Brooklyn—yes, the gritty borough overshadowed by glamorous Manhattan—has become America's design central. Visionary boutique owner Dave Alhadeff invites some big talents over for dinner.
Deep in Williamsburg, Brooklyn, there's a design-minded housewares store stocked with innovative, gorgeous works. Since the day the shop opened in September 2003, its influence has been growing exponentially. With satisfying precision, the boutique is named the Future Perfect, and thanks to its dynamic young owner-founder, Dave Alhadeff, it's become the epicenter of what is often called the Brooklyn Boom.
Williamsburg has clearly changed from its '90s incarnation as a ghetto for tattooed hipsters into a vibrant place that's fairly bursting with creative types—including chefs—priced out of Manhattan. Alhadeff, who grew up in Washington State, where his family owns the well-respected Apex Cellars, landed in Williamsburg in 1999. "I wasn't really looking for retail space in Brooklyn," he admits. "Then I saw this location and thought it could work." Alhadeff also admits, quite cheerfully, that he was totally winging it. He had little formal design training, and his business plan consisted mainly of a desire to promote lesser-known talents. Many of the exciting young men and women Alhadeff discovered turned out to be firmly based within a few-block radius of his new store on North Sixth Street. The Future Perfect became their local hangout, and Alhadeff their ideal host.
These designers, especially the Williamsburgers among them, produce all kinds of cult objects. Sarah Cihat turns out wildly popular thrift-store plates reglazed with horses, daggers and hearts, and Jason Miller is famous for his hilarious, beautiful ceramic-antler chandeliers. These two designers, part of the Future Perfect's inner circle, recently came to a dinner party at Alhadeff's loft overlooking the Williamsburg Bridge. Their work is prominently featured in the apartment: Miller's Little Gift, a porcelain Hostess cupcake created for Alhadeff's birthday, sits on Miller's Dusty Table, a handsome wood number with a disconcerting finish that mimics, well, dirt. "Jason was one of the first designers I met in 2001," recalls Alhadeff. "He totally grilled me." Miller laughs: "I remember a pleasant conversation over a drink." "No! You were totally grilling me!" repeats Alhadeff. "I was not!" counters Miller. "I just wanted to understand what you were doing."
Almost as heralded as Brooklyn's design revolution is its restaurant scene. Alhadeff chose his favorite new local spot, Dressler, to cater his party. The sophisticated sister of Dumont, Dressler has excellent food, sexy cocktails and inspired Art Nouveau design. Owner and dedicated Williamsburg resident Colin Devlin devised the menu with several of Dressler's signature modern-American dishes: crispy little potato cakes topped with herb-spiked crème fraîche and supple smoked sturgeon; flaky halibut served in a tart lemon-butter sauce with a colorful array of beans and peas; addictive batter-fried onion rings. Alhadeff contributed a savory baked spinach-and-feta pie—which, he says, his family brings to every social gathering they're invited to—and a few Apex wines, including the refreshing 2003 Apex Cellars Chardonnay.
Talk at dinner centers on Williamsburg's increasingly pricey real estate. Money isn't disliked here, exactly, but its potentially corrupting influence isn't trusted (although Alhadeff is capitalizing on the area's many new residents; he's opened A & G Merch, an inexpensive home store, next to the Future Perfect). "It seems silly," says Cihat in her Tennessee drawl. "Prices go up and the cool people go. I really like my street. I know my UPS man. I like the small-town feel." Miller sums it up: "Everyone says, 'Oh, Williamsburg's over, brokers are moving in, luxury lofts are going up....' But it continues to be the center of New York's art and design world. Living anywhere else would be difficult."
Kate Sekules, an F&W contributing editor who's currently writing a novel, is a proud resident of Brooklyn.