Photograph by Naim Bakhshi

Shop Talk

Sohrab Bakhshi of City Foundry

As told to Sarah Horne Grose
December 1, 2017

The Collective dealer finds his passion in craftsmanship, history, and design with integrity

I opened City Foundry in the year 2000. The area around Atlantic Avenue in Brooklyn had once been a mecca for antique dealers—there were hundreds of antique stores there at one time—but that part of the city had been in decline for several decades. I started gathering things of an industrial nature, American midcentury pieces, and Danish modern. Brooklyn was always an industrial hub and then, in the 2000s, there was a big migration of artists and craftsman who sparked a huge renaissance there. The changes since have been mind-boggling.

City Foundry in Brooklyn. Photographs courtesy Sohrab Bakhshi
City Foundry in Brooklyn. Photographs courtesy Sohrab Bakhshi

As a kid, I was always curious about how things are made, about craftsmanship. I was born in Iran and my father managed a factory there so I have memories as a young boy of the factory floor. They made metal installations for a distillery and things like that; there were old fashioned barrel makers crafting things by hand. Seeing those scenes developed my curiosity and that probably had a lot of early influence. My story is also a story of immigration. At a young age I moved to Israel and attended boarding school there, and started to hone my interest in the arts. I studied jewelry design and pottery; I met and was influenced by European teachers who were survivors of the camps and had studied in Germany and the Czech Republic. I was very lucky to be exposed to these great minds and that was hugely inspirational.

In 1980, I came to New York. The city was a major eye opener. I was mingling with a lot of friends from SoHo and seeing a lot of galleries. I didn’t consider myself an artist but I was befriending a lot of painters and sculptors and designers. Finally, I figured I wanted to study design more seriously, so I enrolled in an interior design program at FIT and that landed me in the restoration department.

I was interested in anything that had design integrity, from the Arts and Crafts and Bauhaus movements to Danish modern.

There, I studied under very skilled instructors and was able to see pieces up close. I was interested in anything that had design integrity, from the Arts and Crafts and Bauhaus movements to Danish modern. I love anything that has integrity in its purpose, and that’s the guiding principle when I buy for the showroom, whether it’s a pair of expertly restored Danish modern “Ringstol” hoop lounge chairs by Illum Wikkelso or a turn-of-the-century opaline glass globe pendant rescued from an old railroad station (we’re especially known for our lighting). I source most things from the U.S., but whenever I travel I exceed my baggage allowance. Usually when I travel it’s to Europe, but I would love to take a trip to Palm Springs to tour all of those incredible midcentury homes.

Even though we built our business by offering a curated selection of industrial and midcentury modern pieces—furniture, lighting, and objects—we’ve recently expanded to include a range of 20th century design movements, including Art Deco, Hollywood Regency, Arts & Crafts, Brutalism, Memphis, and machine-age. I’ve loved learning about each through the process.

Photograph by Naim Bakhshi

If you want to learn about furniture, the best apprenticeship is to expose yourself to flea markets and street shows and to see how pieces work in different environments. It’s a great place to pick up on understanding of surface, scale, and composition. When you have an understanding of how something is made, how much thought goes into its development, you appreciate it all the more.