Engineer designs functional furniture from the inside out
Westport, Conn. — When Bruce and Judy Brosler married some 20 years ago, he enrolled in an evening course in furnituremaking at a Cambridge, Mass., high school so that he could make some pieces for their first apartment.
He was fresh from two years at the Harvard Business School and four years at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, where he had earned a degree in mechanical engineering. But at the adult evening school, he discovered an entirely new interest -designing and making furniture with his own hands.
Mr. Brosler loved every minute of the hours he spent making their oval-shaped coffee table, large executive desk, two small tables, and a large hand-carved bowl, all from solid walnut wood.
The couple still prize these earliest furnishings, but little did they realize then that these first efforts would lead to the formation of their own furniture company, Tech Furniture Inc.
After his first job with a small electronics firm in Cambridge, Mr. Brosler grew dissatisfied and went to work for a local funiture factory for a year, following his newfound bent. With this limited experience, he felt encouraged to borrow a little money, hire one other employee who was a skilled upholsterer, rent a modest loft in the north end of Bridgeport, Conn., and hang out his shingle as a maker of upholstered furniture.
After 10 years he bought a woodworking outfit that was going out of business and began to make his own frames and to add the modern pieces in walnut, blond oak, and teak that now distinguish the Tech line.
"I chose the name Tech because it sounded representative of the type of furniture I wanted to make," Mr. Brosler says. "Easy-to-use stand furniture with a pure, architectural look that was both functional and handsome. "I decided to make quality and individualism our hallmarks, and to seek the kind of audience who could appreciate what I was trying to say and produce."
Ten years ago he designed and built his own small, modern factory in Shelton, Conn., where he now employs 65 trained people to help him make the furniture that he has been disigning by himself for the past three years.
Judy Brosler came into the picture five years ago when her husband thought that he had momentarily lost his sense of direction and needed to know what people really wanted and needed for their homes. At that point, the Broslers established Judy as manager of a new shop called "Upstairs/Downstairs Inc." in Westport, Conn., wwhere they could test designs, stock other merchandise, and observe at close hand what customers most wanted.
After listening to consumer for five years, Mrs. Brosler concludes that customers today want versatile funiture that can be used in many ways and in different rooms of the house.
"They want furniture that will move easily into new situations and serve multiple uses," she says.
The Tech look does well in university and college towns. Right now the biggest market areas are Colorado, the Sunbelt states, the far West, and New York City and environs. It is sold through several hundred specialty, department , and furniture stores, and, through architects and esigners, to universities, hotels, offices, and condominiums.
Mrs. Brosler has found that each year more people of all ages swing to contemporary furniture.
"Young people have always loved us, but now we find that people in their 50s, 60s, and 70s are looking for a new, uncluttered modern look for their homws or retirement condominiums," Mrs. Brosler says. "I see far more bachelors and divorced men shopping ofr our kind of furnishings, ann far more husbanks making joint decisins with wives for new purchases. At every age level and price range, there has plainly been a resurgence of interest in modern."
Almost every customer, she finds, asks for "easy maintenance" or a hard, durable finish that will not show spills, wear, or tear. They want more tall, vertical pieces to make use of wall space, and they want tough upholstery fabrics in earth tones such as white, tan, beige, brown, and other neutrals.
Her obsevations have been a help to her husband, and they serve as guidance for his designs. What are the most transferable skills Mr. Brosler has from his yars at MIT and Harvard?
"My knowledge of factory management and incentive wage systems, as well as the fact that I have always been able to do a mechanical drawing that my technical people could read," he says.
He says he has always taken the engineering approach to designing, working form the inside out, instead of the outside in.
"I set tight parameters for myself, first determining the secifics of what the design should be, what its features must be, what it should be made of, and what its retail range should be. Then I know I have arrived at a new piece that will meet a need, function as I have envisioned, and carry aprice that people can afford."