Brooklyn has gone from melting pot to simmering cauldron, brewing the latest movements in art and the hottest trends in fashion.
That borough of New York long dismissed as a bedroom community for Manhattan – a city of factories, churches, warehouses and working class people with their own distinct take on the English language – is now a burgeoning center for emerging artists, innovation and self-expression.
The Williamsburg neighborhood provides an excellent microcosm of the creative bursts happening all over Brooklyn, where Bedford Avenue provides a home to both a well-established immigrant population as well as a new generation of hipsters. Trendy jeans and funky sunglasses are the order of the day. Walk the avenue and you’ll see plenty of plaid fedoras, high-top sneakers, mismatched socks and tie-dyed iPhone covers. Fueled by the energy and vision of a new class of up-and-coming artists, designers, techies and musicians, the area has spawned a multitude of galleries, restaurants and boutiques. Most can be defined as testing grounds for new ideas, geared toward relevancy and a mutually beneficial relationship with the environment.
In 1997, artists Lexy Funk and Vahap Avsar opened Brooklyn Industries on Bedford Avenue and North Eighth Street to sell their messenger bags made from recycled billboards. “Our motto became, ‘Live, work, create,’ ” says Funk. “It’s a celebration of both being creative and artistic and being in business.” They now have 10 stores in New York plus stores in Chicago and Portland, Ore., with one soon to come on Boston’s Newbury Street. Their philosophy is dedicated to sustainability, recycling and upcycling (taking something old and creating something new).
Half the fixturing is made in the store using shipping crates, mending plates and anything else that can be repurposed. P-O-P signs made from clipboards attach to shelves with C-clamps. The stores are trimmed with Funk’s old college books, photographic equipment, a childhood tricycle and Avsar’s Oriental rugs.
Four blocks away, on Bedford and South Fourth, is New York Adorned, a custom tattoo parlor and jewelry boutique. Signature orange walls and an eclectic mix of antique showcases define the jewelry boutique in the front of the store. Owner Lori Leven says she loves sourcing “cool stuff” from international flea markets and the streets of New York. Found objects include a mirror from a Brooklyn brownstone, a red velvet Victorian couch and a steel worktable. A favorite discovery was a pair of Murano-glass chandeliers purchased from ABC Carpet at 50 percent off. A 100-year-old door from Java, inlaid in the floor, serves as a transition from the jewelry boutique to the tattoo parlor. A visible autoclave room shows the sterilization process, while mirrored walls give the illusion of a larger space and allow patrons to view “body art.”
The Rabbit Hole restaurant, one block north on Bedford, was converted from two vacant, street-level apartments. Owners Lawrence and Ayako Elliott offer timeless dishes with Asian flavors and French style. The environment features late-Victorian imagery, weathered woods, exposed brick and original machine age oil lamps mounted on highly textured plaster walls.
The Future Perfect, on the corner of Berry and North Sixth Street, elevates exquisitely designed home furnishings into the realm of art. Founder Dave Alhadeff says his Brooklyn clientele recognizes the intrinsic beauty in all items, from both local and international design talent, presented in a sleek gallery-like retail environment.
Sprout Home on Grand Street is built on the recognition that local apartment dwellers want to bring nature into their urban environments. Designer plants and accessories are merchandised on steel tabletops, while exposed brick walls and concrete flooring project an environment appropriate to city gardening.
In fact, Sprout Home is a parable for this entire neighborhood on the “other side” of the Williamsburg Bridge. What’s sprouting all over Brooklyn is the message that New York’s exciting retail isn’t confined to Manhattan.