Stefanie Brechbuehler and Robert Highsmith, are the partners behind Workstead. The two met at Rhode Island School of Design while studying architecture and opened their studio in 2009, quietly developing interiors and lighting from their Brooklyn and Hudson Valley studios. It wasn’t until two years ago that their work gained more recognition after the opening of the wildly popular Wythe Hotel.
The eight story brick and glass building, situated near the Williamsburg waterfront, caught the attention of many, well before it opened. Unlike numerous hotel developments in Manhattan, the Wythe settled into the neighborhood without much public opposition. It was grand, it was fitting, and most importantly, it was started by one of their own. Andrew Tarlow, owner of Diner and Marlow and Sons and a fixture of the dining scene in Williamsburg, is a partner in the venture. Along with Morris Adjmi as the architects, Workstead were tasked to design the lobby and stunning rooftop bar, The Ides. The success of the project gave the studio a level of exposure that didn’t exist before. This paved the way for other opportunities with public works. They turned down many of them in exchange for a work-life balance and redirected their attention to other endeavors.
A Workstead design doesn’t call attention to itself, instead the space is made for its inhabitants and purpose. Refined lines, seamless functional elements, and luscious materials are characteristics of their work. Their designs are meant to complement the space rather than be the focal point. When it becomes appropriate, elements of the old emerge as strong traits in the new design, worn bricks and decayed walls are brought back to life. Weathered furniture is repurposed into something new, a cot transformed into a coffee table. It’s a dance between Modern design with rustic elements.
Workstead has always operated on different levels, an architecture and interior design studio along with a line of lighting. It’s a business model that Stefanie Brechbuehler recognized when she was at Michael Graves, a business that operated in varying degrees in architecture and product design. She’s adopted this trait and applied it to Workstead.
This year the studio plans to expand upon their offering by venturing into furniture and jewelry design. A new bakery in Tribeca is set to open in March and other projects outside of the city are in the works. It’s a lot to take on for a group of five but they’re managing their time slowly and steadily as they enter into new territories. We spent some time with the team to discuss their projects and what lies ahead for the year.