Frederick McSwain / Brad Ascalon

At this year’s ICFF in New York, Elizabeth Moore and I met Brad Ascalon at the Wanted Design off site show in Chelsea. He and Frederick McSwain were showing their first collaborative furniture and product line together made of primarily CNC milled and anodized aluminum. I’ve known Frederick for many years from Cappellini in Soho but had not met Brad until the show. They teamed with NFS / Neal Feay Studio, a sixty-plus year old state of the art industrial design production company in Goleta, California. NFS is primarily known for making music production products in metal and when Frederick and Brad collaborated with NFS on their first line of colorful aluminum furniture and objects the results were truly sensational. I recently sat down with them for lunch to learn more about both their backgrounds and the thought process behind “Reinvention; Writing History in Aluminum”.

Lift by Frederick McSwain

Frederick McSwain
Brad Ascalon

Frederick McSwain grew up in Elizabethtown, North Carolina and studied at the University of North Carolina at Wilmington. Majoring in Biology and Fine Arts, he graduated and began working with a restauranteur in his hometown. They came to New York to the ICFF in 1997 and 1998 and began buying and reselling examples of mid-century design. His interest grew and he decided to move to New York and start a career in design. Working in galleries in Chelsea and at Conran’s he started honing in on his own design work and then took a position with Cappellini, the famed Milan based Italian furniture furniture company, known for it’s prestigious designer roster including Shiro Kuramata, Jasper Morrison and Marcel Wanders.

An early work by Frederick McSwain

When Tobias Wong, the innovative designer and Frederick’s close friend passed away, he created “Die” assembling 13,138 dice on the floor to create a portrait of the artist.

“Die” portrait of Tobias Wong by Frederick McSwain

Detail of Tobias Wong portrait

Brad Ascalon grew up outside Philadelphia in Cherry Hill New Jersey and studied at Rutgers undergrad majoring in Communications and then received his masters in industrial design from the Pratt Institute. Brad’s father, David Ascalon, is a sculptor and stained glass artist as was his grandfather, Maurice Ascalon, a sculptor and industrial designer so design definitely runs in the family. Brad began his career in New York working in advertising and the music industry. His love of music and thoughtful connections of materials inspired some of his first designs for Ligne Roset, Bernhardt and Fasem as well as the Turntable collaboration with Frederick.

Untitled Square, an early work by Brad Ascalon

Menorah by Brad Ascalon for Design Within Reach

Menorah in polished Carrera marble by Brad Ascalon / Permanent collection of the National Museum of American Jewish History

Both Frederick and Brad were part of a group show called “Love It Or Leave It” at Gallery R’Pure during the ICFF as well. Each piece was a designer’s personal interpretation of some aspect of American life, celebratory, critical or simply observational. The exhibition was intended to question what American life is, whether real or perceived.

A detail of “Cells” by Frederick McSwain
A detail of “The Dream” by Brad Ascalon

Frederick’s work titled “Cells” was a series of 84 polaroids taken by his mother, a bail bondsman along with 3 beautiful machined anodized aluminum crates evoking his memory as a child waiting on his mother on the dairy crates outside the jail. The word ‘Cells’ commonly refers to the smallest unit of living matter, but it’s also synonymous with subjects ranging from statistical spreadsheets to terrorist organizations. In language, as in life, environmental factors play a vital role in shaping one’s self-identity and perception of the world. From the moment of birth, each of us is exposed to a continuous stream of information. Collectively, these people, places, and things guide not only our emotions but also our practical decision-making. Meticulously organized, the human brain has the incredible ability to decipher and store these real-world snapshots for retrieval at a later time. We’re all simply the sum of our parts and that was the exploration of McSwain’s intriguing work.

“Cells” by Frederick McSwain from the “Love It Or Leave It” exhibition

Brad’s installation called “The Dream” inverted the typical Suburban symbol of a white picket fence in order to make a commentary about the state of the American Dream today, “nearly impossible for most Americans to realize.” “Within the boundaries of a society largely living above its own means, an unregulated banking system that plays by its own rules, and a government that idly stands by as millions of homes are being foreclosed upon, there lies an absolute truth, the direction we’re moving as a society has become unsustainable. This is the new promise of the American dream.”

“The Dream” by Brad Ascalon for the “Love It Or Leave It” exhibition

Frederick and Brad both had a great love of music and were interested in creating furniture and products that had a sense of history to them. When they found NFS, they realized the potential to make very precise aluminum forms that would have optical effects as the viewer walks around the pieces. They wanted the pieces to have a 3D effect and to expose the manufacturing process in the completed products. The colors are limitless in anodizing since the pigment is added to a chemical acid bath and depending on the length of time the pieces are submerged they can go from pale pastel to vibrant intense color. Following are the pieces that comprise the new collection they designed together and fabricated with Neal Feay Studio.

Turntable in grey/gold
Turntable detail

The Timber table was based on rural farmland across the country which have become strip malls over the past decades, depicting nature trying to re-establish itself in these areas. McSwain and Ascalon detailed the table legs in natural woods piercing the textured aluminum table tops in such an elegant way and saying “nature will always defeat the manmade”.

Timber table

Timber table detail

The anodized aluminum shoe horn in a range of colors

Lumen was inspired by the “Memphis” movement in Italy in the early 1980’s and was designed as a geometric prism of the elements of air, water and fire.

Lumen vase, candle holder and ashtray
Suspension light fixture in gold and turquoise anodized aluminum

Matter will carry the Turntable and Timber tables and CHCM will soon stock the shoe horn.
Click on Frederick McSwain and Brad Ascalon for more of both of these innovators inspiring work. Thank you to Frederick and Brad for sharing your new collection with The Gilded Owl!

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