About once a week, Brian FitzSimmons ’97 meets with his boss. For him, it’s a very normal part of his job that involves a significant amount of developing, sketching and inspiration; a process of which his boss is very instrumental. There’s just one thing, his boss is Martha Stewart.
Before FitzSimmons moved to New York and began work as the Deputy Design Director for Martha Stewart’s furniture and home décor department, he dreamed of being an architect.
“When I was in high school, I was working for an architecture program when our guidance counselor gave me some information and pictures of the Rural Studio project at Auburn,” FitzSimmons said. “I thought it was a really cool program and I wanted to help build homes for those in poverty.”
FitzSimmons soon realized he related more to product design and hands on work as an individual rather than the soaring spaces and abstract form of buildings. He chose industrial design as a major. He also found passion through a photographer’s lens.
“I worked as the photo editor for The Plainsman for two years, but as I was getting closer to graduate I couldn’t work there as much as I would have liked,” he said. “I started working with Jeff Etheridge and felt really inspired by his photography and was honored to work so close with him during my time there.”
Etheridge was, and currently is, the Chief Photographer for the University’s Photographic Services.
“Brian was one of those unusual student workers that was perfect on the quality of work he turned in,” Etheridge said. “The curriculum he was in had him working on projects all night and he would come in the next morning and work in the dark room and complete everything we gave him. He has a unique personality that can put an interesting twist on a situation and always lightened our work with his wit.”
FitzSimmons remembers the opportunities that photography led him to while at Auburn, such as photographing football games on the field, a governor inauguration and witnessing the destruction of Hurricane Opal.
“Auburn came at such a pivotal point in my life and The Plainsman give me a lot of different experiences like travelling with ROTC students and expressing their stories through photos,” he said. “It was interesting to see all the different departments at the university and see what they actually do.”
After graduation, FitzSimmons began his first position as a designer at Anista Fairclough, a merchandising design firm in Atlanta. While there, he worked on projects that designed gas stations and convenience stores for stores such as BP and design for Cocoa-Cola and Anheuser Busch.
He moved to New York in August of 2001 at Barry David Berger + Associates, a small industrial design consulting firm. While there, he worked on in-store merchandising as well as cleaning bottles and packaging for clients such as Krups, Bic, Shaeffer and Rowenta.
“I moved to New York the month before 9/11,” FitzSimmons said. “It was at BDB+A that I worked on the winning entry for the 9/11 memorial in Suffolk county, the worst hit area outside the five boroughs. After a few years of development they actually built it and the unveiling was about five years ago, a lot of people were happy to have recognition of their loss.”
He then moved on to The Nanz Company and developed custom high-end door and cabinetry as well as bath hardware in 2008. After the economy began to fall, FitzSimmons began work at the Arnell Group in the Innovation Lab which developed products and packaging for fashion advertising. Then he began work with Martha Stewart Living.
“I feel like a little kid half the time because I get to do what I love and draw all day long,” FitzSimmons said. “That’s the coolest thing about my job and I’m able to see these beautiful pieces of furniture and have a different outlook on the marketplace and Auburn helped give me that opportunity.”
At MSLO, FitzSimmons develops consumer products, furniture décor, kitchen cabinetry and bath hard ware and vanities. The Home Decorator’s Collection is a subsidiary of Home Depot and features many of the lines that MSLO offers. A recent introduction to the Collection was the new Martha Stewart Closet line. MSLO is also sold at Staples and Macy’s.
“I work on the concepts of furniture within the “furniture team” and develop technical drawings for vendors to produce,” he said. “A lot of the projects I’m working on right now I can’t talk about until they are in the marketplace.”
FitzSimmons describes the “Martha Moment” that Stewart and their team continually searches for.
“We try to look for things that are practical and innovative so we put a lot of thought into everything,” he said. “It’s helpful to have an inspiration figure like Martha in the design process. She’s a big influence on the way America understands home cooking and decorating in the home and she creates an inspiring place to work.”
FitzSimmons credits his time at Auburn for his understanding of the profession and the job opportunities his education created.
“I didn’t really know what an industrial designer was before I came to Auburn and there I was able to be exposed to different opportunities in the profession,” FitzSimmons said. “It was really impactful for me to find my place at Auburn and I don’t think people found their place as easily as I did, and I appreciate that.”