2010 ICFF: How An American Brush Maker Went From Brooms To Architectural Installations

It took looking at an existing product in a new way to inspire an entirely new business.

As interesting as the new furniture and products shown at the International Contemporary Furniture Fair are to look at, it is often the stories of how they came to be that are equally as compelling. One such example is Brush Tile made by Braun Brush. Brush Tile as you might have guessed, is what the name implies, tiles of bristles that can be applied to cover a wall.  The bristles can be sculpted to achieve all sorts of textural effects. A product like this might not seem so obvious and neither was the way the idea came to Braun Brush President, Lance Cheney. PSFK spoke with Lance who told us the story of how a 135 year old brush making company made the leap to creating custom architectural installations and sculptures.

First a bit of history, Braun opened for business in 1875 in Brooklyn. One of their biggest areas of supply early on was to the dairy industry. Over the years, they expanded the product offer to industrial uses, artists brushes, and household cleaning brushes. They’ve even supplied brushes to NASA. Braun Brush is one of New York’s oldest manufacturing companies still operating. It has remained a family owned business. Lance Cheney is the great-grandson of Emanuel Braun, who founded the company.

Non-traditional uses of brushes began when sculptor Richard Artschwager worked with Braun on the fabrication of over 100 sculptures using bristles. Braun then collaborated with designer David Coke to build a chair with Clifford Brygider covered in bristles which was exhibited at the Milan Furniture Fair.

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Lance Cheney(R), Thom Lepley(L) of Braun Brush

We asked Lance where the inspiration for turning brushes into an architectural material came from.

I read an article in Architectural Digest Magazine interviewing a bunch of designers and they asked them the same series of questions. One of the questions was ‘What do designers want?’ and a number of them said more texture as well as more green products. And I came back [to the office] from the dentist and saw on the table were a bunch of brushes that we had sitting with the bristles facing up.

Lance had a square ’tile’ mockup made which caught the attention of Robin Reigi, a New York City company specializing in sourcing innovative new materials for architects and designers. Brush Tile was formally launched at the 2007 ICFF and has since been installed in a number projects including Microsoft’s Research Center in Cambridge MA. They have also installed tiles in LEED certified projects that use natural fibers. Designers are continuing to push the creative boundaries of the material. Currently Braun are working on a large light fixture installation made of clear bristles. The piece is technically challenging because everything has to be transparent and none of the structure can be hidden.

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Braun Brush

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