Every now and again we get an offer for a potential story that’s simply too good to ignore.
We’re in the middle of the hustle and bustle that is Chicago’s NeoCon and our friends at Humanscale have just given us the ‘heads up’ that leading designer (and top guy) Todd Bracher is on his way over to the packed Merchandise Mart showroom and, even more fortuitously for us, has a window in his busy schedule and is happy to sit and catch up
with us. We’re hardly going to refuse.
Todd is a multi-award winning, critically acclaimed industrial designer and design strategist based in Brooklyn, New York, the founder of Todd Bracher, Design for Strategic Differentiation, and former Creative Director at Georg Jensen.
Born and raised on Long Island, New York, Todd graduated from the Pratt Institute’s industrial design program in 1996, and, after winning a Fulbright design fellowship, earned his MFA in interior and furniture design at the Danmarks Designskole in 2000.
Bracher spent 10 years in Europe, working and studying in Copenhagen, Milan, London and Paris. He founded Todd Bracher Studio in 1999. His first design to enter into production was the Freud sofa, produced by Italian furniture manufacturer Zanotta.
‘My Mother was a school teacher and my father was a carpenter,’ Todd tells us. ‘My parents were very much down to earth people who promoted ‘dream big and with hard work you can achieve all’. My mother was the thinker and my father the doer/maker. I like to think I am the combination of them both.’
‘I asked Bob what he wanted from the chair. What’s the brief? What type of chair? He just said ‘I need a nice chair!’
‘I did an undergraduate degree in Industrial Design at Pratt Institute in Brooklyn, New York. After working several years in New York I won a Fulbright Grant to continue my education abroad. This is when I decided to move to Copenhagen to pursue a Masters in Furniture and Interior Design at the Danmarks Designskole. After two years in Denmark, I relocated to Milan.
‘Following a further two years there, I moved to London, where I was the Senior Designer for Tom Dixon and also lived part time in Paris for the next six years – where I had kept my studio and taught at L’ESAD in Reims France.
Todd began designing for renowned Danish brand Georg Jensen in 2004, and in 2009 was named Creative Director, before returning to Brooklyn in 2007, where he moved his studio to a large warehouse in the Brooklyn Navy Yard. In 2012, he worked with 3M’s new division, 3M Architectural Markets, to create Lightfalls – a system of energy-saving reflectors that can improve the efficiency of LED lighting.
Today, Todd Bracher Studio helps a wide variety of businesses realize strategic differentiation through design. His formidable client list includes Humanscale, Burberry, Cappellini, Dupont, Fritz Hansen, Georg Jensen, Habitat, HBF, Herman Miller, Holmegaard, Issey Miyake, Shaw Contract Group, Tom Dixon, Urban Outfitters and Zanotta.
Considering our surroundings, it would, of course, be remiss of us not to talk about Todd’s collaboration with Humanscale. ‘I had a good 10 years in Europe – so basically didn’t exist in America!’ Todd grins. ‘I returned to New York in 2007 – and I had just completed a project for Fritz Hansen. Bob (King, Humanscale Founder and CEO) saw it and called me and said ‘We need to do a chair’. I had never done this type of furniture before – this was completely out of the blue. I asked Bob what he wanted from the chair. What’s the brief? What type of chair? He just said ‘I need a nice chair!’
‘When you get to know Bob you start to understand that the process is incredibly informal – which is what I like. Humanscale is privately owned, and if you walk around this building there are very few privately owned companies – these are companies where you have to deal with 30 people before a decision is made. Here, it is Bob. When he briefs you he might, to start with, just be saying ‘I need a chair’ but you know what he means. He’s saying a lot of things – he’s aware of the market and price points and what he needs for the company’s portfolio.
‘It is designed to mimic the instinctive recline of the human body and embrace the user like a protective shell.’
‘One of the few things he did say was that he wanted a cantilever chair, so we knew right away we needed a singular line that would cover most if not all aspects of the office space. We wanted something that would allow movement throughout the office – the younger, faster, smarter office.
‘We’re behind Europe in this regard. So much of the furniture is clunky and heavy and doesn’t allow this new kind of working. It’s amazing that I’m talking like this – all those years in Europe while Bush was President, I was the target for anything American! It was all my fault!’
It’s certainly Todd’s fault that the Humanscale portfolio now boasts Trea; one of the most versatile, intuitive and stylish chairs on the market today. ‘It is inspired by the simplest forms of nature’s structures,’ Todd reveals. ‘It is designed to mimic the instinctive recline of the human body and embrace the user like a protective shell.’
Trea’s clever (Red Dot winning) design gently pivots the backrest to follow the natural point of rotation at the hip, and together with the subtle slope of the seat, the surface expands to ensure complete comfort.
Trea joins Humanscale’s multi-award winning, critically acclaimed seating products, which include the groundbreaking Niels Diffrient designed Freedom and Liberty chairs, of course. We ask Todd whether he felt a great responsibility or pressure following in the footsteps of the late, great Niels. ‘You know what, it wasn’t a great pressure in many ways,’ he considers. ‘Niels’ legacy was so pure and clear to me – I share the same values. This was really natural for me – this was about keeping to the same path in many ways. This is a message to the industry that things don’t have to be so stodgy and heavy and complicated. We can do things that are lighter and faster and that still have the ergonomic qualities that Humanscale had always stood for – about posture, health and energy. This isn’t some kind of marketing gimmick at Humanscale – it’s true. That’s kind of beautiful when you think about it.
‘Sometimes you walk into a brand and you really have to pull them up – that’s a heavy responsibility!
‘I love that vision, that desire to create healthy, beautiful, intuitive products. You don’t have to have all these things to adjust. This was a big driving factor behind Trea – strip everything away and don’t have all the knobs and dials. We wanted to solve it all with just one single idea. As subtle as it looks, there is a lot of complexity in it, a lot of things happening and a lot of invention. They are not apparent because they don’t need to be – it’s just a chair. Don’t worry about it – it works! There’s nothing to see here – but at the same time we’re not hiding anything.’
And we’re pretty sure that, once again, Todd’s not hiding anything from us. We sit and chat about a variety of subjects – from the failures of certain US manufacturers to understand today’s global market, through to the wonders of Copenhagen. Open, friendly, honest and great company, Todd is, in our opinion, the perfect guy to continue Niels’ amazing legacy.