Studio Visit with Ed Be from Lichen NYC


While immersed in Japan with the Lichen team, Ed Be reflects on the evolving partnership between his Brooklyn-based furniture studio and one of Japan's leading manufacturing giants. As they explore the synergy between design aesthetics for both the Japanese and US markets, Ed shares insights into the intricate dance of creativity and functionality that defines their collaborative vision. Amidst the backdrop of bustling innovation and timeless craftsmanship, Ed unveils the essence of his journey as a business owner and a creative, intertwined with the spirit of cross-cultural exchange and enduring partnership.

Interview by Barron Bazemore

@lichennyc |  @barronbazemore

So you’re currently in Japan with the Lichen team. What keeps you guys coming back to Japan and how has the country become important to you as a business owner and a creative?

We were recently invited by one of the biggest furniture manufacturing companies in Japan to develop a relationship that will hopefully turn into us designing a line of furniture for the Japan and US markets. We’re still feeling each other out, but it’s going really well so far. It’s looking like it might be a long term play for the both of us. Collaborations are nice, but to build a long lasting partnership is what we ultimately want. Japanese homes are ultimately like New York homes with tight spaces so furniture has to always perform double duties - not just something that looks nice, but is also highly functional in your home. The spirit of craftsmanship is alive and well between our two countries. 

Where are you from and how did you end up in Brooklyn, NY?

I was born and raised in Tampa, Florida, but I’ve been in Brooklyn since high school. My parents ultimately decided that we’d grow up to be more well-rounded up here. 

What was your professional experience prior to starting Lichen and what got you to take the leap into being a business owner?

I got my degree in medical lab science, but ultimately became addicted to the hospitality scene in New York. I went from a busboy to a general manager all within a year at a pretty well known, but now defunct, restaurant in Union Square. The ability to maintain my cool while chaos was unfolding around me sort of became my specialty. Running that restaurant absolutely prepared me to take on anything the future held for me as a career. 

What is it about Lichen that separates it from other furniture studios in regards to the product, the team, and the shop?

We started solely selling vintage, but once that vintage piece sells, it’s likely that you won’t find another one. What makes us special is that we don’t adhere to any design era. We like what we like. Mid century American, Japanese turn of the century, Italian post-modern, contemporary designs, etc all have a place in our shop. We blend them together to a point where our space can’t be defined or dated and we think that’s the best way to live. We recently started putting extra effort into making our own line of furniture designed by our in-house team. 

What’s the hardest part about being an entrepreneur? What’s the best part?

The hardest part of being an entrepreneur is that you’ll never truly be ready for what comes your way despite how much you’ve prepared. You have to fail to learn - sometimes twice, but that makes the successes that much sweeter. The best part has been the ability to work with friends to create new work and memories with. We’ve been put on by the homies and we’ve put on homies as well. 

How have your family and friends shaped who you are today?

My parents have instilled hard work, self discipline, and independence all of my life. It wasn’t until Lichen that my friends around me started to foster the idea of creativity as a form of success in addition to the hard work. 

What person/company/agency would you most want to collaborate with on a project and why?

Gaetano Pesce and Shiro Kuramata. Pesce mastered making furniture unforgettable through his use of uncommon materials, and simply made furniture fun whereas Kuramata has taken everyday materials and transformed them in a visually mathematic, yet graceful style. 

Describe your fashion style in 5 words or less.

White t-shirt, logo-less, timeless, comfortable, versatile

What makes a great fit?

To make a great fit, first you have to understand your proportions. For instance - I’ve got a slightly longer torso and slightly shorter leg length for the average person that is my height. Every brand makes sizing vastly different so it’s important to always try before you buy. Understand what colors work with each other also goes a long way. Also - know how your outfit can transition into what you do on a day-to-day basis. 

What do you look for when acquiring new pieces? What criteria must be met before you pull the trigger on a purchase?

When I’m curating furniture for my apartment, I always consider how I’m going to be using it while at home first and foremost. The more artistic pieces are purely an homage to my heritage. Being of Chinese descent - I’ve started a collection of Chinese ceramics both vintage and contemporary. I also try to always mix materials. Never too much wood, never too much metal, just the right amount of everything. 

How do you manage a healthy work-life balance?

Honestly - I kind of don’t, but I enjoy work so much that it doesn’t ever feel like I’m working. I do make time to shoot pool, play basketball 3x a week and sneak in a couple weekend nights for dates with my wife. 

Where do you see yourself in 2030? Are there any major goals you’ve laid out for yourself (both in your professional and personal life)? Or do you prefer to take things as they come?

I see Lichen becoming more of a consultation practice than producing to be honest. We’re multifaceted, but we’re more interested in how people interact with spaces both at home and beyond. As far as myself goes - not really sure yet. I’m just happy to be creating with everyone around me at the moment. 

Any words of wisdom for anyone who wants to start a company in the creative space?

Make sure to travel. See how other people live and how they’re impacted on a daily basis. Develop a strong point of view on anything that you’re working on. It’s easy to imitate, but you should really aim to trail blaze where you can. 

What’s next for Ed?

I’ve been painting in some of my down time. I’d like to tap into that creative side of me a bit more. Painting, sculpture, ceramics. I’ve put so much into planning for the necessities of the home in terms of furniture, but I’d like to focus on the character of my/our homes beyond that.

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