The Camp Washington-based furniture maker/interior design team of Hayes Shanesy and Rosie Kovacs, known collectively as Brush Factory, recently finished a year-long, three-floor build out for People’s Liberty, a new philanthropic lab from the Haile/U.S. Bank and Johnson foundations, across from Findlay Market in Over-the-Rhine.
The project is the first of its kind for Brush Factory. Kovacs and Shanesy hand-delivered more than 40 pieces of interior fixtures designed for People’s Liberty’s specific yet mutable needs in the renovated Globe Furniture building. The design work also involved a good deal of coordination with other OTR-based firms that the arts-focused arm of the Haile Foundation employed to transform the historic workspace (architects City Studios and Graybach construction team are just two examples), specifying finishes and the placement of everything from lighting to fine art.
The People’s Liberty project is quite different from the work Shanesy and Kovacs were putting out when they began Brush Factory out of a storefront in Brighton in 2009. The first few years of their endeavor were mostly a way for Shanesy and Kovacs to recoup on their creative efforts. Shanesy, a third-generation woodworker, experimented with his medium and wrenched on vintage motorcycles, while Kovacs tried her hand at designing and producing mini-collections of clothing and bags.
A few years ago the pair decided to focus more on the hard goods Shanesy was producing in his woodshop, and in the process of the People’s Liberty project, Kovacs says they decided to make a deliberate step toward realizing their company’s future worth.
Kovacs was working for ArtWorks as talent manager when Brush Factory was about three months into the People’s Liberty job, and things were getting hectic. “I was trying to balance both and I was going crazy,” she says.
So she quit her job, despite reservations about losing the supplementary income and the fear that the duo might not be able to afford to pay themselves two salaried positions.
But, Kovacs says, when they built those financial expectations into their business plans, the found they could indeed pay themselves — something many entrepreneurs are hesitant to do in early years.
“As scary as it was to try and pay two people a salary, it worked,” Kovacs says. “We never would’ve been able to grow if we hadn’t taken that risk.”
Being equally committed as business partners, they decided to split the tasks involved instead of working side-by-side on projects.Kovacs became the sales and marketing representative, working with clients to realize their visions, while Shanesy tended to the finer details and the actual furniture making. And it fits both of their personalities, as Kovacs has long been a fashionably savvy business professional, while Shanesy is concerned with issues of craft and authenticity.
Simple attention to material details and sustainable design has also been important to Brush Factory, and their aesthetic fits in with People’s Liberty’s interest in a look that Kovacs describes as “ultra modern next to the historic nature of the building.”
There are modern notes throughout the organization’s brick-and-mortar showpiece: Eames chairs ordered from one of the only companies that still holds a license to replicate and distribute the famous fiberglass seats and a bright yellow table Shanesy designed and built, based on a Parsons table Ralph and Carol Haile had in their home.
Modular elements abound as well: a conference table that sits 20 can be broken up into four smaller tables for break-out sessions; utility tables on rolling casters were made for a room used for ongoing graphic design projects; and a couch on the third floor folds out into a sleeper for the various program grantees who might keep late hours on site.
What they couldn’t fabricate themselves, they sourced for the project, most often from such local distributers as High Street, Switch Lighting, Frameshop and Orange Chair.
People’s Liberty’s mission involves giving creative makers a financial boost to accelerate positive transformation in Greater Cincinnati, so it makes sense that they would want to invest in a business like Brush Factory.
“I think this gave us an extra kick to have a larger body of work,” Kovacs says. “So I think that they saw that and thought, ‘Let’s do that,’ so… good for them.”
And, one might add, good for Cincinnati.