Doing her Thing, New York-style
Naomi Arnold meets Bridie Picot, a New York-based Nelsonian who is thinking big about small spaces.
When you live in New York City, you have to accept a tiny apartment as a fact of life. But Bridie Picot says small doesn't have to mean uncomfortable - and she's started her own furniture company to prove it.
When Miss Picot moved into her Brooklyn apartment last year, she couldn't find furniture that was clean, bright, simple, and suited the compact space.
"I felt like a lot of the stuff out there was so serious and old-fashioned, like dark wood pieces with chunky legs that manage to make a room feel small and depressing all at once," she says.
"Most of the people I know live in relatively small spaces, and you need the furniture to help open them and brighten up a place."
Together with Wellington designer Matt Smith of Common Goods, Miss Picot, 33, is the owner of Thing Industries, a new furniture company that promises not to take itself too seriously.
She has lived in New York since her early 20s. Her day job is as a "mother", or brand manager, at advertising firm Mother New York.
The United States has an energy and generosity of entrepreneurial spirit that New Zealand lacks, she says. She's found that her fellow New Yorkers take pleasure in building networks of people who just want to help each other succeed.
"It's so positive. You get the help, and you also want to help. In New Zealand, it's a bit harder to get a leg up. Here, it's like, ‘That sounds awesome, let me put you in touch with someone'."
She dreamt up Thing when Mr Smith, one of her favourite furniture designers, refused to sell her the chair and rug samples he had created for the Milan Furniture Fair. Six years later, the pieces still hadn't made it to production, so Miss Picot suggested starting their own venture.
They have just released their first collection of five pieces, which have a strong sense of playfulness and humour.
Both have sketchbooks full of designs, and they email rough drawings back and forth, watching things evolve as they go. Miss Picot then has production samples shipped to Mr Smith to check. "We keep going until we're both happy."
There's the Beast Rug, a dark grey felt riff on the traditional bearskin rug. The Birdhouse Bookshelf is a deceptively simple wall-mounted bedside shelf. The Sacrificial Chair is a slender frame tracing only the outlines of a seat, suited to a decorative bedroom chair's usual purpose: hanging clothes.
The Hairy Thing is a furry ottoman the colour of a guinea pig, while a set of stackable, hexagonal modular tables in yellow or white comes in half or whole versions.
The designs grew out of Mr Smith's former company Punga & Smith, but have been freshened for Thing.
Miss Picot says she loved the humour that came through in everything he designed. "But I also found them to be functional and beautiful pieces that I wasn't seeing anywhere else."
They make a good team. Although Mr Smith's pieces had received a lot of press, he didn't have access to an international market.
"I think it takes a few things to get a piece into production," Miss Picot says. "There's the initial investment, but you also need to have a big audience to make it worthwhile."
She says it also takes a different skill set to produce, market and promote your designs. She's had to learn everything about the business from scratch.
"Throughout the design process, you never know if what you're making will be received well by everyone else."
But the feedback has been "amazingly positive" so far, based on Thing's first testing ground, the International Contemporary Furniture Fair in New York.
"It was my first time even going to the show, so I really had no idea what to expect.
"We had this tiny booth in the back behind a pole, but people came by and were really positive about the collection."
The Sacrificial Chair was featured by The Huffington Post, and was named Dwell magazine's Product of the Day. HOME magazine's Sam Eichblatt called the collection "charming" and "playful" - and, most importantly, "wallet and loft-friendly". New Zealand's Urbis dubbed it "affordable, witty, and smart".
The good response gave them the confidence to get their creations into production. Over the next year they'll be releasing a second, and hopefully third, collection, and possibly expanding into their own space. Mr Smith is thinking of moving to New York, which would give Thing Industries extra momentum.
Miss Picot says that ultimately, she'd like the company to be "a great big fun workshop", producing about four collections a year.
She'd also like a storefront at some point, which would serve as both a shop and a toast cafe. "I don't think anyone's done that yet."
New York is home for Miss Picot now. It's a long way from Nayland College, where she went to school.
One summer, she was at the Gathering dance festival at Canaan Downs when she ran into a bunch of people who worked for the now-defunct Pavement magazine. They were looking for an editorial assistant, and she landed the job.
She then spent a year modelling fulltime in Auckland, Sydney and Tokyo, before moving to an ad agency in Auckland, WHYBIN/TBWA.
Seeking a bigger city life, she moved to New York and worked for a photo agency, then got the sought-after job with Mother, after producing an Orange Mobile campaign for the agency.
She moved to London in 2005, and spent five years there before returning to the New York offices of Mother in 2010 and finding an apartment on Manhattan's Lower East Side. She landed the account for gin company Tanqueray, then spent a year and a half in Europe working on its global campaigns.
When she returned to New York, she chose to live in Brooklyn, which has recently undergone a renaissance, becoming a haven for young creatives.
It's been easy to fit back in, although most of her friends had moved on by the time she returned.
"It's so transient here. People come, and they're here for two years and then go to London, LA, Asia - it's usually a career-driven move. Not many people put down roots here."
But she's taking great delight in doing so. She's just started working as the American contact for her father Pic Picot's peanut butter company, and last September bought a cabin in the Catskill Mountains in upstate New York, a 2 -hour drive away.
"That really changes the experience of living here. I'm there every weekend."
She's dubbed it The Shack for its simple lines, which remind her of Thing Industries' Birdhouse Bookshelf, and has managed to squeeze 12 visiting friends into the one-bedroom wooden house.
It sits among nearly three hectares of forest so dense that she's walked the perimeter only once.
She's seen bears, porcupines, woodchucks, snakes, turkeys and woodpeckers - a long way from the cramped apartments of New York City.
Visit thingindustries.com for more information.
- © Fairfax NZ News