In the Studio with Bower

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Good luck placing a Bower piece within any particular era. The work of the Brooklyn-based design studio is immediately timeless, existing in the liminal space between past and future. Whether it be a mirror or a chair or a even a pen holder, the rules Bower play by are written by them and them alone. Here, elegance can be exuberant, modernism accessible, and wit a high art. Out of their studio in Greenpoint, design directors Danny Giannella and Tammer Hijazi, with the help of with sales/development director Jeffrey Renz, challenge notions of what a space can be–and what we should furnish said space with.

Since founding Bower in 2013, the studio has become one of the top names in contemporary American design. They’ve created benches for Nike, routers for Google, furniture for West Elm. They’ve collaborated with Sight Unseen, Refinery29, Bjorn Van Den Berg. Bower’s work, be it commissioned or otherwise, always stands on its own, immediately distinguishable for its use of geometry and, often, presence of illusion. They are serious designers, for which play is paramount.

Below, the talented threesome talks star Smurf students, moments of invention, and the unifying appeal of mustard yellow.

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First commissioned project or product that helped Bower establish itself: 

Our first product was a wall-mounted wooden target with a bullseye painted on the front. It had embedded magnets that would catch your keys. We named it the Key Target. When we showed it at our first trade show, a couple people from Areaware came by and said they wanted to license the product. This was a huge validation and relief for us because they believed in the product and would also take the manufacturing and sales out of our hands. Our first product would be produced on a larger scale than we could ever handle and be distributed internationally, introducing our brand to the world.

As a team of three, how do you all work together? 

The three of us juggle roles between each other as needed, but generally, Tammer and Danny share design and production management. Jeffrey handles sales and office management. Together, the three of us work on brand strategy, marketing, and creative direction.

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How did you find your current workspace and where is it? 

We had our eye on the building we’re currently in since we started out. We live in Williamsburg and our studio is in the next neighborhood up, Greenpoint. We were waiting until we grew out of our first tiny shop to make the leap. Our building is owned by a nonprofit that has subsidized spaces to keep manufacturing in NYC. It’s a great space for a great price in a great location. It’s extremely rare to have all three of these at once in New York City.

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Former occupation and your most notable memory there:

Danny Giannella: I ran a design course for kids one summer during my college years. A 7-year-old started painting themselves blue and I said to the class, “Hey look! Sandy is turning herself into a Smurf!” The kids didn’t know what a Smurf was, so I gave them a brief summary and they all proceeded to paint themselves blue. The parents were confused when they picked up their blue kids from “Make Your Own Lamp” class.

Tammer Hijazi: Fabricator at Uhuru Design, where Danny and I met. I worked with an incredibly talented team of people there and remain friends with many of them.

Jeffrey Renz: I worked with a set design studio with a focus on high-end fashion editorial photography. I was on a shoot one day with a very famous photographer with about thirty assistants. We weren’t allowed to make any noise, walk through the set without checking first, or look directly at–or in the direction of–the photographer at any time. It was the middle of summer and it was a snow set. That was an interesting day.

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Danny Giannella at Bower.

Your first experience with art/design as a child:

Danny Giannella: Accidentally breaking things and secretly trying to fix them. After reassembling enough toys and gadgets, I began to grow an understanding of how and why products are designed the way they are.

Tammer Hijazi: I used to build tree houses with friends… no dads allowed. (Early architecture.)

Jeffrey Renz: Taking a walk with my parents through the campus of Florida Southern College in my hometown of Lakeland, Florida. This university has the largest concentration of Frank Lloyd Wright’s work in the world.

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Were your parents interested in art/design? What did they do for work?

Danny Giannella: My parents traveled around Europe for seven years, mostly living in Paris. My father was especially a fan of Baroque art–a passion he picked up from his mother, who painted for leisure. He would frequently take my mother to operas and museums. It all sounds very romantic, no? My mother has always made things, from knitting and sewing clothing, to basket making, and most recently has taken up color pencil drawing. Neither one of my parents were aware of design as a career until I introduced the idea to them. My mom is a French and Spanish teacher (at the Smurf school). My dad is a scientist who works on radar technology.

Tammer Hijazi: I would have to say no. My mother was a school teacher and my father was a mechanic.

Jeffrey Renz: When it comes to design, both of my parents are primarily interested in architecture; however, neither of them worked in the field until recently. After my father retired from his career as an ophthalmologist, he became a volunteer architectural guide at the same Frank Lloyd Wright-designed college I mentioned before.

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Tammer Hijazi at Bower.

How much does illusion and/or humor play into your pieces?

Danny Giannella: Illusion plays a huge role within our mirror collection, among a few other smaller table-top products. It’s a fun theme we’ve been running with for a couple years now. I think the humor piece is pretty subjective. The smaller products like the Table Tile coasters (licensed to Areaware) are more playful and humorous than the mirrors. With any trickery (such as our illusions), there’s a bit of a wink from the designer to the user, creating a light-hearted vibe within the piece.

Your arches are something of a signature. Do you remember first coming up with that as a shape Bower could improve upon?

Danny Giannella: The Arch first came about after we launched the Stair Mirror. We made a shift from using geometric shapes to architectural elements. I remember the arch first appearing jokingly in a sketch I made of the Stair Mirror as a mysterious passageway at the top of the stairs. Tammer recognized that this element itself could be a really solid idea, so he made a prototype and the Arch Mirror was born.

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Jeffrey Renz at Bower.

Color you’re most recently drawn to:

Danny Giannella: Mustard yellow.

Tammer Hijazi: At the moment… a mustard yellow.

Jeffrey Renz: I’d say it’s a toss-up between a dark navy and a deep green.

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City whose architecture inspires you and why:

Danny Giannella: Rome for its mathematical order, which had functional and symbolic power. Barcelona for its organic style.  The buildings posses a chaotic order that at times seems to have grown from the earth.

Tammer Hijazi: Miami. I’m very drawn to the curves and soft colors.

Jeffrey Renz: The art deco buildings in Miami definitely resonate, but I’m also drawn to more contemporary residential design found in parts of Belgium, Sweden, and Denmark.

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What do you eat for breakfast?

Danny Giannella: I pick at whatever’s laying around in my kitchen while I make a coffee.

Tammer Hijazi: Usually only a coffee. I wait for a big lunch.

Jeffrey Renz: Typically, I’ll have a coffee, a little fruit, and a piece of toast with a dash of olive oil and crushed tomato.

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What’s a day typically look like for you, from start to finish?

Danny Giannella: If I went to bed early the night before, I’ll get up and go for a run before heading to the work. Once I get to the studio, I chat with Tammer and Jeffrey about whatever’s going on that day, which often digresses into other topics, sometimes big-picture things. We like to jump back and forth between micro and macro topics of conversation. I might add things to one of my two lists I keep. One is the urgent list, which I try to keep as short as possible; the other is the “big list.” The rest of the day is a mix of knocking out urgent tasks, which may include design proposals or helping with production in the shop, along with more longterm projects, which may include working on our new website, new designs, and dreaming up future plans that will take Bower to its next chapter. I could easily spend all my time on the urgent list, but if I don’t force myself to carve out time for the longer term work, it’ll never happen.

Tammer Hijazi: I wake, stumble out of bed toward the shower, shower, dry myself, brush my teeth, get dressed, text Danny for a ride to work or I bike, grab a coffee on the way, get to work, maybe work in the office, maybe work in the shop, leave work around 6 or 7, go home, pet the cat, eat dinner, sleep.

Jeffrey Renz: I’m typically in the studio office throughout the day, working with our retail, trade, and direct clients, managing orders, handing logistics, production materials, development, website, marketing efforts, etc. Although Danny, Tammer, and I have specific things we are responsible for within the studio, we mix it up and all do a little bit of everything on a daily basis.

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Do you listen to music while you work? If so, what?

Danny Giannella: Yes. Random Spotify playlists up in office. When I’m working in the shop, I usually have Chances With Wolves (online radio–cool obscure tunes) in my headphones.

Tammer Hijazi: All kinds of things. Hip hop, electronic, jazz, punk, alt rock, classic rock, reggae, funk, and on and on. I’m really open.

Jeffrey Renz: Lately, I’ve been listening to the news during the day. A little boring, I know. NPR is usually on somewhere in the shop or office. Tammer also has a lot of great playlists saved, so sometimes I jump on those.

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Least favorite question people ask you as a designer:

Danny Giannella: “Who’s your favorite designer?”

Tammer Hijazi: I encourage all questions.

What are you currently working on?

Danny Giannella: Designing new products. It’s been a little while since we’ve released new designs, so it’s especially exciting to get back into it.

Tammer Hijazi: Buying Valentine’s Day chocolates.

Jeffrey Renz: We’ve been building a new website for awhile now and will be releasing it soon, as well as a host of other branding and marketing initiatives. One of the most exciting aspects, other than the aesthetics, is that customers will be able to select and purchase various versions of our mirrors, essentially streamlining the customization of mirror tints and frame finishes.

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What medium or tool are you most interested in presently and why?

Danny Giannella: I’ve never worked much with 3D printing. I’m really interested in looking for ways of exploiting the technology to create objects that would otherwise impossible or impractical to make.

Tammer Hijazi: Glass. I’ve been working with wood for so long now and glass has always been an interest of mine. Discovering the new rules and limitations of it sound like the perfect addition to Bower’s future.

Jeffrey Renz: Although it’s not the focus of my work, I’ve been slowly learning AutoCAD for several months and it has really come in handy. Our studio uses CAD quite often for a variety of purposes: shop drawings, CNC files, basic plans, custom work, etc. It helps me communicate with our clients in a visual language, and also with our suppliers.

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What material do you go through the most of?

Danny Giannella: Glass mirrors.

Tammer Hijazi: Glass.

Jeffrey Renz: We probably move more mirrored glass than anything else these days.

What book/ film/ work of art most recently captured your attention and why?

Danny Giannella: I was inspired by a new painting by Terry Powers, a friend from my college days. His technical ability is masterful, but his paintings feel loose and free. It’s a beautiful combination and I’d like to find a way of using that controlled looseness in my own way.

Tammer Hijazi: Julio Le Parc show at the the Perez Art Museum in Miami. Very mathematical use of color, light, and mirror has very much inspired the way I think and apply to new ideas for Bower.

Jeffrey Renz: I recently re-watched A Single Man, the film directed by Tom Ford. The cinematography, framing, presentation, and wardrobe are amazingly well done.

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Best advice you’ve ever received:

Danny Giannella: Sleep enough.

Tammer Hijazi: Anticipate, don’t hesitate.

Jeffrey Renz: “Often you will find that compromise produces a better end result than if you went at it alone.”

Photos by Atisha Paulson for SIXTY Hotels

Jenny Bahn

Jenny Bahn

Jenny Bahn is a writer and editor based in Brooklyn, specializing in music, fashion, the arts, and culture, both high and low. Her work has been featured in V Magazine, CR, Office, and TIME. She is the Managing Editor of Alpha SIXTY.

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