As Brooklyn ascends in population and popularity, its denizens celebrate the borough’s master makers.
Words: Amy Perry
Images: Andrew Ingalls and Ryan Mikail
For 100 years Brooklyn ranked among the nation’s manufacturing hubs, from ship builders to sugar refineries, girdle factories to breweries. But during the second half of the 20th century, the borough’s output slowed, then shuttered, leaving in its wake an economic and creative inertia.
But now Brooklyn is returning to its roots, albeit with a more small-batch POV. Walk its neighborhoods and see sawdust whirl. Metal bent. Concrete poured. Pillows and papers painted by hand. Inland factories in Bushwick and Bed-Stuy. Waterfront warehouses in Greenpoint and Gowanus. The echoes of Brooklyn’s maker past can be heard through cracked windows in Red Hook and loading ramps in the Navy Yard.
And the real estate market is responding. As artisans nestle into these industrial nooks, retailers and residents follow. Brooklyn’s appeal is so powerful that last year the Chamber of Commerce debuted a Brooklyn Made certification for indigenous wares. “There’s a real appreciation for Brooklyn, a place crafted by the people living in it,” observes Compass agent Christine Blackburn.
Most of this resurgence has happened organically, with local designers, landlords, community boards, and zoning officials playing their roles, explains fellow agent Chris Benfante. Add to that landmark regulators, says agent Lindsay Barrett. “Brooklyn has a rich history, and maintaining its industrial relics is important.”
As Brooklyn positions itself as a place to live and make, developers and policy-makers are also taking note. “Rethinking a turn-of-the-century facility as a modern manufacturing center, Sunset Park’s Industry City is a response to that, of public and private entities agreeing to foster it,” continues Barrett.
Representing decades of living and working amid these artisans, this trio of agents discusses the makers behind the movement and how they’re remapping Brooklyn.
“There’s a powerful drive for uniqueness within every human being. It’s the fundamental impetus behind why people want to buy, create, and live among these items. And people who are drawn to Brooklyn share a certain mentality, a prioritizing of design and quality.” — Christine Blackburn
“Brooklyn residents are looking closer to home for more interesting things, and so we see more of these bespoke goods because the market for them is here, and the quality expectation is high.” — Lindsay Barrett
“Although the artisans were always here, as Brooklyn became its own brand, these wonderful products assumed a certain cache.” — Chris Benfante
“Artisans colonize, and everybody else follows. At the end of the day, this has made Brooklyn what it is and ensures that people will continue to make real things here.” — Lindsay Barrett
“The beauty of Brooklyn’s design evolution is that it’s scalable. The whole country has derelict manufacturing districts ripe for transformation, and they’re all looking to Brooklyn as a model.” — Christine Blackburn
Mapping Our Makers
Lite Brite Neon Studio
Todd St. John
Object + Totem
Cover image credits Cosmos hand-painted wallpaper by Sarkos, sarkos.nyc | Smoke Ring Doorknob, $260, and Infinite Dollop, $190, hand-thrown vases by Object + Totem, objectandtotem.com | Stella inlaid-ash and ebonized-oak cabinet by Token, tokennyc.com | Sling leather and walnut chair by Workstead, $2,950, workstead.com | Hand-painted leather and linen pillows by Avo, from $235 each, avoavo.com
Explore the borough’s diverse neighborhoods at compass.com.