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Andrew Stone | December 17, 2013
The affable owner of his namesake furniture brand—as well as an expanding full-service design firm overseas (watch out, America)—San Francisco-based Eric Brand is known for creating luxurious furnishings for residences, retail outlets, and hospitality venues, with his pieces represented at top showrooms across the globe. His client list runs the gamut from Chanel and Coach to hotel properties for Wynn, MGM, and Viceroy.
Here, he shares his visions for the future, recollections of the past, and astute observations of the here and now.
Interior Design: How have you steered your business, in terms of those with whom you collaborate?
Eric Brand: I’ve tried to build this company as a team. If I could change one thing, I wouldn’t have my name on the door, because it’s about all the people who are here. At one point, I thought of changing it, but everyone said, “No, you can’t.” I really consider it to be about the collaborative effort—and this includes all of the craftspeople in China, the Philippines, India, and Vietnam who bring what we make for others to life. This industry is my passion, and I’m so fortunate to be surrounded by people who share this passion.
ID: What would you say are the aesthetic common threads that communicate your brand to clients and customers?
EB: The aesthetic journey has been an interesting path. In the beginning, I was accused of not having a definite style direction. That was intentional. My contemporaries in the business tended to have a very clear direction. I consider myself different in that I’m driven by material. Of course, I do have roots in Art Deco and Art Nouveau—they were part of the early inspirations and continue to be inspiring. But that evolved greatly when we began to bring greater focus to sourcing. It makes me think of one of my favorite quotes, from Louis Khan: “What does a brick want to be?” I try never to force something that’s not supposed to happen.
ID: As materials allow you to bring more of the wide world into your work, what’s your take on the globalization of design?
EB: The survival aspect of globalization is important. We are part of a generation that has exposure to so many more things in our lives, through technology and travel. This is constantly broadening our perspectives—what we wear, what we listen to. This affects our work as designers. The hallowed halls were always the design centers, but accessibility today comes to one’s desktop or through the mail. Clients are asking for a more international, broader-based aesthetic. We’re tasked with bringing in influences from different cultures. Today it’s about more layers, textures, and colors—as opposed to the purist approach of a decade ago. This industry is so competitive, so we have to ask: What is going to differentiate us? Silhouettes, sure, but more than that it’s the materials and layers, and the stories behind them.
ID: What has remained evergreen in your creative approach, and what continues to evolve?
EB: I’m constantly blown away when we meet a vendor who exposes me to a new technique or material. Just today, I received a material sample that got me very fired up. In the last two years, we made a commitment to bolster our drafting and presentation capabilities, to further investigate design capabilities. We have six people in Manila who support us in our CAD drafting and 3D printing. To have this level of supportive technology from halfway across the world—that’s incredible. From a design perspective, it has broadened our ability to conceive things in new ways.
ID: What type of staff member do you like to bring on, and how do you keep your company true to its vision?
EB: We currently have 10 people in-house in New York, dealing with creative, project management, logistics, accounting, and administrative support. No one stays in a pocket; everyone spends time in every department, which allows for a well-rounded experience within a small-sized company. I love to develop people, and the layers that they have. For example, my bookkeeper in the office stated that he was interested in photography. We had the need for photography at the time, so we sent him to school and got him equipment. He now spends half his time being creative, half his time on numbers. The more flexible we can be, and the more we can empower people, the happier they are in their work and the better the results for the company.
ID: You are known for innovation with finishes and fabrications. How do you experiment, and what gets you excited today?
EB: We take a look at the finishes and materials we work with on a daily basis. How can we view things in a different light? We’re always looking at what’s successful and not successful in terms of technology, and constantly spending time on the production floor. Oftentimes, the best results happen by accident—we’ll make a sample that turns out differently than we thought, that will wind up being amazing.
ID: Your company’s enjoying significant expansion in Asia. What’s going on for you in that part of the world?
EB: Three years ago, we experienced an evolution as a brand and company in the china market. That development gave us greater access to materials and manufacturing sourcing than ever before. The formative years of the company were primarily about specialized product and furniture design. However, my background is in architecture and interiors—full turnkey design. Now, in China, we’re combining architecture, interior design, lighting, artwork, and furniture, coming full circle. That access to a broader range of home furnishings is playing a major role in the success we’re seeing there.
ID: What are some of the most exciting projects/endeavors on your plate, adding dimension to your brand’s portfolio?
EB: On the domestic side, we have hospitality projects with Four Seasons and Wynn in which we’re collaborating with top interior designers and collaborating from a design sense, offering our experience in manufacturing. On the international side, we’re developing that new brand in China, and have opened four franchise stores. We’re going to expand that franchise model in China and the Middle East, over the next twelve to eighteen months, before we expand to the US, offering full turnkey interior design solutions. We have the intention of going head to head against the biggest retail consumer-based outlets in the US. There’s definitely an appetite for that in the United States.
ID: There are great responsibilities and opportunities within the design world today—from material selection and new technologies to shifting tastes, cultural needs, and a swelling population—suggesting a need for more modularity. Which of these do you spend time considering?
EB: Our world is about repurposing—so many of the exotic materials we work with are repurposed. Specifying materials that are good for the environment is a big part of what we do.
ID: What were the early instances in which you found yourself engaged by great design?
EB: I had them often as a kid, being the son of an architect in Houston, Texas. My parents—still to this day—have a great appreciation for art, design, and architecture. I worked in my dad’s architecture office as a kid, running blue lines and material boards, so I was surrounded by it. I always had an appreciation for it. It’s where my passion still originates, today.