The Branch Studio Prototype Sale

If you read this journal regularly, you know I own a fabrication company known as The Branch Studio.  We manufacture garden ornament, boxes and pots for the garden. We also manufacture custom steel ornament, pots and fountains for private clients and designers nationwide. This weekend, Rob has organized a sale of Branch prototype pots at Detroit Garden Works. They are available for sale at or below our cost to manufacture them. I am sure you have questions, so let me explain.

Any company that designs a three dimensional object intended for production begins with drawings on paper. Some designs get test built in paper or foam core board. I cannot imagine how architects take a set of drawings for a building and review them, imagining in the third dimension. Some architects make a practice of building models of buildings they are proposing.  I have seen pictures of some that are beautiful in their own right. Buck and I have a much more low key process. We talk, and we trade sketches. As I am a designer, and he is a fabricator, there are fireworks. He wants a design that once fabricated is sturdy and serviceable. He wants a fabrication process that is smooth and reasonably quick. I want a design that is beautiful, properly proportioned, and with just enough detail to make it memorable. It is difficult to determine if a design for a container detailed on paper meets all the criteria that both Buck and I require to put that design into production. So we manufacture the idea, and take a good long look at the result. A prototype from Branch is an idea that gets spelled out in steel.

We were interested in a few designs for more contemporary garden pots to round out our collection of garden boxes. The round Barry tapers began with a half-oval rib detail that culminated in a round steel leg. The V-shaped flanges on either side of that vertical rib seemed like a great idea, visually. I find that many contemporary garden pots to be dry and lacking interest. Shape is an integral part of contemporary design for garden pots, but a shape without some detail seems blank and wanting.  During the production of this prototype, Buck had several issues. The subtle V flanges were flat, which made it very difficult to weld them to the curved surface of the round body of the pot. It was not possible to curve those small pieces mechanically by rolling them prior to welding them on.  Once the flanges were welded on to these tapered curved pots, the welding process threw the the top of the pot out of round. The flange sections were flat, and the rest of the container round. Viewed from above, the shape wobbled. Not pretty, this. The addition of a thin flat round ring welded onto the top of the pot to cover the the out of round result worked, but it seemed of  too meager proportion to the rest of the pot. In addition, welding the flanges to the surface of the pot took an incredibly long time. Of course I was interested that the flange that look like it had melted over the vertical rib. As Buck informed me, steel does not melt over anything. The V steel flanges were good looking, but just too labor intensive to create. It took Owen upwards of an entire day to weld the flanges for a single pot. A detail that takes an entire day to weld is too fussy. The picture above tells the story. The pot on the left features the subtle detail of the flanges. The top rim is too thin. The revised pot on the right has no flanges, and a rim with substance. The revised pot, which we have put into production, is simple and substantial.

Rob decided to relieve Branch of a various prototype pots they had made over the last year by staging a prototype sale. Most of all of these prototypes are available for less than what it took to produce them. I could say that I have mixed feelings about that, but I don’t.  It takes time, effort, and no small amount of investment to move an idea along. I will say that it is hard for me to let go of the prototypes we have available with my beloved flanges. But so be it.  Any person who purchases a Branch prototype gets a one of a kind garden pot at an incredibly good price. Then good news for us? We can go on designing, and we can manufacture new ideas.

The Dean pots. We love the farm and cottage look of them.  But farm and cottage style suggests a price that is equally down to earth. These Dean pots cannot be made for what it cost to manufacture a galvanized metal washtub.

These small Jackie boxes have an experimental finish that Buck calls a polar finish. A second wash after the galvanizing process brings out the white in the finish. These prototypes are about a finish we decided not to pursue, but that does not mean there is any defect in the finish. Someone out there may quite like them.

So pleased to see so many Branch Studio prototypes together in the same place. Today, 7 experimental pots found new homes. I a so pleased about that.Seeing how Rob has arranged the new contemporary stock boxes intermixed with the contemporary Branch Studio prototypes – terrific. You can see what changes have been made. And as we will not produce them again, they are one of a kind pots.

We have a new design we are looking at-Branch produced 4 of them. We are calling them the framed tapers. They are loosely based on a pair of pots Rob brought back from France. He really likes them, so we’ll see if other people do too.

Interested?

the Branch prototype sale

Coming Home

Rob shops on and off all year long, but in the month of September, he shops in Europe and the US, traveling just about full time. Months ahead of the fact, he is shopping for the spring season to come. Last year’s extended shopping trip was to France. Suffice it to say that he landed in Paris, picked up his rental car, and hit the ground running. For weeks he drove all over France attending antique shows, visiting dealers with whom he has long standing relationships, potteries, small specialty businesses, and the Maison Et Objet design fair. This biannual fair, one of the largest in the world, features high style objects for both inside and out.

In January of last year, his trip to the Mart in Atlanta resulted in the purchase of a container load of pots from Vietnam. A dealer in Louisiana who owns potteries and contracts out the manufacture of pots to her specification in Vietnam is a friend and valued supplier. Rob places an order, based on pot shapes and glazes that he sees in person. These stoneware pots are frost proof. Her glazes are beautiful, intriguing, and equally as frost proof as the clay body. The frost proof part is a big issue for gardeners in Michigan. A pot that can stay out all winter is of great value in our climate. Pots that can stay in place over the winter are pots we like.

This year, we placed an order for a 52 foot long container, stacked to the ceiling. The Vietnamese potteries are unusual in the following regard. They not only manufacture to order, they ready their goods for shipment. They are expert packers. They are happy to load a container bound for other countries. Their packing expertise has a lot to do with the thriving tennis shoe industry in Vietnam. Each pot you see in the above picture has 3 smaller sizes nested inside. The smaller pots, in graduated sizes, are nested inside the Mama pot protected by a layer of recycled tennis shoe sole cut offs. The pots that Rob orders and brings in from Vietnam are gorgeous. They are compatible with both tradition and contemporary landscapes. When he orders an entire container load, this means that the price to our customers is all that much more reasonable. I can say that Detroit Garden Works will have lots of frost proof glazed stoneware pots available for great prices this spring.

Not all of Rob’s shopping is as efficient and reasonable as the load of pots from Vietnam. He shopped at a number of small potteries in France this past September. Few of them have the ability to pack, and deliver. They make the pots, and offer them for sale. Locally. He placed a special order for pots, knowing that we would need help to get them ready to ship. Our shipping company played a vital role in getting this container to us. They send trucks to all of those places where Rob shopped, to pick up the goods and consolidate them in their warehouse in Paris. Once all of his purchases have been collected, they are boxed or crated for shipment. Once everything is ready, the goods are handed off to a freight company that will see that our container is shipped door to door, from Paris France to Sylvan Lake Michigan. Countless rules and regulations govern the import of goods from other countries. In a good year, all goes smoothly. This year, a glitch. The bill of lading did not specify the city, so the transport company decided their work was done once the container arrived in Detroit. It sat on the railway for better than a week after it cleared customs, while all the parties involved decided how to get our container transported the last 28 miles. Heather’s last week with us was in part spent training our new internet sales and service person Jackie in the fine art of getting a container derailed by incomplete paperwork back on track.    Once the container was unloaded, all of the boxes went into our garage and stockroom. There were a lot of boxes and crates to unpack. 204, to be exact. Every pot Rob purchased came to us in its own box.  Every box was stuffed with heavyweight kraft packing paper. Very large pots came in wood crates built especially for this purpose.

The trip from Paris can be a rough ride, so expert packing is necessary. Though the entire container load was insured, our primary interest is in pots delivered in perfect condition. In all of the 204 packages, only one pot has a small chip in the glaze.

A collection of both new and antique wood barrels would not be subject to breakage, so they were blanket wrapped.

In the upper left of the above photo you can see Jackie moving a pot she had just unpacked. That will give you an idea of how much paper was used to pack the pots. I was standing near the top of our rolling ladder to take this picture.

We are fortunate to have a paper recycling facility available to us. After all of the boxes were knocked down and placed flat in our box truck, we started loading the paper.  It would take 3 truck loads before all of the paper was gone. Now we are taking inventory, pricing, and displaying asfast as we can.  The shop reopens for the season in 2 days.

A first look at the pots from Les Enfant de Boisset made clear why Rob fell for them.  The color is a rich and lively mix of olive greens.

Even the interior of the pots is beautiful.

Detroit Garden Works is opening for the 2018 season March 1.

 

On The Water Today

On the water today is a 40 foot container’s worth of goods for the garden that Rob bought in France last September. Some of what he bought is either antique or vintage. Other things are new. He buys what he treasures and can’t bring himself to leave behind. I like that about him. Our shipping agent in Paris collects what he buys wherever he shops in France. Some orders for new goods, no matter where they are sourced, are manufactured to order only. Thus he times his overseas shopping in the summer and early fall so we can take delivery prior to the spring season opening March 1. Once all of his purchases are packed and collected, arrangements are made to fill a container and send it on its way. It is incredible really, how much planning and traveling he does every year in support of amassing a beautiful and curated collection of objects.

Rob turns over all of his invoices and buy sheets to our internet sales and service manager, Heather D, once he returns to the states. Just one of her many responsibilities involves coordinating pickups, packing and shipping of goods that come to the shop from abroad and in the US. Doing business internationally is a complicated job. Rob places orders and buys overseas, but payment for goods whether old or new is arranged by wire transfer of funds to our shipping agent. Our agent pays for what Rob has purchased when they pick up. Heather takes the hand off from Rob, and coordinates the shipping as quickly and gracefully as possible. I greatly admire that she coordinates with him in such a way that our overseas buying results in moving many items from various places in a European country to our doorstep in an efficient and timely way.

The shipping from a big group of vendors/suppliers in Europe to our shop takes time. There are always problems, and negotiations. Heather handles this with aplomb. I am confident in saying that all of us representing Detroit Garden Works go to great lengths to bring beautiful garden ornament to our clients. Each person plays their part. Heather gets everything to us, best way. Rob sets the prices, and all of the sales staff pitch in to tag everything. Jenny photographs all of our new things for the Detroit Garden Works website. Dave, our business manager, handles the finances.

There are other jobs that need to be done. In preparation for our spring 2018 season opening, my entire landscape crew has been busy cleaning and repainting all of the shelving and trim with fresh color via several coats of paint. A new 8′ by 8′ skylight just inside our front door will be installed early next week. Our go to painter for difficult jobs has been engaged to repaint the ceilings in our front two showrooms-for the first time in 22 years. In preparation for his week’s long work, everything in those rooms had to be moved out, so a scaffolding on wheels can access every square inch of our 14 foot high ceilings. We are ready for him, ahead of his February 1st start date. We will be on hand to help him mask off the walls and the track lighting. As shipments and containers come in, the landscape company
will take on the unpacking  and placement of most every substantial and heavy item.

Only Heather would say that importing goods from the European continent to the US is easy. It is in fact a complicated affair, dealing with multiple vendors, import rules and regulations and shipping. She is incredibly focused and for good measure and balance, incredibly patient. She communicates via telephone and the internet in such a friendly and productive way. All of my group and all of our vendors truly appreciate her candor, good humor, and problem solving skills. She has spent a good deal of time researching and engaging companies that can deliver our goods intact, and in a timely way.

Heather also manages all of our internet inquiries, sales, and shipping arrangements for both Detroit Garden Works, and Branch  We do business nation wide, with individual clients, and design firms. She is client services oriented, and she is not afraid to take on a project that is difficult or complicated. She has made it her business to become familiar with everything we offer for sale, so she can speak knowledgeably about them, and answer questions.

Why all this talk about Heather? I regret to report that Heather D, our internet sales manager, has accepted a request from her brother to return to the family business. Even though she will be sorely missed, I wish her well. She has graciously agreed to stay long enough train a new person for her position. I am very glad that our new internet sales manager to be will have the benefit of all of the systems she has put into place the past three years.

If you or someone you know is interested in a fast paced and variable sales and client services position that evolves day to day, supported by a great and closely knit group of people with a big passion for the garden, let me know by email at dsilver@detroitgardenworks.com  I can email you the job description and responsibilities, so you can take a closer look at what would be involved. I am open to professional people from other fields, but a sense and interest in design is key.

I am looking forward to the season to come. We have three containers set to arrive in the next month. It is hard to believe that February in the garden industry could be chaotic, but in our case, it is.  We have to be ready for company March 1. The chaos is somewhat mitigated by the fun of seeing what is in all of those packages. It’s a birthday party for Detroit Garden Works.

I have had this photograph of a pair of French pots for months, but it is nothing what it will be to see them in person. I am very keen about these. A very traditional French pot shape has a decidedly contemporary look created by the glaze. Are these new or old? I have no idea, yet.

Rob is a fan of dolly tubs, and I understand why.  They are happy in a contemporary or traditional setting. The planting space is generous. They are lightweight and weatherproof.

This is a closeup of a new glaze from a French pottery. I can’t wait to see these in person too. These pots will be every bit as welcome in a variety of settings as a dolly tub, but they are heavy, and will need to come in for the winter in a northern garden. There will be someone who is not in the least bit daunted by this. For a while, I will be able to look at it, any time I choose. As for Heather, she gave a lot for the while she was with us. As much as I am reluctant to let go, there will be a new person who brings their own style and sensibility to the mix. I look forward to meeting them.

 

 

 

 

The Stuart Garden Dining Table

Though I have not posted in a good while about the Branch Studio, their work has been newsworthy. Every week they are shipping out stock and custom made steel ornament for the garden. It has been an incredibly busy season so far for them. Stock? Branch manufactures a stock line of garden boxes, pergolas, and fountains in a variety of sizes. Should you be interested to see what the Branch Studio makes and tries to keep in stock, Branch has its own section on the Detroit Garden Works website: The Branch Studio  The design of most of our garden boxes, pergolas and fountains represents our modern version of classic European garden ornament. I am pleased to say that I think that my small midwestern factory is producing some of the most gorgeous and beautifully made planter boxes, pergolas and fountains for the garden being made and available for sale in our country. Just my opinion!  I spent a good year researching garden boxes, many of which were fabricated from cast iron, wood, and lead. I spent another year building boxes and revising the sizes and proportions.  Buck took the lead engineering the most efficient weather and wear proof construction. What Branch fabricates is the result of a lot of what is commonly known as research and development. Even now, it amazes me how much time and effort gets swallowed up by that phase. Branch is about to release a product line featuring more contemporary containers, and the Stuart dining table.  The initial idea for this table was generated over 20 years ago. Don Taylor, an old school artisan/craftsman, was hard at work redoing my kitchen. I wanted a long, thin, and tall island table – on wood wheels, just for fun. My only request was an under structure for that table that would look like an arch bridge, or aqueduct. He was happy to oblige. That pine table on wood wheels has been in my kitchen, and in the back of my mind for better than 20 years.

When Branch first opened, our primary fabrication was concrete faux bois. Faux bois, translated from the French as “false wood”, is an ancient art in which garden ornament and pots are fabricated from concrete formed and carved to look like wood. Troy made this faux bois birch sideboard at Branch 7 years ago. I sketched the design for him which included a bridge arch underneath. Though we eventually gave up fabricating in concrete for steel, I still treasure this early Branch piece. I could be my favorite detail is how Troy made the log legs look like they had been whittled down at the ends. That graceful detail would resurface in the Stuart table.  Buck made early incarnations of the Stuart table by special order. And he built a prototype for our deck. His very important contribution to the design is what he calls a bar edge. The frame of the top of the Stuart table angles down. That angle is really friendly to elbows. This detail creates a profile that is thin, spare, and elegant. My interest in designing a contemporary dining table for the garden was a product of my research into what was available. Traditional tables are available in lots of sizes and configurations.  But what if you have an interest in a contemporary outdoor dining table?

Both the Stuart table top and feet are fabricated from Ipe. Ipe, commonly known as ironwood or Brazilian walnut, is four times denser than teak. It is so dense, it sinks in water. It has the same fire rating as concrete and steel. It is just about too is too dense to catch fire. That density makes this wood very hard to mill, plane or cut. But it makes it just about the most indestructible and desirable wood to use outdoors. Ipe decking has been available for a number of years. But we thought to use this incredibly hard and rot resistant wood in our handmade garden dining tables.  Pictured above, our contemporary version of the whittled birch log legs at the bottom of a faux bois piece we fabricated 10 years ago. The upper portion of the foot would be inserted into to each table leg.

During the prototype fabrication phase, Buck brought this steel Stuart table leg with an Ipe foot home for me to see. Oh yes. I really liked it. I had a specific request that that the top boards have spaces in between them, so rain water would drain off quickly.

The Stuart table is named after Buck – his middle name, that is. His bar edge is a beautiful feature of this table, is it not? He stuck by me throughout the conversation and noise that marked the design phase. And he went on to engineer the construction of the table. The base is more than adequate to support the considerable weight of the Ipe top. Best of all, this table is able to withstand anything the weather might dish out, both summer and winter.

Every Stuart table manufactured at Branch is hand made.

Stuart table top under construction

table bases

The steel and ipe leg assembly is handsome and sturdy.

We make the table in 3 stock sizes – 7′, 8′, and 10′ long. It took 4 men and a front end loader to stack them up for this photograph. The three tables together weigh just shy of 1000 pounds. Rugged, I’d say.

Left to its own devices outdoors, the wood will weather to a gorgeous silvery gray.

Another special feature of this table is the generous overhang at the ends. The persons sitting at each end will have plenty enough room for their legs and feet. Branch is able to make custom versions of this table.  Last week we finished a 9′ table with accommodation in the center and a specially constructed base for a garden umbrella. Finished yesterday was a version in which the slanted bar edge was flipped up side down, adding more flat space to the table surface. Another client placed this table on her enclosed porch.

Interested in the particulars?     The Stuart garden dining table

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