When Carl Sorenson, the co-founder of The Nanz Company, a boutique brand specializing in exquisite custom hardware, visited Manhattan during college more than three decades ago, he discovered a city filled with treasures he’s been mining ever since.
HEAR CARL'S NEW YORK STORY, IN HIS OWN WORDS:
My favorite early memory of New York City came while visiting as a sophomore in college. It was Fall, and a bunch of guys piled in a car and drove down. We wound up crashing at a friend’s loft on Crosby Street, on the top floor of the old Canal Jeans building, between Spring and Broome. I remember we threw a party where we danced on the roof to Malcolm McLaren’s “Madam Butterfly.” At the end of the night a bunch of us went for food, and on the street we found cardboard tubes which were used to transport bolts of fabric. We created a wonderful battle, beating one another with the makeshift cardboard weapons. SoHo was desolate. There were no stores, no people, just garbage trucks which would occasionally lumber by to collect the refuse piled up on the dark and empty streets.
I first worked in New York City while living in Jersey City. My rent was $350 per month, which was cheap and good, since in the early days of Nanz, we weren’t making much money. Coincidentally, the rent for our first workshop in a third floor walk-up on the Bowery was also $350 per month. I traveled back and forth each day via the Holland Tunnel in my navy Ford Bronco.
After about nine months, the money began to come more easily, so when my apartment lease was up, I decided to get my first apartment in New York, which was on 22nd Street. I traded in my Bronco for a Bridgestone mountain bike that I rode everywhere—including to the offices of many architects and designers where I was making sales calls. Armed with a backpack filled with early samples of our handmade creations, I diligently persuaded them to give us a chance. It worked, and they did. And as the business continued to grow, we were able to employ more people and add to our stable of products.
I’ve lived in London and Paris, spent a great deal of time in San Francisco, Los Angeles, even Chicago. What’s funny is that I’m not sure that New York is the greatest city—by food, architecture, people, housing stock or any other measure. But the one thing I would say is that New York is the most inspirational and provides an electric charge with which one can achieve great things.
My inspiration comes largely from the street—the people, the scene, the fashion, the music. And I love all good art, both fine and decorative, so the museums, too. MoMA. The Met and The Met Breuer. The Whitney. The Neue Galerie, even The Guggenheim. Or going to Thursday night open galleries in Chelsea or Brooklyn. But most importantly, the people inspire me—they’re doing neat things all the time. And not only are the activities neat but as a theater New York can’t be beat.
I used to plan a night out with friends where I’d make a reservation at a Brooklyn restaurant at about 7:00pm. At 6:15pm, we’d begin to walk over the Brooklyn Bridge right as the sun was setting. We’d talk about how beautiful it was, but the best part would come when we’d reach the apex of the bridge and then turn back to look west. The lights from the lower Manhattan skyscrapers would be twinkling and the sky would be darkening, but the sun would be glowing from beneath the horizon; it would be so incredibly beautiful that we’d be speechless over the moment. It was just as great every time, and the effect never wore out.
Showing someone something great they’ve never seen before is an activity I still enjoy perhaps more than any other. I think it explains why I delight in exploring my fiefdom more than traveling to far away places.
My ancestors on my mother’s side were Pennsylvania coal miners. And then, believe it or not, my dad’s grandfather operated a hardware store in Michigan. No wonder digging for treasure and designing hardware are my favorite things to do.
On a typical day, I wake up in my apartment in the West Village, sketch out some new hardware ideas and return emails. Then, I go on a four-mile run on the Hudson River Park, returning via the High Line. It’s so early that there are no tourists to gum up the works. Then, I bike to my office in SoHo in time to join group meditation. I used to be so skeptical of group meditation, but I quickly grew to cherish it.
After that, I spend the morning in the design studio, while also getting updates from my factory director, sales director and COO. I might have a client lunch and (let’s hope) talk about some fun jobs coming our way. Then I head back to the office where I usually engage in some creative project like an ad layout, sketching more hardware, writing some copy or arranging a curated set of samples in the showroom. I have dinner with friends and go to sleep so I can wake up and do it all again.
I can’t imagine Nanz having originated in any other place. It’s such a New York story. Which is probably why I don’t like to travel much. I love being in New York City—I don’t like leaving, but when I do, I love coming back. As I wind my way back to Manhattan from the airport on the Van Wyck Expressway, I quickly begin to stabilize and return to my normal high.
I feel particularly good about having made it in this tough town.