In Conversation | Workstead

  • Prospect Park South House by Workstead

    We get to know multi-disciplinary designer Stefanie Brechbuehler as she reflects on thirteen years as co-director of Brooklyn-based architecture, interior design and lighting design studio Workstead.

    Where both direction and discipline are concerned, Workstead is a triple threat. The studio, which spans architecture, interior design and lighting design, was founded in 2009 by designers and former-peers Stefanie Brechbuehler, Robert Highsmith and Ryan Mahoney. The trio have since received international acclaim for their meticulously crafted buildings, interiors and light fixtures – the most notable documented in a recently-published monograph entitled Workstead: Interiors of Beauty and Necessity. We sat down with one-third of Workstead’s directors to hear exclusive insights into the studio’s practices, philosophies and plans for the future; here’s Stefanie Brechbuehler.

    How did you all meet – and how did this evolve into starting a multi-disciplinary design practice together?

    Stefanie Brechbuehler: Ryan and I met at the Rhode Island School of Design (RISD) orientation in 2003. I also ran into Robert at a party there in the winter of 2006. Both meetings felt as though they were part of a larger plan.

    The practice started in 2009; before that, I had been working for Michael Graves, which was a hugely formative experience. I came out wanting to emulate the structure of his studio – he had split it into architecture, interiors and product design. I pitched the idea to Ryan and Robert as I knew we all shared the same philosophies when it came to design. At RISD, we all gravitated toward two professors who advocated a poetic and conceptual approach to design. It is our shared intuition, I think, that forms the basis of our practice.

    What’s one fond memory or learning that you can share from working together for more than a decade?

    Stefanie Brechbuehler: We have spent almost 13 years working together, and during that time, everything has changed. The world around us has changed, we have grown and evolved, our families have expanded, and we have weathered difficult situations and celebrated incredible milestones. If anything, we have learnt that change is constant and that the good and the bad coexist. Open communication has been essential, along with fostering an atmosphere of honesty and respect.

    Designing in one of the most profiled cities in the world, we want to know, what’s something most people would be surprised to learn about New York City?

    Stefanie Brechbuehler: We love stoop (steps leading up to an apartment or house) culture, especially in Brooklyn. In a city with scarce private outdoor space, stoop culture is essential to the community and its character. People decorate their stoops with plants and their kids’ art; they’ve also become a place to gather and have a glass of wine and something to eat. It’s beautiful to behold, especially during the warmer months when the positive atmosphere is infectious.

    “Workstead’s luminaries are both visual statements and tactile objects that captivate warmth through an elemental form.”

    – Stefanie Brechbuehler


    Let’s talk Workstead: Interiors of Beauty and Necessity. The 240-page book chronicles the first decade of your practice through the lens of 10 consequential residential interiors. Which page, if you had to pick one, speaks to you the most on a personal level?

    Stefanie Brechbuehler: I love pages 30-31 because they truly represent all aspects of our design practice. We designed the building (an addition to Twin Bridges House), selected all the furniture, styled the shoot and designed and manufactured the light fixtures. It represents the holistic approach we love and have aspired to create from the moment we started the practice.

    Beauty and Necessity; does one come before the other, or are they synonymous?

    Stefanie Brechbuehler: Beauty and necessity operate hand in hand and are of equal importance in our world. One does not exist without the other. I feel like one on its own would be diminished.

    Your lighting designs are well-loved among design-discerning crowds; how did your knowledge of architecture and interiors translate into designing on a much smaller scale?

    Stefanie Brechbuehler: From the very beginning, we’ve taken the approach of designing everything. Having graduated from RISD, we didn’t really know any different. In this sense, it was less of a conscious decision and more so a strong point of view or drive.

    Workstead’s luminaries are both visual statements and tactile objects that captivate warmth through an elemental form. All pursuits are interested in the elemental, the lasting, the meticulous, the disciplined, the belonging and the sensitive. Our obsessive process enables us to ensure this spirit translates into carefully crafted buildings, interiors and products. No detail is overlooked, creating a tailored and fully considered result.

    The Wythe Hotel in Williamsburg, Brooklyn is one of your most iconic projects to date. What about designing public/commercial spaces like this is inherently personal?

    Stefanie Brechbuehler: The Wythe Hotel lobby and the Ides Bar was our first foray into the hospitality scene. It felt incredibly personal because all three of us were living in Brooklyn at the time. Having our own sweat equity in the project gave us a real sense of ownership and pride. It warms our hearts when we pop by; even though the hotel has since been renovated and changed, our original light fixtures still hang from the lobby ceiling.

    What can we look forward to from Workstead for the rest of 2022?

    Stefanie Brechbuehler: 2022 is a big year for hospitality projects. Opening this summer/fall is Le Rock, the new restaurant at Rockefeller Center by the culinary team behind the beloved Frenchette restaurant in NYC. This spectacular place has an iconic view of the Christmas tree. Jupiter is also opening in Rockefeller Center, the new restaurant from the culinary team behind King in NYC. This restaurant is on the lower level and has a view of the skating rink. Rockefeller Center is being revitalised, and Workstead is a big part of that transformation. We also have Canoe Place Inn in Hampton Bays, New York opening soon.


    (L-R) Robert Highsmith, Stefanie Brechbuehler and Ryan Mahoney | Photography by Matthew Williams

    Design Insiders Guide:

    Favourite local designer? Brent Buck

    Favourite design stores? Atlantic Avenue in Brooklyn has a great mix of design shops, ceramics, jewellery and vintage furniture; some examples being Radnor, Michele Varian, Paul Rubenstein and John Derian.

    Favourite galleries or spaces? MASA Gallery

    Where do you go to look at great design? I find endless inspiration in antiques.

    Prospect Park South House by Workstead

    Prospect Park South House by Workstead | Photography by Matthew Williams

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