 2007. “Jerry has such a skill and a passion for discovering and nurturing talent. When you enter that world with Jerry Helling’s stamp of approval, it’s invaluable if you know how to navigate through the industry,” he shares. Jerry was also his first patron.
Not long after, Brad began working with Ligne Roset as only the second American designer they had partnered with in a century. The opportunity gave him some much needed clout among European manufacturers that would lead to further collaborations down the line.
These days, Brad’s work is incredibly varied. While keeping busy designing residential and hospitality furniture, as well as lighting, there’s a new focus on contract furniture within the office space. He explained, “In my opinion, it’s the most exciting and challenging segment of the industry. It forces a designer to problem solve at a level far beyond the world of residential or hospitality design, with far tighter constraints.” The studio is also wrapping up the creation of an outdoor furniture brand in Mexico City that will be launching in the U.S. this Fall. Outside of the furniture industry, they’re developing design and intellectual property partnerships that will hopefully bring value to people who don’t live and work in that world. Quarantining during Covid-19 afforded Brad the time to dedicate to this piece of the puzzle he felt had been missing.
But when all is said and done, “Even though the project is a few years old now, the one I am still so proud of is my Preludia series of seating and tables for the iconic Danish brand Carl Hansen & Son,” he said. “As their only American designer in the company’s 110-year history, and being responsible for designing their first ever contract furniture collection, it’s a collaboration that will always remain special to me. To date this collaboration has been my greatest honor.”
Of course, we had to grill Brad just a bit about his business relationship with Design Milk. Event parties, dinners and his friendship with founder Jaime Derringer are at the top of his list of memories. His favorite moment was the first time the two of them talked. “She was looking for a designer to partner with on a small design charette for Intel in celebration of a new laptop release. I got an email asking if she could call me. When the phone rang, I noticed that it was my childhood area code. I asked, “Jaime, where are you calling from?” “New Jersey,” she said. “Where in New Jersey?,” I questioned. “Cherry Hill,” was her response. As it turns out, Jaime and I grew up literally a mile from one another in the same middle-class suburb just outside of Philadelphia. But since we went to separate high schools, we never knew one another until that moment. Ever since, we’ve been super tight.”
“As Design Milk was growing, I began to meet more and more designers – but they all intimidated me! I felt like an outsider. But meeting Brad was such a serendipitous moment – we had a hometown connection that was instantly comforting. It was around that time that I began to feel like I – and Design Milk – finally planted both feet in the design community. I’m so grateful for our friendship,” Jaime says.
“Everyone at Design Milk with whom I’ve ever interviewed and talked through my work with has such a passion for not only what we as designers create, but in being sure to tell the stories of our work in a way that best captivates their audience. It has always been nice to read their own take on our words, our work and our passions. Because of Design Milk, our projects reach such a wide audience, from the occasional design fan to the consummate professional. The reward of working with Design Milk is priceless.” Thank you, Brad. The feeling is definitely mutual!