In an age of cheap, toxic and unsustainably-made furniture, IN.SEK Design is using a radically opposite approach and challenging the contemporary culture of throwaway products. Founder and Brick & Wonder member Ashira Israel took something of a winding path to her present work, but it has been an education in thoughtful, intentional design and the playful interaction of different materials.
“After graduating from F.I.T I worked in fashion before realizing it was not the right fit. I went in a very different direction - flipping houses. I had always had a knack for working with my hands and at that time the real estate market was booming. I had seen enough flip shows on TV to give it a go and it worked out: the first project quickly lead to another. After three homes I realized I wanted to learn more so I could take things to the next level.”
Israel decided to go back to school, taking a BArch at the Pratt Institute. Towards the end of the five year program, she took materials and methods classes in the wood and metal shops. This boosted her interest in working with her hands and led to her first piece of sculptural furniture, a music equipment platform for DJs.
Israel graduated in 2011 as the real estate and architecture market in NYC collapsed following the financial crisis of 2008. Unable to find work in architecture, she apprenticed for a concrete artisan and then a furniture maker in Brooklyn. She finally discovered her passion for crafting materials in a shop setting, and sought out a space of her own. Gradually, she brought in her own clients, while having a studio to experiment with materials and ideas. After a few years of working for others by day and doing her own projects during evenings and weekends, she was able to support herself independently and IN.SEK was born.
Our main goal is to create with intention.
We asked Israel about the ups and downs of launching her brand and studio. Of she lows, she recalled one of her first projects, a commission to create seventy-five custom concrete stair treads for a townhouse. “I was working out of a five foot square space with no room to spread out, literally standing on top of bags of concrete and casting stair treads on my workbench. I stacked the treads with foam spacers in the corner of the studio so I could seal them all when they had dried. After months of work and drying time, I found that the foam had discoloured the treads,” Israel explains.
“I wanted to run and cry and abandon ship! It was one of the worst days of work I've ever had. But I came back the next day and I just got right back to work casting new treads. Several months later the treads were finally installed and the client was thrilled. That was a huge learning lesson from the school of hard knocks I will never forget!”
On the other end of the spectrum, IN.SEK’s highs have included designing and manufacturing much of the furniture for ETSY’s headquarters in DUMBO, Brooklyn. “That was such a great project to be part of. It is now the largest WELL certified project in the world!”
Israel went on to explain the philosophy behind her studio. “Our main goal is to create with intention. This means executing all of our work with the highest possible craftswomanship, using materials that age with grace, thinking about our carbon footprint, and working with clients and collaborators to make sure what we make will serve its purpose in the best way possible. It is our hope that our clients will cherish these pieces and want to pass them down to future generations.”