Craft & Community: Lichen Celebrates Its Fifth Anniversary with 'Our Floors Are Uneven'

Lichen co-founders Jared Blake and Ed Be discuss their furniture and design business, their new retrospective book and how their community is “quite literally growing up together.”

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It’s a sunny early spring day in Ridgewood, Queens, the kind that offers a fleeting glimmer of cool breezes and balmy weather ahead, but has yet to wrest itself from winter’s chilling clutches. Inside Lichen’s store on Woodward Avenue, Miles DavisKind of Blue emanates from a nine-foot speaker tower created by architectural designer Deborah Garcia, while co-founders Jared Blake and Ed Be sip on a home-brewed yerba mate and a pitch-black iced coffee, respectively. All systems are go for a conversation — until the store’s shelves and cabinets start rattling, an elemental percussion that threatens to overwhelm Davis’ trumpet. “Woahhhh,” intones Be. “That’s definitely an earthquake,” says Blake.

Earthquake-related pause notwithstanding, Be and Blake have gathered on a rare morning off to discuss Lichen’s five-year anniversary (the business was founded in 2017, but opened its first storefront in 2019) and the release of their new retrospective book Our Floors Are Uneven. On their website, the duo describes Lichen as “a design incubator and studio centered around furniture, spatial design and the discovery of how we interact with these elements — past and present.” Lichen’s mission statement? “We continue to permeate the autonomous world of interiors by collecting, re-contextualizing and formulating new thoughts on design with the support of our community. Amongst other things, we sell furniture.”

Lichen is an open, welcoming space — as much a community center as a furniture store — that ripostes the codes of an often-cloistered industry dogged by elitism, Eurocentric perspectives and high price tags. You can get a Noguchi table, a Herman Miller chair or one of the dozens of items created by Lichen’s in-house team, like Thana Pramadono’s clove tree-inspired record holder or Christine Espinal and Alvaro Ucha Rodriguez’s resin-and-steel sconce but you can also just come in to browse, engage in conversation and soak up the vibes, judgment-free.

The store’s reimagining of what a “design community” can be has won it tremendous acclaim, both in New York City’s creative community and around the globe. Vogue described Lichen as “democratizing design” while The New York Times noted it “[sells] furniture with a fresh approach.”

Be and Blake are fully aware of the ideological weight that comes with offering an alternative, community-based approach in the design industry, but that doesn’t mean they feel a particular compulsion to fit into a frame. They can have serious conversations about design and its place in the larger cultural lexicon with guests but are just as likely to note fragment design or Madbury Club as sources of inspiration as they are Paul McCobb or Gaetano Pesce.

When you step into Lichen, you can discuss Florence Knoll’s design ethos, but you can also dissect the beautiful simplicity of a JJJJound sneaker collaboration or banter about the perfect drink to sharpen a game of pool. Those aren’t topics you’d expect to discuss during a visit to a traditional furniture purveyor like Design Within Reach, and they’re what allows Lichen to speak to a much wider audience than a traditional design house.

“I knew we were doing something right when our first customer wearing Jordans came in and bought something.”

“I knew we were doing something right when our first customer wearing Jordans came in and bought something,” says Blake. That early customer? Graphic designer and art director renald Loussaint, who, several years later, helped provide the impetus to create Our Floors Are Uneven, and saw the book through from concept to physical object.

Immediately before the earthquake, Blake was, in fact, discussing his love for pool, specifically his recent inability to sink the eight ball at the end of a game. He even nodded in agreement with the assessment that his heartbreak is similar to that of the ‘80s Buffalo Bills, who famously lost four Super Bowls in a row.

“It was starting to really f*ck with me, because I’d be relating these games of pool to professional sh*t,” Blake mused. “And until recently I feel like Lichen has been in this phase of ‘fake it till you make it.’” Being unable to sink the eight ball felt like how, over the last five years, we spent a lot of time wanting to be accepted by these large design entities, climbing uphill, trying to appease that machine.”

Blake and Be note that, at one point, some of the larger players in the design world simply couldn’t understand what they were building. For example, the first time a major brand pulled up at their shop for a “day in the life” style feature, the location listed on the call sheet was “da shop.”

“For [that company], I’m sure it was like, ‘We’re being cool and meeting these guys in the middle,’” Be chuckles. Team member Eric Mayes shares a similar sentiment in his musings on Lichen’s “early days” during a passage of Our Floors Are Uneven: “Building a plane mid-flight was the mentality that was communicated to me when I was brought onto the team. It felt like what I imagine the early days of Roc-A-Fella records to have been like, claiming space in an industry that excludes or exploits people like us.”

“What we do is more about the idea of an interior space and what it can be than the idea of selling things.”

It’s unsurprising that a major design entity wouldn’t understand the “secret sauce” that gives Lichen its superpower: slow, organic growth built on genuine curiosity and a welcoming ethos, not a desire to make money or gobble up market share. “At the heart of it, we’re all about discovery — and we’re still discovering ourselves,” says Be. “What we do is more about the idea of an interior space and what it can be than the idea of selling things.”

And now, five years in, it’s those storied institutions that are looking to Lichen for what’s next. “The ball is in our court now,” says Blake. “We spent all this time politicking the socio-political landscape of the design industry, and now we’re in a position to show and prove. We’ve gotta keep bridging that gap between that youth-focused, streetwear, hip-hop culture, and the world of design — the connection is there. We’ve been lifting this sh*t up for years and they’re just starting to take notice.”

Our Floors Are Uneven is a definitive proof of concept: a 272-page visual compendium, complete with essays, a full in-house product archive and over 300 photos of all the “lifting” that the Lichen team has done over the past half-decade, with chapters named after the four different storefronts the crew has occupied. It’s part compendium, part reference document, part scrapbook, but above all else, it’s a story of growth.

First and foremost, the growth is one of a community. “Lichen is a fire started with a few hands that turned into many keepers of the flame,” Blake writes in Our Floors Are Uneven “We’d like to take a moment of reflection and gratitude for the hands and hearts that made this journey truly worthwhile and something to behold.”

Secondly, that growth is reflected in Our Floors Are Uneven’s extensive design index, showcasing the more than 75 original products created under Lichen’s in-house label since 2019 and spotlighting the work created in their in-house woodshop. For Lichen, documenting its own design work cements it as equal in value to its vintage offerings. “We love vintage furniture and the history that comes along with it. But if you can replace it with something created by a friend, that’s a win. It’s mutually beneficial for both the creator and the consumer, and that’s really at the core of what we’re doing,” says Blake.

The book’s final passage emphasizes that ethos:

“Aesthetics cannot supercede function. Function cannot compromise taste. Taste cannot compromise budget … what we’ve learned is that we’re ultimately seeking an idea through these objects.”

The ethos even feeds into the origins of the Lichen name. The US Forest Service describes a lichen as “a complex life form that is a symbiotic partnership of two separate organisms” (an alga and a fungus) while NASA’s Earth Observatory notes that “lichens are unlike any other organism on earth.” Laurie A. Palmer’s The Lichen Museum even contains a passage directly underlined in Blake’s personal copy, one which notes that the qualities of lichens include collective identity, mutual aid, resistance to being used and adaptability.

“In many ways, we’re a family of objects,” says Blake, noting that the term “family of objects,” first shared with the team by Ucha Rodriguez inspired the name of Lichen’s first Japan pop-up in 2023. “A shared appreciation for these things connects our community, but that, in turn, makes us all really familiar. We’re quite literally growing up together.”

Print media is deeply important to Lichen’s practice. The store’s Resource Library, created and curated by Alison Beshai, recently caught the eye of Herman Miller, which now houses a Resource Library outpost in its own Midtown Manhattan store, and physical books, magazines and documents have long provided a great deal of inspiration for the team. “It’s kind of been a secret ingredient that we all cherish and reference a lot,” says Be, a point proven just minutes prior by Blake’s eagerness to show the underlined passage in The Lichen Museum. “A lot of people in our industry have digital mood boards, social media links saved, Tumblr, Pinterest, but we’d rather look in a book.”

Though Blake and Mayes have documented Lichen’s in-house designs since the first Lichen store on Manhattan Avenue in Brooklyn, making a book was, in the early days of the business, little more than a distant dream — the team simply felt it would be important to have a visual reference for their designs and experiences, which started with an appreciation for the furniture they were creating and selling. But as their team grew, it became more about people than product. “Those photos we took were mostly just about being a witness to something,” said Blake. “The book, the store, nothing was ever really concrete.”

“Just a series of evolutions,” added Be. “It was like, ‘Yeah, one day we’ll make a book.’”

Our Floors Are Uneven’s title is both literal and figurative. It’s literal in that it comes directly from a saying the Lichen staff is all too familiar with: since much of their business is done in-person, face-to-face when the shop is open on the weekends, the team will often have to remind customers that a table or chair isn’t sitting flush on the floor because the natural hardwood floor throughout their Ridgewood storefront isn’t perfectly flat. Figuratively, the title acknowledges the joys and struggles of Lichen’s first half-deacde in business — and resonates with Blake, who loves a good metaphor. “This isn’t a level playing field we’re operating on, and, regardless, we’re still operating at a high level,” he says.

“A perfectly flat floor just doesn’t represent who we are as people.”


Our Floors Are Uneven is available via the Lichen webstore now. It’s priced at $76 USD and limited to 1,000 copies. Lichen will also host a free-to-attend event at its store (564 Woodward Avenue, Ridgewood, NY, 11385) tonight, April 18, from 6-9 PM.

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