Friday, November 6, 2009

Brad Ford

Interior designer Brad Ford didn’t seem to mind it when we, somewhat patronizingly, called him ‘a little ole country boy’ – just because he grew up in Arkansas – a place that still seems to be his first love. He is easygoing and thankfully free of New York neurosis but has, nevertheless created his life and successful design business in New York, having discovered his true métier when he was building his own house in Arkansas with the money earned from his first job working for a big marketing company. He plucked up the courage to move and study at FIT and found that he was just fine in the big city. He has, incidentally, one of the best dogs we have interviewed – and we have interviewed as many dogs as designers.

You said you just got back from High Point furniture fair – why did you go?

Okay, I’ve never been to High Point … I don’t know I just wanted to check it out … I’ll be honest, at some point I’ll definitely be interested in product development and licensing my name. So, I’ve been talking to a couple of people and the first thing they tell you is to go to High Point and do your homework.

It’s just really hard to make any money that way, I’ve heard.

I think there’s a lot of truth to that. It depends on the contract that you end up getting and how you negotiate it. I think in the bigger picture it’s about building a brand, an image, a distinct point of view. I think in our business, it’s becoming more and more difficult. First of all obviously, there’s the economy and then I think consumers are just becoming more and more savvy and sophisticated.

Does that mean interior designers are all going to become redundant?


No, no I really don’t. There’s a big difference between liking something and then knowing how it fits into the context.
Sleigh bells. Brad’s collection of wooden bowls is housed above the kitchen cabinets.
Food and beverages stand together on the kitchen counter.
Two Obama plates hang on the wall of Brad’s kitchen, above the pots and pans. The wine is stored nearby. A rolling butcher block provides extra counter space in the tight kitchen.
Brad discovered this photo at the 25th Street flea market. A James Dean contact sheet by photographer Sid Avery from the movie ‘Giant’ hangs in the front hallway.
Pencil drawings of a two healers by artist Rob Matthews were purchased at Gallery Joe in Philadelphia. A photograph by Robert Mapplethorpe was purchased from the Goff and Rosenthal gallery.
I do want to get back to this whole thing of brand marketing because I’m seeing it more and more, that designers, especially young designers like you, you’re trying to present yourself as a package … it’s becoming a promotional business.

You know what, I agree with you and it’s probably the first time we’ve seen it to this magnitude with interior design, but it’s gone on with fashion for years – I mean look at Bill Blass.

I don’t think anything’s wrong with it – it’s just really a switch from the Sister Parishes of the world. You’re going for volume…

I agree. My original degree is actually in business and economics, so I’ve always been really passionate about design—but you have to remember, it is a business. We live in New York City, it’s very expensive, I like to travel, I like, you know … if an opportunity presents itself you might as well take advantage of it.
The impala head, a gift from Brad’s mom, hangs next to a photograph of barbed wire in the front hall. The rope lamp was purchased at George Champion Modern in Connecticut. A bronze bird sits atop a carved vintage Jonathan Adler wooden stool in the living room.
Standing atop the living room desk by William Pahlmann, which was found at Housing Works, is a vintage child’s toy which has been re-fashioned as a geometric sculpture. The mid-century lamp is from the Piers show. A leather armchair by Thomas O’Brien for Hickory stands near corner bookshelves stocked with Brad’s art and design book collection. The horse print is by British artist, Hellovon.
Turbo surveys the territory.
‘Planet of The Apes’ print by British artist, Hellovon hangs in a corner of Brad’s living room. The desk chair is vintage Eames from Herman Miller. Brad’s ‘fake Donald Judd’ created out of IKEA cabinets hangs above a couch found at a Housing Works sale.
Quite a few of the designers we’ve interviewed have studied business – I’ve always wondered, if they were passionate about design and not business, why they didn’t just nod off during the lectures and so forth.

It was tough, I’ll be honest. I went to a very competitive school, a small private liberal arts college in Arkansas, and it was tough. I had to study probably twice as much as everyone else did.

Is that where you grew up?


Yeah, I grew up in Arkansas.
Turbo at rest. The pair of 1960s leather chairs are by Poul Kjaerholm. The coffee table is by French woodworker, Jerome Able Seguin.
A round mirror from BDDW hangs above a Dunbar black console from Modern Living Supplies on the Lower East Side. Brad’s impala doesn’t blink an eye.
City views of Chelsea can be seen from all windows of the apartment.
Brad in his living room. The leather and cowhide chair in the forefront was purchased at a Piers antique show. Spying on Turbo through the hallway mirror.
More views of the living room.
Brad’s antler guards over the living room while Turbo guards over the couch. Fresh flowers stand in front of a photograph by Paul Meleschning purchased from an auction benefit for Bailey House.
Brad bought the vintage Knoll console from a friend.
A 1960s glass lamp from Retro Modern antiques shares space with a Mona Lisa clock from Mxyplyzyk. A photo of a statue of Greek lovers, reminiscent of Rodin’s ‘The Kiss’, was purchased from an antique store in Lambertville, N.J.
What was your perception of New York, about coming to New York?

I had been to New York one time but you know, you heard stories … Central Park is scary. I was scared to death … so then I came here and I loved it.

Tell us about Arkansas. I don’t know anything about Arkansas other than Bill Clinton comes from there.

Oh I love it! I miss it terribly. It’s just one of the most beautiful states, full of natural resources. That’s one of the things that really inspires me and I think comes across in a lot of my work, very natural organic shapes and materials. We have lake in our hometown, there are rivers, we’d go hiking …
The master bedroom.
Reflections of the bedroom from the oversized wall mirror. Turbo running past a chest of drawers from an antique store in the Flatiron district.
A Danish mid-century leather chair sits in front of an oversized mirror in the corner of the bedroom. The photograph is by James Beavin from the Jen Bekman Gallery.
You’re just a little ole country boy! How do you deal with the New York personality? You seem so sweet and gentle … you seem like the type that would get mugged in Central Park.

[laughs loudly] I can handle myself!

You seem to know yourself very well – is that a fair comment?


I think so. I was just on a panel discussion with Michael Bruno from 1stDibs and he said, “When one door closes, a window opens”

What does that mean? That you jump out?

No, just that if something’s not working, try something else. At this point I’ve had my own business for ten or eleven years and I’m very content. It’s not a bad gig.
A group of vintage pottery collected over the years stands near the window ledge.
Bedside reading. The antique iron rabbit was left over from Brad’s showhouse room for Hamptons Cottages and Gardens.
A photograph of a horse by Jason Frank Rothenberg hangs above the bed.
A toy astronaut stands on the moon; Turbo doing his thing.
A painting by Kate Finneran was a gift from a friend; the wood sculpture was purchased in Hudson; the bookcase is on order.
What’s the first thing you do when you go back to Arkanas?

Oh God! Eat. My mother is just an amazing cook. Every time I go home she almost always makes the first meal: fried pork chops, which she knows I love, mashed potatoes, lima beans, some sort of salad and biscuits.

So you like food?

I think about it all the time.

You don’t think about sex all the time then?

Well, I mean ...
• Sian Ballen and Lesley Hauge • photographs by Jeffrey Hirsch