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Brooklyn Daily Eagle
Young Brooklyn Designers
Febuary 18 2004
Jennifer Needleman
RED HOOK That’s terrible, said Jason Horvath, pointing to an out-of-place plastic wedge attached to the bottom of a bent-wood chair recently purchased and schlepped from Ikea. His business partner, Bill Hilgendorf, glanced down.
Looks like it was an afterthought, mused Hilgendorf as he rocked back and forth in the chair, testing its sturdiness.
Good price, though, said Horvath.

These two young Brooklynites can’t get their minds off of furniture design. As the principal members of the up-and-coming Red Hook design and fabrication company, Uhuru Design, conversations will always turn towards hinges, welding seams, wood grains or joinery. But aside from their obsession with wood, metal and plastic, these designers are part of a new wave in the industry, where the highly educated conceptual designer inhabits the same body as the traditionally skilled craftsman.

If you’ve ever wanted to redo your kitchen, or have built-in cabinets installed in your apartment, or have even had an inkling of an idea for a desk that would just fit perfectly below that picture window, you know that it’s nearly impossible to end up with the same design in reality that you had originally in your brain. Between interior decorators and their ties to product distributors, construction workers dismayed at the impossibility of a lofty architect’s designs or a furniture designer who thinks he knows what kind of wood you like better than you do, home and office improvements can be a serious headache. The future, however, is brighter.

Enter Uhuru Design, specializing in custom design and implementation of furniture and interior architecture, intent on bringing clients exactly what they order.

When you want something built, you go to a designer. Then the designer hires a subcontractor to build it, said Horvath, explaining the way things are usually done in the business.

Then, the subcontractor comes back to the designer and says: It can’t be done like this, it has to be done like that, Horvath continued. There are always too many concessions. Something always gets lost in the process.

What ensues is a seemingly endless back-and-forth between all the parties involved with the project, causing delays, compromises, and wasted dollars. Uhuru, however, has the ability to play all roles, cutting out the intermediary steps, speeding the process along and ultimately, delivering a superior product.

When we work with a client, we are able to design a product and say: It’s going to be just like this?? and it will be, said Hilgendorf.

We have the ability to actually design and produce prototypes. Construction makes us better designers, designing makes us better constructors, explained Horvath. Horvath and Hilgendorf know that success lies in the ability to understand what the client wants, to do their best to create a product that the client will be comfortable living with and to be able to live up to their promises. The aesthetics of Uhuru Design are sleek, modern and green.

We’re concerned about sustainability, said Hilgendorf, referring to the recent movement towards environmentally minded industrial construction. The young designers draw their influences from Scandinavian furniture design and Asian minimalism. They have produced small batches of metal office desks that seem to be inspired by the I-beam itself, soft wood counters that to curve and stretch organically, primary color couches that would make the Eamses proud.

The history of Uhuru is an interesting one, beginning during Hilgendorf and Horvath’s years in the Industrial Design department at the Rhode Island School of Design.

It was Bill’s idea, said Horvath. We always wanted to have a shop together, and opening a business justifies having a shop and pays for it.

The boys of Uhuru see their pretty little Red Hook shop as their own personal playground, and perhaps this inherent love of making things is what has brought them so many successes in such a short period of time.
The opportunity to actually open a shop together came after an incredible Brooklyn coincidence.

Hilgendorf, fresh out of college, had moved to South Brooklyn in hopes of finding work as a furniture builder.
I couldn’t get a job, said Hilgendorf, echoing the cry of thousands of recent college graduates in New York City. He had a few things on the horizon a temporary job in Miami that seemed to good to be true (and ultimately, was) but the weight of rent and the future was bearing down.

I actually went to Home Depot and applied for a job, said Hilgendorf, I figured at least I could get an employee discount on materials.

A stroke of brilliant luck happened when one day, Hilgendorf decided to meet his downstairs neighbors. To his great surprise, the occupant of the apartment below his was actually a furniture designer, using the space as his shop.
I poked my head into Mark Edwards’ shop as he was wrapping up a bookcase he was delivering, said Hilgendorf. I introduced myself and asked him if he needed any help. His eyes lit up
What could be more convenient than a perfect job in a perfect location (inside your own apartment building) Only in Brooklyn, only in Brooklyn.

Hilgendorf worked for Edwards and learned the business end of furniture.
He gave me free reign to design pieces, and he respected my opinion immensely, said Hilgendorf, who now thinks of Edwards as a mentor of sorts. Now, Edwards, who operates GNU Design, has a new industrial neighbor, Uhuru Design, and the two firms often work in conjunction with each other. Uhuru Design looks forward to a future where it will be able to fully design cavernous interior spaces. Martignetti is hoping to open a nightclub in Manhattan where Uhuru can showcase their skills. We’ll have free reign over the aesthetic potential, said Horvath.

From lighting, to furniture, to the coat hooks, it will be a dream, said Hilgendorf. A blank space, a big box that you fill with everything.

For more information on Uhuru Design, for pictures of products or to contact the company, please visit www.uhurudesign.com.
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Brooklyn Daily Eagle 2004

Copyright © 2008 Jason Horvath. All rights reserved.