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Experts: Brad Shaffer, Founder & Creative Director of ACRE Creative

December 17, 2013 3 min read

After studying industrial and fashion design at the University of Cincinnati and The Savannah College of Art and Design, Brad Shaffer moved to Thailand where he began designing a furniture line for David Jones Australia. He spent the next few years traveling throughout Southeast Asia and Australia before returning to the States to work as a graphic designer. "I always felt pressure to decide and focus on a particular type of design. It was during that time, I realized the fact that my past indecisiveness had become a strength," says Shaffer, who began working for American Eagle Outfitters as an Art Director, eventually becoming the Creative Director of Marketing & Brand Concept. At AE, Shaffer did everything from conceptualizing and designing marketing elements to conceiving typography, window displays, and photo shoots. "I developed my skills and learned a lot about the industry." Proving that point, Shaffer jumped ship a year ago to start ACRE Creative with his wife, stylist Leanne Ford. Specializing in design, concept and branding for homes, businesses and brands, they've worked with everyone from Roxy to American Eagle designing retail spaces and displays, and recently had their home (an old one-room 1908 Pennsylvania schoolhouse featured in Country Living magazine). Our favorite ACRE project, of course, is the City Gym store, which Shaffer completed in record time. "When Todd called he asked if I could be in New York the following day," recalls Shaffer. "And open the store in 14 days." The rest, as they say is history. 

What was the overriding concept for the City Gym design scheme?

We wanted the space to feel authentic. Similar to Todd's clothing, the space need to feel roughed up and worn in while also feel well made and constructed. The goal was to make the place feel like it had be there for 50 years. Inspired by old boxing gym and locker rooms, as well as the rough industrial feel New York brings.

Any hurdles along the way with the building, or other elements?

Not really. Aside from the fact that we were given the task of designing and building a store in a little less than two weeks...everything went very well. We had five days to build out and merchandise the space. Our team worked 12 to 16 hours days. Given all of that I would say the biggest hurdle was parallel parking my truck and a twelve-foot trailer on Elizabeth Street to drop off all of the furniture and materials for the job. The furnace system in the building was also very old so we didnt have heat for the first two days.

How did you implement those throughout the store?

We kept the palette pretty basic and clean. Black, white and dark grey paint. Mixing paint finishes (matte, high gloss etc). Furniture and fixtures were mostly made up of steel, leather and glass.  For most of my jobs it's all about the balance between modern and vintage. The space was pretty raw to begin with, which I actually like, but we cleaned up some areas by adding fresh white paint to the ways and building the fitting rooms and front wall with glossy black bead board. Mixing classic materials that you would see in any old gym or locker room.

Where did you source the furniture?

The furniture and props came from the mixture of ABC Furniture, which was any designers dream to work with them, and vintage finds throughout Pennsylvania, Ohio and New York. I spent one week designing, shopping and preparing for the job and found pieces in old high school locker rooms, boxing gyms, YMCA's and abandoned warehouses. That is the fun part.

Were there other outside designers like Stephen Kenn you got to work with for custom pieces on the project? 

I love meeting people that share a similar aesthetic and after meeting Steve a few years we have talked about collaborating on a piece. Given the short deadline for the store, I called him the day I first saw the space and asked if we could make something happen. He said yes. The day after I pitched the idea to Todd and it came together just in time. Todd added the idea of upholstering the cushion Faribault Woolen Mills blankets, which are sold in the City Gym and made the sofa even more "one-of-a-kind". The piece became to focal point of the space. We also used Faribault blankets as curtains to the fitting and storage rooms in the space.

What do you want people to take away from the City Gym design while they're shopping?

A place that is beautiful and feels comfortable but at the same time rough around the edges. I hope the space is reminiscent of past times spent in a gym or locker room (minus the smell).