A New Relationship

The Branch Studio

In July of 2004, I bought 7 acres of land which was home to a pair of buildings totaling 30,000 square feet.  The buildings, used in the past to service trolley cars and tricked out vans, had been unoccupied for years. My favorite part was the meadow-7 acres of weeds rippling in the breeze that had been untouched for years.  My more than favorite part was that one building had 2 operational 5 ton bridge cranes. Who taught me how to love bridge cranes?  Buck of course.  Why would I buy another building? I wanted to make ornament for the garden-from concrete, and steel.  Garden ornament that was not just beautifully designed, but of heirloom quality. Those bridge cranes would provide me with a very basic tool I would need-the ability to lift and maneuver very heavy things. The steel on my mind would need lifting gear. I had been fabricating concrete faux bois furniture, pots and garden ornament in the garage at Detroit Garden Works in the winter for a few years previous. I couldn’t help but get my feet wet. In the meantime, Detroit Garden Works had grown, and it needed the space that the landscape trucks and equipment were occupying.  We had gotten too big to house 2 companies in the same 3/4 acre. And we had an idea to make things for the garden. It was time to make a move.

Branch StudioI bought the building and land, not realizing what was to come-to make the property liveable and workable.  We needed a fire hydrant, and a parking lot for starters.  We needed a new furnace, and an electrical upgrade, and service on the overhead doors and bridge cranes. All of this work was accomplished as the landscape company was able to generate the income to fund them. Of course I had to pile it on. I  wanted to make terra cotta pots. Anything we made from concrete, steel, or terra cotta needed to be beautifully designed, and fabricated to an exacting standard. My attitude towards the garden ornament was no different than my attitude towards the landscape.  One at a time, thoughtfully designed, and beautifully executed.

DSC_1235By 2008, the US economy was in free fall. No one needs landscape design and installation to live. People were afraid to commit, as well they should have been.  My business contracted.  I am happy to say that my landscape practice was steady-but it was not growing one bit. There was no income left over to fund the Branch Studio enterprise.  Like many other businesses, all of the managerial people took substantial pay cuts.  Buck would spend the next 18 months handling everything at the Branch Studio on his own. He bought battery heated gloves, as we could not afford to heat the building much past 45 degrees in the winter. But he never thought to give in, or give up. My accountant-I waved him off when he suggested that I close the business. It was simple- I had an idea that I believed in, and I was prepared to do whatever it would take to make that idea viable.

Branch 3 2013We were busy sorting out and distilling who we were, and who we hoped to be. We made things that needed revision in size and proportion. All the right details are not always so obvious on the first or fifth go around. We were after a garden box that would turn heads.  Buck had already worked for 30 years as an architect, with a specialty in technical design. He and I both were after ornament that came from our history in Detroit.  The order of events was not so easy or predictable. We spent years in development, both on the design and the manufacturing side.

DSC_9098Tough times made it easier to decide what medium was our medium of choice. The head and guiding hand of the Branch Studio is Buck Moffat.  If you read this blog regularly, you know about him.  But for those of you who are not familiar with him, he was a Saarinen scholar in the department of architecture at the Cranbrook Academy of Art in the 1970’s. Though he is from Texas, he is all about a love for the history of Detroit style great industrial design and fabrication. The Branch Studio red book of creating precisely fabricated objects for the garden is of his invention, and I have him to thank for the fact that we now ship our garden boxes, fountains, pergolas and custom made ornament all over the country. The entire studio is confident that they will look great, and measure up to those people with a big love for the garden.


The Branch Studio hums along now, some 11 years after that beginning. We make contact with all kinds of people who value the landscape such that they would commit to very fine ornament for their gardens. We do a lot of custom work for garden designers and landscape architects. This is who we have always hoped to be. Purveyors of ornament for the garden that does indeed provide a lifetime of beauty and service.

DSC_9095This past fall I had a call from Restoration Hardware. They were interested in pursuing a relationship with Branch. If you have seen their 2015 outdoor catalog – or any of their catalogs for that matter – you’ll see that they have a very big idea about design and home, and are pursuing that idea with great focus and energy.  After much discussion, it was agreed that we would design and fabricate an all steel garden box exclusively for them. We shared the design of one of our fountain cisterns with them, and will fabricate it in 2 sizes exclusive to them. The experience of dealing with them has been extraordinary. They were very thorough about wanting to understand everything they could about our work, and our products. They were very generous with their time. They were determined to represent our work.

DSC_9103Based on my experience over the past six months, they are a very large company that takes great pains not to be or act like one. What shines through is their excitement, passion, and commitment to great design. And a mission to make that design available to a very wide audience. Their customer service is very personal, thoughtful, and all around awesome-that part of them is a mission they take very seriously.  If you are not familiar with them, I would encourage you to seek them out. Their new catalog for 2015 for interior furnishings for small spaces-brilliant.  Restoration Hardware

We are but a very small part of their group, but by invitation, we are a part of their vision. Thank you, Restoration Hardware.

So very happy to be here:  Deborah Silver for Restoration Hardware

Garden Design Magazine

the new Garden Design magazineThe new Garden Design Magazine just came out.  The original magazine, which was greatly appreciated by aficianados of great landscape and garden design, quit publishing a few years ago. The rights to the magazine were eventually purchased by Jim Peterson.  What he has created comes from a vision all his own.  The 132 page publication is more book than magazine.  Everything about it is beautiful, including the paper it is printed on.  If you have a strong interest in landscape and garden design, I would urge you to subscribe.

DSC_0936We have another reason to be thrilled with this premier issue.  A feature article about my work, and the evolution of my group of companies, is a very special moment for me, indeed. Most important to me is being part of a group of great designers from all over the country whose work is detailed here.  Thank you, Jim. If you are local, we do have copies available at Detroit Garden Works.


May 20 2014 (3)Deborah Silver and Co, Inc container design


May 13 2014 (22)Detroit Garden Works

May 20 2014 (7)Detroit Garden Works

May 19 BHG (18)planting workshop at DGW

May 13 2014 (9)the shop

May 16 2014 Branch (7)www.thebranchstudio.com

Oct 3 2013 (22)pergola fabricated by Branch Studio

fountain 1the branch fountain

May 20 2014 (9)box and derrick topiary form by Branch Studio

May 20 2014 (8)elliptical fountain by Branch Studio

May 19a 2013 (3)

My deepest thanks go to landscape and garden designer and writer Susan Cohan, whose article is a gift of a most perfect moment to me.

At A Glance: The Branch Fountain

April 19, 2014 (49)To each and every one of you who left a comment about this new fountain from Branch, my sincere thanks.  It was a sculpture that was months in the making. So much conversation.  So much thought.  So many members of the Branch group stepping up.  All of us fell for this fountain.  We are pleased that you like it too.  This morning my colleague, friend, and director of landscape services for English Gardens, John Collins, brought an operator in on a Saturday, who drove his Volvo 6000 pound capacity front end loader several miles down Orchard Lake Road to Detroit Garden Works.  Our front end loader could not unload and place this fountain. We needed help, and our good friends at English Gardens responded.

April 19, 2014 (55)Branch spends some of the winter building containers, pergolas and fountains outside of our usual product line. The best part of a fierce winter at Branch is the opportunity to go beyond what we have already done.  Imagination is like an ocean, water charged with energy washing up on the shores of what has been before.  Branch manufactures a stock group of garden boxes, fountains and pergolas.  But in the winter, we go off course, we dream, and we make what we have never made before. This winter work gets all of our blood moving, in spite of the cold.   But my lame attempt at a poetic description of the creation of this fountain lags far behind the story and reality of moving an object that weighs close to 2 tons.    April 19, 2014 (60)John, and his Volvo,  handled it with ease.  I truly value the relationships I have with other companies in my field.  English Gardens has many garden centers in our area.  They speak to a broad spectrum of clients via their retail locations.  They also offer and deliver thoughtful landscape design and installation.  They are friends and treasured colleagues.  I so appreciate that they would lend me a hand.  On a Saturday, of course.  All of us are busy working during the week this time of year.  And especially busy, given how shy spring has been to make an appearance.

April 19, 2014 (64)Once the fountain was in the general vicinity of its home, we set it down with the loader forks.  We picked it up again with straps slung over the forks, to place it true and square to the wall.

April 19, 2014 (72)Once in place, Buck and Sal saw to attaching the jet.  The jet pipe was threaded by hand, and screws into the base plate welded to the fountain floor.  The jet needed a secure installation, as it weighs close to fifty pounds.

April 19, 2014 (76)Any fountain demands a perfectly level placement.  Water levels itself with the horizon.  A fountain out of level -not good.  The water will talk about any mistake.  We spent a good bit of time with a pallet jack and a level.  Any fountain asks for as close to a perfectly level placement as possible.  Leveling is the most time consuming part of a permanent installation.  When filled over the top, the water should flow over every inch of the rim equally, and at the same time.

April 19, 2014 (78)The Branch fountain has a rectangular housing for the pump.  It has a jet in the same style, shape, and proportion as the fountain itself.

April 19, 2014 (79)The rectangular pump cover encloses all of the workings of the pump.  No one needs to see this.  The fountain could be hard wired with a remote location for the pump, if an installation warranted that. But for now, it can be fired up by plugging it in.

April 19, 2014 (80)This steel nest jet breaks the water falling from a very powerful pump.  The music that a fountain produces is important.  I could not be more pleased with the sound.  It is musical, not at all metallic.

April 19, 2014 (81)The fountain filling and the pump running – a moment I will not soon forget.  There is such pleasure in bringing the construction to a close, and attending opening day.  We have 3 other fountains just about finished at Branch.  More on that when they are actually here and running.  Buck says we will have them within two weeks.  It has only been within the last 10 years that I have seriously considered water as a feature in the landscape. Now I would not want to do without it. No matter the size or scale, water in the garden is a pleasure.  Bring on the ponds, birdbaths and fountains.

the Branch FountainThe Branch fountain is now on display at Detroit Garden Works.  Thanks again for all the comments and calls-we all appreciate every one of them.  Should you live nearby, we invite you to stop in and see for yourself.





The Branch Fountain

pin cushion 003Winter at the Branch Studio is a gritty affair. The building is too large and drafty to heat to any decent level.  Everyone over there lives in their insulated carhardts, boots and leather gloves-amongst a whole host of other gear.  The wind makes the doors rattle like crazy.  Enter if you dare.  There is nothing romantic about manufacturing, but there is a special beauty in the making that goes on over there. A group of men who take extraordinary care in their fabrication. Beyond the din, dirt and sparks of a fleet of welders in use, there is a collective heart beating strong.  These guys weld cold rolled and pickled steel.  It is not an occupation for the faint of heart.  Steel bends for no man.  That said, my group at Branch works hard to make steel friendly to the landscape.

February 11, 2014 (4) Containers, fountains and garden ornament made at Branch comes straight out of the manufacturing heritage every bred in Detroit fabricator is heir to.  This means garden ornament designed and fabricated to last.  Boxes and fountains that can withstand anything nature decides to dish out. Everything at Branch is hand made, and rock solid.  The finish we have developed is a patina much like lead.  The stainless steel Branch tags that are attached to everything we make identifies our work, and attests to its longevity.  The Branch Studio is the youngest of my companies-just 11 years old this year.  The work however speaks to a maturity of which I am proud.

Branch fountain 3The winter is the time we make all of our stock boxes, fountains and pergolas, in anticipation of the spring season. But we also take time to design and fabricate new things.  I have been after Buck to fabricate a fountain of a design very different than our usual classically based garden ornament for at least 2 years.  He was slow to cotton to the idea, but in January I could talk of nothing else.  He finally heard me.  A Branch fountain got off the ground.

fountain feetThis fountain is comprised of almost a mile of steel rods, and weighs 3500 pounds.  On the outside, the fountain measures 5′ wide by 9′ long.  The bottom of the fountain was built as a torsion box, the weight was so great.  Buck held more than a few confabs with his group regarding visual density and texture.  The design called for a certain density, that would be satisfied differently, depending on the diameter of the rods. The texture needed to be congested, but loose.  A good friend remarked upon seeing the finished fountain that she was intrigued that a material so hard and heavy could be made to look so soft.

February 24, 2014 (12)Once the shell of this fountain was built, my conversation centered on the magic that that can be created by the human hand. Every hand is distinctive, like a signature.  I was after a group signature.  A show of hands.  Everyone welding on this project changed positions every hour.  No matter what view you take, the look is about community of hands-homogeneous.

February 24, 2014 (15)The texture is created from 8 sizes of steel rods, from 3/16 inch, up to 3/4 inch.  The length, size, and placement of each individual rod was a decision that had to be made, hour after hour, and week after week.   This was their first outing without a fistful of CAD drawings and clear specifications. We were building a fountain yes, but we decided to broach the topic of sculpture.

galvanized fountain 11Stepping outside any routine is about taking chances.  Taking a chance can be more than one bargained for.  But a result that is more than one bargains for is well worth the effort.  My welding group at Branch stepped right up to the challenge posed by this design, and dove in.  Their collective signature is all over this fountain.

DSC_8780The signature of every artisan at Branch is represented in this fountain.  I can read the moves, and I can see the names.

Branch fountain aThe act of creating is a thrill like no other.  A painting.  A quilt.  A symphony.  A poem.  A dress.  An event.  A car.  A necklace. A company.   A garden.  Branch of course is  interested to be a sculptural part of the landscape.

Branch fountain cThe Branch fountain is a sculpture around which a garden could be forged.

Branch fountain bThis is the news from the Branch Studio.