Brad Krefman: Pratt Institute graduate, highly successful (& in demand!) designer, husband, dog dad. All hats he wears with aplomb. We have been enamored with Brad’s style since we discovered him a few years ago and are beyond thrilled to be working with him on a Tuscan-inspired remodel in Sonoma. Read on to find out how he’s keeping his studio on track while working remotely, his incredible roster of upcoming projects, and where he draws inspiration.
Jeff King: Let’s start at the beginning, what inspired you to become a designer? Can you share some information about your background and early influences?
Brad Krefman: As a kid, I was always artistic, and my parents enabled me to express that sensibility. I took drawing and painting classes and tended to prefer craft projects over sports. I remember an art teacher from high school once said I would never make it as a fine artist and that I should pursue a career in design. But I didn’t end up in design school for my undergraduate—instead, I attended NYU and chose to double major in French and Art History. While there, I had some industry adjacent job experiences—first at an art gallery, followed by a stint at the Cooper Hewitt National Design Museum, which finally led to an internship with a New York interior design firm. After I graduated from NYU I ended up in textile sales at Holly Hunt in New York, which gave me my start in the world of interiors. After a couple of years in sales, I realized my passion was to do something creative so I decided to go back to school for a Master’s degree [in interior architecture] at Pratt Institute, which is really what catapulted my career as a designer.
JK: In light of your experience, what advice would you give to someone who’s interested in getting into a design career?
BK: If you love design, there is an opportunity in the industry for you. I think it’s important to know what part of the industry drives you the most and to stay focused on that end goal. I’d also recommend getting an internship as those are great ways to experience what it’s like working at a design firm and to see the kinds of roles and responsibilities that are out there. Not to be too cliché, but the phrases, “it takes a village” and “design is not singular” really do ring true; there is always an opportunity to join a creative team and be part of creating something special.
JK: Take us through your process upon first meeting your client…how do you figure out their style and aesthetic, especially if they’re not sure of it themself?
BK: What a great question! The first in-person meeting tends to be at the project location rather than our office. I am simultaneously taking in the project site and the client. My mind is scanning the room or property to come up with an instinctive feel. I also scan our client’s personal style and spend the bulk of the meeting just listening. Listening to their priorities, to how they live, and to how they entertain. I ask some poignant questions about their schedule and budget. From there, the project style starts to take shape. Part of our studio’s mission statement is to design for context, purpose, and place—and that’s precisely why we make a point of having a clear understanding of who we’re designing for and where the project is located as those two pieces directly influence the project’s style.
JK: What do you look for when assembling your design-build team?
BK: We look for people who are collaborative and honest. We are often in these projects for a year or more, so building trust is critical. We also like to have fun and hope that we are all still smiling when we get to the finish line. I think respect and honesty are the keys to allowing the process to work and be successful.
JK: What’s your favorite part of your job?
BK: I would say the very beginning design schematics and of course the final install are the most fun parts of the project. The middle is often clouded with so many details it’s hard to sometimes see the light…But then again, the devil is in the details. All that said, I think it’s the personal relationships that bloom from these projects that keep me going. We’ve had the great fortune of having several repeat clients—clients who come back for second phases on the same house or even second, sometimes third, houses. That feels immensely satisfying and the kind of patronage we are grateful to have.
JK: Where do you get your inspiration from these days? Do you have other designers or creatives who inspire you or whose style you admire?
BK: Pre-Covid, I would say travel was my number one source of inspiration. I become a design sponge when traveling, visually documenting everything from architecture to hotels, restaurants, and even local style in fashion, etc. These become sources of inspiration when scheming for projects. This past year I relied more heavily on social media like Pinterest and Instagram for a lot of inspiration. With so many talented peers posting their great projects, it’s fun and inspiring to see what others are doing. I also have a large library of books and I can spend full weekend days thumbing through pages, tagging images for certain projects.
JK: We’re are just finishing up a Sonoma remodel project with you and can’t wait to see it completed. What are some stand-out pieces that you’re exceptionally excited about?
BK: We can’t wait to see this house come together either! When I first toured the house I was a little intimidated by how, um. . . ugly, the place was. But the clients were so nice and they were immediately trustworthy, so we said what the heck, let’s tackle this Tuscan nightmare! In our studio we call this project the “Tuscan Tamer,” but I like the hashtag you created on IG, too (#SonomaVillaRemodel).
As far as favorite features, the reclaimed beams used throughout are dynamite. So are the tiles. The clients were open to color and pattern which we had fun employing in the various bathrooms. The main patio/porch off the great room is going to photograph beautifully and there will be an epic bocce court located in the client’s olive grove. This will be a portfolio piece for sure.
Working with you all has been a dream. It’s been refreshing having a contractor so organized and who cares about the end result as much as we do.
JK: How have you shifted your business during the pandemic? Is there anything that you think you’ll continue to do even after businesses are fully open and the pandemic is under control?
BK: Yes, I think for better or for worse this past year has produced change for us all. One positive is that I biked to my office nearly every day in the summer, which I never did before and that I’m going to continue. Also, working from home has really cut down on the amount of paper we use. I have found we can still get the job done by digitally marking up documents. I don’t imagine we’ll go back to printing out things at the rate we did before. I started using my iPad to mark up drawings and presentations, with the Notability app and the Morpholio suite, which has a few different apps for architects and designers…the technology is pretty neat.
JK: What are you looking forward to in 2021?
BK: We were fortunate to end 2020 with some great new projects. To start off 2021, we’re most excited about finishing the Sonoma project with you all. Next up, we have a remodel in Houston; a sushi restaurant in Jackson, Wyoming; a house in Ross; another one in Sausalito; and possibly, just possibly, a house in the Caribbean. The details for that are still a bit unknown but it’s an exciting prospect, to say the least! Despite all the twists and turns of this past year, I think the meaning of home has never been more important for people, and I think high-end residential will stand the test of time. I am looking forward to having the team back in the studio where we can all collaborate together and I can’t wait until our vendors and partners are open so we can see everyone’s smiling faces in person!
JK: We are a (very!) dog-friendly group and I noticed that your two, very cute Frenchies occasionally make an appearance on your IG page and even have a bio on your website! What’s their story?
BK: Leo and Gemma are the second generations of French bulldogs for my husband, Eric, and me. Hugo was the original, and after he passed away, we welcomed these two cuties into our lives. Leo and Gemma frequent the office—they love testing our carpet samples and occasionally they grab wood samples from our library, mistaking them for bones. But mostly they just find the sunniest spot in the office and nap!