We meet the trio behind the Brooklyn-based studio that designs restaurants, hotels and residences

Portrait of the Workstead team

Who are they? Husband and wife Robert Highsmith and Stefanie Brechbuehler (above, far right and far left), and Ryan Mahoney (middle), who all met while taking an architecture programme at the Rhode Island School of Design. Prior to that, Highsmith studied music, Brechbuehler worked at Michael Graves Architecture and Design practice and Mahoney was employed in theatre set and prop design.

The trio founded Workstead in 2009. ‘Our first design job was a small kitchen in a 1920s apartment in Brooklyn Heights,’ recalls Highsmith.‘New York offered us a great platform with plenty of small-scale projects that we could dip our toes into.’ Today, Mahoney and Brechbuehler head up the design studio, while Highsmith is in charge of furniture and lighting product development.

Define Workstead’s style ‘We share a similar sensibility and try to pay attention to the context and era of a building,’says Mahoney. ‘That first kitchen was formative in terms of approach. We asked a local mill worker to hand-build the cupboards and created custom handles, tailoring every aspect to the client.’ Whether working on a hotel, such as Rivertown Lodge in Hudson, where they commissioned pieces by local artisans, or the kitchen in a home on New York’s 25th Street, for which they used bespoke metal cupboard handles, there’s always an emphasis on the handcrafted.

Handcrafted kitchen with island and open plan living area
Workstead’s design of a kitchen in a home on New York’s 25th Street

Recent designs The Vintage Wine Bar in Tulsa, Oklahoma, which was influenced by Art Deco forms and features a walnut bar and the studio’s own ‘Signal’ pendant lights. There’s also The Dewberry in Charleston – their third hotel project, its interior explores the idea of Southern Modernism.

Table and chairs in panelled room with dual aspect windows and white pendant light
The Dewberry hotel in Charleston

Current projects A 65-unit, 1930s residential development in Brooklyn that will feature pine flooring salvaged from a mill in Massachusetts, prewar-inspired ceiling mouldings and social kitchens with central islands and cast-porcelain cabinetry pulls. They are also working on a ground-up project, adding a new suite to a Shingle-style home on the coast.

They say ‘We want to maintain the collaboration between the studio and our products: sometimes we use our furniture and lighting, other times, products are born out of projects. That interplay keeps things interesting.’

This article first appeared in ELLE Decoration May 2019

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