An interior designer, stylist and importer, Annie Brahler’s influence has grown quietly, but steadily in the 15 years since she launched her multifaceted business, Euro Trash. Her one-of-a-kind finds have been translated into Restoration Hardware reproductions and her Victorian home/ design lab has been featured in several shelter magazines over the years, including House Beautiful, which devoted 10 pages to Brahler’s aesthetic in a recent edition.
Home Fashion Forecast: How did your business get off the ground?
Annie Brahler: My husband owns a business in the Netherlands, and I have family there as well, so I would accompany him and spend every second I could scrounging around for bits I could carry home. At my husband’s prompting, I took a tiny leap of faith and filled a 20-foot shipping container full of “euro trash.”
Working with photos that I had to get developed (remember those days?), I literally cold-called design shops and interior designers with my binder of photos. For every 10 who turned up their nose, there would be one or two who were absolutely giddy about my merchandise. My entire binder had sold stickers before the container hit the dock.
It became a natural progression for me to work in tandem with my clients and offer my ideas in order to help solve their design, inventory, merchandising and even advertising dilemmas. I was on the fringe, only trying to do a good job and help my customers grow, when a number of my clients suggested I branch out into design. I didn’t take the suggestions seriously, having no confidence in my ability. I had not trained classically. I had strange ideas that would certainly never translate to the mainstream.
HFF: What changed?
Brahler: My moment came when a well-respected stylist, whom I admire and adore, became a bit cross with me, angry actually, when I credited work she had seen me do to someone else. Her admonishment was what I needed.
When I started my design firm, I quickly enlisted the help of the friends who had already been working with me for years, and as a team we blossomed. Because our connection with our design clients is based on trust and loyalty, it becomes another natural progression to style and produce events — weddings, fundraisers, and parties — for these clients, many of whom have become like family to us. I stumbled into editorial styling after one of my better-known clients asked that I be the one to style a shoot in her absence. It came naturally to me and felt like another extension of what I was already about.
HFF: Of all the services you provide — interior design, event planning, importing and styling — which is your favorite?
Brahler: It’s hard to say, but each has a common thread. I am driven by the thought that beauty can be found in very unexpected places and by the thrill of pulling elements together. On their own, they may not shine. But placed in a certain way, they create something that moves me.
HFF: How would you describe your interior design aesthetic?
Brahler: I suppose it’s best described as having three paramount objectives: function, comfort and beauty. None of these objectives trumps the other. In order for a room to work, in my estimation, all must be present. If I do have one sort of stamp or obvious design trait, it would have to be authenticity. This doesn’t mean something needs to come with a pedigree.
It simply means I steer clear of reproductions. I don’t like things that pretend to be something they’re not. I can almost sense a feeling of resistance in a room when objects are posing and haven’t earned their patina.
HFF: Why the name Euro Trash?
Brahler: One of the qualities I appreciate most in a person is a sense of humor; I always tell my husband that I married him because he makes me laugh. Because the things I import are not yet — or no longer — appreciated, trash in some individuals’ eyes, and because I import only from France, Holland and Belgium, I thought the name was a nice tongue-and-cheek way of beating certain people to the punch. The name kicks the pedigreed antiques that I import and use in my designs off their pedestals. They may be sharing a shelf with something found in a dumpster.
HFF: Is it true that Restoration Hardware buys from Euro Trash?
Brahler: Yes, that’s true. Restoration Hardware has purchased many items that I have imported, from me directly and from clients I supply, and had them reproduced for the mass market.
With mass production, patina and the sense of history are lost, and while a catalog photo can be lit and edited, there is no mistaking the real thing in person.
HFF: How have business conditions changed since you started?
Brahler: Market conditions when I first started my business were certainly better than they are today. Fifteen years ago, people were more willing to invest in their homes and property. I felt more comfortable speculating on an antique of some pedigree. The same piece would cause me to hesitate today. Still, if it hits my gut, I go ahead anyway.
HFF: We hear you’re working on a design book. Is this true?
Brahler: My dear friend and accomplished interiors photographer, Björn Wallander, and I decided a little over a year ago to work on a book together. We made the decision to photograph, edit and lay out the book ourselves. We photographed my interiors and garden projects in Holland, Belgium, Paris, London, New York, Washington, D.C., Missouri, Louisiana and Illinois, as well as three different weddings. Björn and I wanted to translate exactly what we see to the pages of our book and not have it controlled by someone who didn’t yet understand our vision. We decided in June we were just about finished, because we realized we have to make that conscious decision or find ourselves shooting for 10 more years! We’ve started editing this summer and plan to complete it by October.