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.
I 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.
By 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.
We 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.
Tough 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.
This 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.
Based 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