I have this thing for green flowers. You’d have to agree that flowers, in the pervasive mindset, instantly conjure colors from the outer edges of the spectrum. Green, at the center, is typically relegated to foliage. So for me, appreciating green flowers is one of life’s many lessons in accepting tradition but choosing to conceive of beauty in unorthodox ways. It’s just such thinking that Erik Bruce of Erik Bruce Inc. employs in his curtain making. He has a clear understanding of the conventional – and a wish to pioneer new ideas in controlling light and dividing space.
While attending high school in Copenhagen as an exchange student, Bruce was exposed to a culture more conscious of clean, functional, modern design than in his native America. Post his education, he carried that appreciation to New York, and began a career as a milliner/costume designer in the Broadway community. Working in the theater taught him that the ability to innovate within a design process was inordinately valuable. In 1998 he met Mary Bright, the legendary maverick curtain maker, who had a like-minded appreciation of modern design coupled with a penchant for the inventive. They struck an instantaneous alliance. They worked together for nearly 5 years, until Bright’s untimely death in late 2002, whereupon Bruce assumed the position of Creative Director of her firm. He held that job until last year, when he struck out on his own.
“There’s nothing wrong with the standard, mass marketed solutions available in window treatments, it’s just that most are not very creative”, Bruce says, “I like to work with designers and architects to create curtains that compliment and echo their intellectual process.” To that end, he and his staff created a unique detail (shown above) in a tissue linen for an Ian Schrager hotel project – by stripping 2 dozen weft threads, cross-hatching the warp, and re-weaving a single warp thread.
Bruce has never felt that textiles were the sole domain of windows or upholstered furniture. He feels that a firm understanding of a materials properties, coupled with a mastery of his craft, allow for endless possibilities. “This was one of my all time favorite projects. It is in the New Museum which was designed by the Japanese firm SANAA. I worked with Christoff-Finio, who designed this ‘hub space’. As you can see, there is a serpentine shaped track on the ceiling which cuts through the modular tables to create smaller spaces. We designed these partitions using a Creation Baumann netting called Malta, in multiple layers and colors. The idea was to create division without a claustrophobic cubicle feeling.”
Detail of a metallic warp curtain Bruce created for Amy Lau
Bruce’s firm collaborates heavily in the architecture community, perhaps because architects “tend to think esoterically – conceiving of decoration in the same way they conceive of space” as he suggests. Thomas Juul-Hansen, Thomas Phifer and Partners, and Herzog and deMeuron are some of his favorites. He’s working with the later on the new Parrish Art Museum on Highway 27 in Watermill NY., slated for opening in November of this year.
I asked him about some of his favorite resources. “For textiles, I like anything from the new Knoll luxe showroom, there’s a textile called “Parker” that’s my current favorite. I also like working with anything from Maharam, Creation Baumann, or Bart Halpern… but I love working with burlap, metal, plastic, fiberglass and leather as well. There’s really no limit to the materials I’ll work with. It takes an investment of time and exploration to realize creative vision, but I absolutely love the process.”
Erik Bruce’s workroom is the quintessential definition of an atelier, and each of his creations are unique. His wealth of knowledge with regard to materials and construction techniques present an opportunity for design professionals to expand into yet uncharted territory within their aesthetic. My chat with Erik made me think of one of my favorite quotes from George Kneller,
“Creativity, as has been said, consists largely of rearranging what we know in order to find out what we do not know. Hence, to think creatively, we must be able to look afresh at what we normally take for granted.”