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A Design Mecca for the Millennial Mindset

WorkOf, an online marketplace of distinctive bespoke décor, is making waves

WorkOf was launched last year with one goal in mind: to make the buying and selling of one-of-a-kind decorative items easier for creators and collectors alike. This fall, the online platform—a kind of 1stdibs with a markedly millennial aesthetic—expanded from New York to the West Coast, adding 15 new designers to its existing roster of 75.

Walking around a Brooklyn design fair three years ago and meeting so many talented designers who live and work in the city, Charlie Miner, the company’s founder, stumbled upon a gap in the market. While platforms like 1stdibs existed for rare antiques and their dealers, Etsy for accessibly priced crafts and Design Within Reach for iconic European construction, nothing supported this emerging class of professional designers and makers. Miner knew likeminded individuals would relish investing in distinctive pieces from promising, independent artists. And for many, there’s comfort in knowing they won’t be confronted by their own dining room table or chandelier in a friend’s home.

“WorkOf was born from a desire to help the next generation of professional design studios come together as a community and reach the market more effectively,” says Miner, 33, whose company will be in five major U.S. cities by the end of this year, with plans to have a nationwide presence by early 2016. “It’s really important to remember that these studios are at the forefront of a new entrepreneurial movement. They’re creating businesses and jobs while fostering local manufacturing networks. On top of it all, their products are exceptional.”

Among these exceptional products is the Splayed Star Table, created by Brooklyn designer Evan Z. Crane. The $5,500 piece—handcrafted from mahogany, lacquered steel and brass hardware—“is made to be passed down through generations,” but it’s also customizable and smartly built to disassemble and ship easily. Crane was initially drawn to WorkOf because it “felt more like a carefully curated gallery” of “top-shelf makers and designers.”

Evan Z. Crane’s Splayed Star Table

The company’s creative director, Isaac Friedman-Heiman, believes that until recently the high-end home-and-office-design market was over saturated with antiques and midcentury pieces. People were hungry for original work from the next generation of great designers who are still very much alive and working. In his view, the premium that customers are willing to pay for their products is “an investment at the ground floor of this new design movement that will only become more valuable with time.”

Unusual, eye-catching creations abound on the site. Bower Studios, for one, sells a line of semi-flat mirrors that convey the illusion of three-dimensional geometric forms. Their Fold Floor Mirror ($2,150) appears to have sides creased and folded back into space.

“The site is fun to get lost in,” says Bower partner Danny Giannella. “You might start out looking for something specific, but end up checking out a bunch of fresh designs you’d never seen before.”

Elyse Graham, a designer based in downtown LA who sells a line of handmade vases and mirrors on the site, says the platform is unusual because it successfully conveys to would-be buyers the passion and hard work involved. “They’ve found an audience that values the thought, time and energy that goes into creating these pieces,” she says.

Aaron Shoon, co-founder of the brand Pletz, whose wood table lamps sell for about $1,200 to $1,600 apiece through WorkOf, agrees. “Buyers sense an object isn’t just an amalgam of materials, style and utility—but it carries the experience and intentions of the people who made it.”

Pletz’s Bethel wood table lamp

As the company gears up to go nationwide—with aspirations of one day becoming a global platform—Miner and Friedman-Heiman are careful to keep the main focus on nurturing their current stable of talent. “These are the people at the heart of everything we do,” says Friedman-Heiman, “and being able to share their stories and creations is absolutely rewarding.”