Melt mirror by Bower Studios

Bower Studios

In Conversation

Before we headed off for summer, we took the chance to talk to the founders of Bower Studios, the NYC based design famed for their beautiful mirrors. We heard from Daniel Gianella, Jeffrey Renz and Tammer Hijazi about their approach to design, how the pandemic has shaped their business, and what we can expect to see from the company going forward.

As has become custom over the last year, we linked up with the three founders of Bower Studios on a four way audio call. Daniel and Jeffrey were talking from the studio, while Tammer was out driving somewhere, with his cat in his car, which would occasionally mew in the background. Intermittent lines, cat’s mewing, sentences cut-off mid-flow, it’s all become fairly standard for anyone working internationally these days, but it’s all preferable to not talking. Particularly for an industry that heavily relies on a calendar of events that are social, conversational and play an important role in driving innovation forward.

Melt Mirror by Bower Studios
Melt Mirror by Bower Studios

Creative Beginnings

We start by talking about what role, if any, design and creativity played in each of their childhoods. Daniel begins.  

“I grew up in Newhaven, Connecticut, a couple of hours from New York City, and one of my earliest memories is being interested in taking things apart, and sometimes being able to put them back together. I was interested in why things were put together in a certain way, being curious as to what was behind the shell of everything. I do have this early memory of drawing with my friend on these giant rolls of paper, and he would actually draw these landscapes where people were the size of ants, and it still sticks with me to this day, that by just using your imagination you can kind of work a sense of scale into something. At first you might think to just draw something large, but by drawing something tiny it just expands what was just a piece of paper into this huge landscape. I remember him teaching me to stretch my mind a bit and I think that it stuck with me to this day, when trying to come up with ideas, this sense of taking things from the micro to the macro.”

Tamer grew up in Washington, DC, and had a very similar experience. 

“I used to take toys apart and put them back together. My favourite toy to take apart was any motorised one. You would take the motor out and put it up against the battery. I liked comics and I would draw a lot. What brought me to design was probably a family friend who was in school for fashion. Fashion was probably my first foray into design. I went on to study environmental science, but the family friend, who was a furniture designer, one day asked me to come and help him on a project, and from there I fell in love with design. It was a slow growing passion and eventually I moved to New York City.” 

It was in New York City where Tamer met Daniel, while they were both working for a wooden furniture manufacturer Uhuru. Jeffrey on the other hand, had a different kind of experience. 

“I am originally from Lakeland, Florida. Which is smack dab in the middle of Florida. I thought about this and I think I just had a normal happy childhood, but nothing jumps into my mind as a creative inspiration. I had more of a math and business brain and that is what I went to school for. Once I had finished college I think that’s where my interest in design really began. I was looking for an industry that was inspiring and made sense to me. Typical business environments were not really working and once I had stumbled on the furniture and interior world after college that’s where I found the sweet spot.”

There is certainly the view here in the UK that there are some really interesting and good spirited people in the design industry, from out there creatives to dynamic entrepreneurial types. There are a diverse range of people working in the industry and it’s maybe seen as not so cut throat as fashion. From what Bower says, it seems broadly similar in the US, the design industry is a welcoming one for all types of people, and it has that similar sense of community.

"I was interested in why things were put together in a certain way, being curious as to what was behind the shell of everything."

Danny Gianella, Bower Studios
Arcade Mirror, Bower Studios

The Story of Bower

So how did Bower Studios and the design ecosystem that it inhabits evolve? Danny outlines the studio’s beginnings. 

“Tammer and I met while working as fabricators at Uhuru, a furniture design company in Red Hook, Brooklyn. We got on really well and started to do side projects together after hours. It was mostly commission work, but the things we were being hired to make weren’t really our cup of tea – the aesthetic, the style. I think that is how we learned that we liked the same things, in agreeing about what we didn’t like. Eventually we decided to make our own stuff, so we designed our own collection and shared it at our first trade show and Bower was born. It’s interesting looking back at that first collection, because we were the only two who knew of ourselves, and once we put ourselves out there we got some press and some feedback, and it was all positive, but there were descriptors like ‘young’ and ‘playful’, which was nice, but not at all what we were going for. It was a really good lesson in how sharing your work early on when you are trying to work out your identity is difficult when you are so close to it. We took the feedback and it motivated us to elevate our brand by using finer materials, toning down the bright poppy colours and taking a much more subtle approach overall. I don’t think that would have happened as quickly without putting ourselves out there early. I think we needed to get a lot of pent up energy out of our system and we have been maturing ever since.”

It seems for Bower, like many other companies, the value of a calendar of international design events is being able to hold up a mirror to work, especially early on when companies and designers are still developing. It seems very relevant now in relation to the fact that none of us really know the future of these kinds of large scale events. For Bower, regularly exhibiting work allowed them to refine their approach to materiality and to how things were made. 

“In the early years nearly all our work was in wood, partly out of financial and practical necessity. We didn’t start to outsource other types of fabrication until we had met more people and saved up some money. Now even within our building in New York, there is metal working, CNC capabilities, there is a stone shop. It is very expensive to use New York fabricators, but it is very good for prototyping and the early stages of design.” 

So did the company develop organically, or has everything been planned? 

“I think it’s been a mix. Going back to the cadence of the trade shows that used to exist. I think that was always a motivator to come out with a collection a year, during design week. I think as we grew and people got to know about our brand opportunities presented themselves. At first we said yes to everything and learnt a lot about what we do and don’t want to do as a company. Now we are much more selective of the opportunities that come our way. We always want to be open to being adventurous, but with some solid clear goals along the way.” Explains Danny. 

Jeffrey adds: “We are open and free flowing, but I think it was maybe three or four years ago that we sat down and made a conscious decision that the public face of the company would focus on reflective surfaces and mirrors. I think we found an opening in the market and also a deep personal interest that kind of merged together. Since then mirrors have definitely taken over our lives and that of the studio.”

“When we showed our first collection of mirrors we did it alongside a collection of furniture. We didn’t really see it as the main highlight, but at the time it definitely was a differentiator between us and other people in our world.”

“When we showed our first collection of mirrors we did it alongside a collection of furniture. We didn’t really see it as the main highlight, but at the time it definitely was a differentiator between us and other people in our world.”

Jeffrey Renz, Bower Studios
Link Mirror, Bower Studios
Orca Mirror, Bower Studios

The Digital Launch & The Future

So what has the working life of the studio been like pre, during, and as we emerge from the pandemic? Have new directions developed that will inform the future of the practice? 

Tammer gives an overview of the situation: “Not too much has changed. I think the most significant thing is that somehow we grew out of it bigger than we ever were. That time alone allowed us to develop a collection and I think the people started to think more about their homes and make big investments in improving their environment. That has pushed us to become busier than we were before the pandemic.”

Danny tells of their leap into the unknown during the pandemic: the previously unseen digital product launch. 

“The budget and energy we would have put into a trade show was put into a digital launch. It felt very odd and removed to begin with, but we were thinking we either sit on our hands and wait for the world to re-open or we push through and explore this new world we are in and work with what we have. So we launched our biggest collection to date during the pandemic. Virtually, through renderings and videos. We actually embraced it, instead of trying to replicate what we wished we could be doing in the physical world, we thought if it’s going to be in this digital realm let’s do things we couldn’t do in the normal world. So we had some fun with the environments in which things were shown in. Luckily it was a success and we got orders very soon after the launch. So we re-opened the workshop and overall we came out bigger and better than we were at the beginning of the pandemic.”

We would agree that it seems like people are taking much more interest and care about the spaces they are existing in, which can only be a good thing. So what can we expect from the studio in the near future? Jeffrey answers for them all. 

“We are still working just in the digital realm, but hoping the shows open up again. One of the projects we are currently working on is a collaboration between an architectural foundation here in the States and a lighting company, so that’s in the works. We can expect that to launch next year. Internally we are developing a new type of mirror for Bower, called “Ready to Hang”, which is an in stock, limited inventory drop, designed for the consumer market. Slightly less hand-crafted and customisable than most of our pieces, but very accessible designs. We also have a few other mirrors in the pipeline that we will launch this year and we are also collaborating with a photographer / artist / designer that will launch this year that we are very excited about. 

We are also going with the flow a bit, seeing what happens as we come out of the pandemic. We are also growing physically and taking on a new space here, doubling our size. Which will allow us to do a lot more in-house, production, photography, prototyping, that kind of thing. We are also investing into vertically integrated categories, one of which is glass manufacturing, which we will be doing quite a lot in-house over the next year or so. We have a lot to work on, but a lot to look forward to.”

"We launched our biggest collection to date during the pandemic. Virtually, through renderings and videos. We actually embraced it, instead of trying to replicate what we wished we could be doing in the physical world, we thought if it’s going to be in this digital realm let’s do things we couldn’t do in the normal world."

Danny Gianella, Bower Studios

A big thank you to Danny, Jeffrey and Tammer for taking the time for this interview and the team at Bower Studios for sharing the assets. Wishing you all well going forward. 

Bower Studios Collection

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