Jeffrey Braun Furniture quietly operates above Walla Walla’s Main Street in offices with enviable high ceilings, massive windows, exposed brick and distressed-wood floors outfitted with the firm’s contemporary furniture prototypes. Complete with quirky wall art including a rusted-out car hood and a mounted hammer, the space has a vibe expected in any major mecca for design.
But Jeffrey Braun and wife, Lindsay, prove you don’t need bright lights and a big city to make plenty of noise in the design world.
The two are fresh off of a trip to New York, where they attended Interior Design magazine’s Best of Year awards. Their Stepping Stone side table was a top-five finalist out of over 2,000 international entries and received editorial coverage in the magazine’s Fall Market Tabloid — a bible of sorts for interior designers.
The Brauns’ move to the Valley is not an unfamiliar story. Lindsay is part of a multigenerational Walla Walla wheat-farming family, and attended Whitman College before finishing her degree at University of Washington. Growing a business while starting a family (daughter Stella, son Jasper) in Seattle proved to be increasingly problematic.
“Since moving here, we’re able to work with a lot more focus, and we get much more out of our workday,” Lindsay says. “We would have to work 10 times as hard in the city to have the lifestyle we have here.”
“In Seattle, if we needed to drop off a finished sample or something, between driving and parking, that’s like a two-hour ordeal,” Jeffrey says. “Things are simpler here, which takes up less mental space.”
Yin and yang
Jeffrey attributes the two very different approaches in design school to his adaptability early in his career. He first studied in Chicago at Harrington College of Design (started by a group that split off from the IIT Institute of Design — the school created in 1937 as an offshoot of Bauhaus).
“Harrington was steeped in modernism,” Jeffrey says. “The skyscraper, the grid, mechanical analog drafting.”
After working as a set designer in the film industry in Chicago, Jeffrey moved west to pursue a second design degree at Cornish College of the Arts in Seattle.
“Everything was sketchy, loosey-goosey with presentations on tracing paper,” Jeffrey says, laughing. “It was a wicked mind shift for me, but it was great because I got both the very regimented modernism and the out-of-the-box schooling.”
Jeffrey credits the state’s tech boom for his move to home furnishings.
“I had some clients working for Microsoft that wanted some really expensive-looking custom furniture, but they didn’t want to pay showroom prices, and I thought, ‘I can do that,’” he says. “I understood proportions and could draw — that’s what got me into furniture design.”
The career opportunity led to a Y in the road: Jeffrey had to decide whether to work in interiors or furniture.
“It was too much to do both,” he says.
“Furniture was always my passion in school. I called all those furniture clients and said, ‘Hey, I’m starting a catalog. Can I borrow your furniture?’”
He rented a truck and picked it all up for a shoot.
If you build it
A catalog showed Jeffrey’s design prowess, but he needed new work to sell. He took a massive stack of drawings to Kelly Forslund at the Seattle Design Center.
“I asked, ‘Hey, if I get this built, will you sell it?’” Jeffrey recalls. “And she said, ‘I love this stuff. Yes.’”
He went on to launch his furniture line — to rave reviews — at the International Contemporary Furniture Fair in San Francisco, subsequently landing in additional showrooms. He also developed a retail presence after once again asking, “Hey, if I build this, will you sell it?” The answer was yes.
But just as retail sales were taking off, along came 2007, and with the shifting economy, that business dried up.
Early on, Jeffrey was working up to 18 hours a day.
“I was just trying to eat,” he says. “I was doing everything myself.”
He worked with an adviser at the Small Business Administration through the SCORE program.
“I told him, ‘I give this six months,’” Jeffrey recalls. “‘If you can help me turn this around, great.’ He did.”
Part of that turnaround was entering the commercial market in 2008. Today, Jeffrey Braun Furniture’s portfolio includes hotels, malls and other retail environments, senior living facilities, lobbies and executive offices nationwide.
But perhaps the biggest game-changer? Spouse Lindsay. In Seattle-like fashion, the two met in 2004 while standing in line for coffee at Uptown Espresso on Lower Queen Anne Hill.
“I remember putting together fabric swatch rings on the floor of his apartment when we were dating,” Lindsay says, laughing. “I worked in PR and communications and I kept throwing ideas his way as if he were a client.”
“I was like, ‘I don’t have time to do that!’ But then I thought, ‘Why aren’t we just doing this together?’” Jeffrey recalls.
They married in 2007 and started working together shortly thereafter. Lindsay oversees client communication and project management, while Jeffrey designs and travels to Los Angeles every four to six weeks to follow up on production and make sure things are being built correctly.
“We’re a good team because I keep him in line,” Lindsay says, grinning. “My brain is very pragmatic.”
Clearly it’s working, and the rest is, well, design history.