How to Make it in Brooklyn: A Shipping Container Design Studio? / Style No Chaser

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Down a dark dusty stretch of avenue in Bushwick…lol, scratch that…

Around the corner from the Morgan L train stop, amongst the auto body shops and welders and behind a graffitied metal-clad fence, is an unexpected and unassuming little community of container studios. 

One of those containers is home to the design studio of David Smith and Calli Beck.  You may be aware of David’s previous endeavors if you’ve ever walked up Driggs from the Beford Avenue L train and passed ‘Strawser + Smith’. David is the Smith in the company’s namesake.  Calli comes from a fashion design background and they both find themselves in a shipping container (with skylights) in Brooklyn, in the middle of an arctic New York City freeze making all sorts of objects with a huge laser cutting machine.  Like, they have a huge machine, that you need either lots of money or really good credit to buy.  Anyway, I was coming off of an intimate session with my Firefly vaporizer and managed to mumble out a few questions for the two young entepreneurs.  Enjoy…!

Where the hell are we?

We are standing in the middle of The Smith Factory’s Headquarters, or “HQ” as it’s affectionately known. It’s a 5000 sq ft lot that is home to 5 shipping containers that have been converted into work shops, office spaces, and artist studios. It’s a place for folks to make stuff – all kinds of stuff. There’s an LED artist, electrical engineer, metal workers, large scale installation artist, event producers, fashion designers, hell, there’s even a guy who smokes meat here! And of course, there is my business which specializes in product prototyping, art fabrication, and design with a focus on utilizing high tech fabrication methods. I guess the short answer is; we’re in Bushwick*.

How has working from this shipping container affected your day to life, productivity, process?

We love it! So much of working in and with space in NYC is dealing with the crushing weight of the history of those spaces. It’s really refreshing to go to an office everyday that I designed and built out specifically to suite my needs. We wanted lots of natural light, so we carved out 4 huge skylights, and installed big glass doors and windows. It’s quite unusual in NY to say, “I want a window, right here”. Calli and I have both attended and contributed to the Burning Man Festival of Arts and Culture in the Nevada desert for years and it has served us really well as a kind of experiment, or, R&D lab in alternative work spaces. After seeing an entire city built out of the back of box trucks with very little resources (no power or water) save for a bunch of zip ties and ratchet straps, you start to see the traditional work space as a bit quaint. So, when the opportunity to set up shop in a shipping container came along, it made perfect sense to us.   

Whose idea was it to start a small container village?

A buddy of mine, who does a lot of large scale metal work, was renting a huge building over on Metropolitan Ave (not far from HQ). The landlord sold it to a developer who (surprise!) tore it down to make way for a condo. He needed space quick for his large projects and when this empty lot came on the market he snagged it. He added 1 container to house his tools then 4 more to rent out as artist studios.

What are u guys making here? What’s that huge machine?

Right now we are fabricating a version 1 prototype of a lamp. Part of what we do is design and fabricate our own product lines and help other companies with prototypes.  The laser cutter, the huge machine here, allows us to do so in a cost effective, scale-able fashion. This is relatively new technology and the impact we’re seeing is huge. If you told me 15 years ago that I could go from concept to finished product of a manufactured good in a matter of weeks, I would have told you to that you where insane. But that is where we are at now. It turns out, the future is far more futuristic that we originally anticipated.

Wow, that’s cool, what did u guys do before? How did your current business come about? Who are some clients I might know?

I come from a background in furniture design, manufacturing, and retail. I was a partner at Strawser & Smith, makers and purveyors of some really awesome, high end, industrial style home furnishings. Calli comes from a fashion and event production background. She worked in men’s wear for some time before getting into wearable technology with a start-up in San Francisco. I think we both got a bit burned out on the retail and start-up scene (respectively) at some point and just said, fuck it. So we disappeared to the Caribbean for a year and a half. Life near the equator helped us pare down to what we really valued and we began hatching a plan down there to create The Smith Factory as a business that would serve to do more than just pay the bills. We wanted lives where work and play integrated seamlessly, not jobs that we had to schedule our lives around. So far, it’s worked out pretty well.

Is there any space available here for other creatives or companies?

Absolutely! We are always looking for other people with interesting practices, projects, ideas, etc. to work with, and collaborate with. Get in touch, shoot us an email, or stop by and say hello!

Awesome! I look forward to coming back!

Ya bud! anytime!


To get in touch with David about renting space in the container village or just simply collaborating, hit him up at: info@smith-factory.com or visit www.smith-factory.com

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