Curator. Commuter. Butter Buff. We hoof it through multiple boroughs with the mastermind behind Kaufmann Mercantile.
“I don’t do early morning consumption of any kind, really – no caffeine, no food – I don’t so much as have a glass of water before I leave the house.”
Perched on the fire escape outside his second floor apartment, Sebastian Kaufmann sees us before we see him. “Hello, guys! Up here.” He gestures towards his iPhone – clearly in use. “This is how business gets done!”
Kaufmann, 40, grew up in Frankfurt, Germany – and after school in Australia, moved to Los Angeles to pursue film. While in California in 2009, Sebastian went to a large office supply store to purchase a stapler. Frustrated with the selection (“I just wanted the best one available, without having to shop around”) he started a blog – where he and several friends would both praise and dissect the beautifully designed, useful objects – everything from pens to bird feeders to beanies – that they were enamored with. The blog quickly cascaded into Kaufmann’s dream of an online shop, and the subsequent move to New York happened shortly after. Today, Kaufmann Mercantile boasts over 600 affordable, well-designed products across 10 categories – each one seemingly more covetable than the one before it. (Try spending 10 minutes on the site without pressing ‘Add to Cart’.)
Kaufmann moves fast. After a few calls on the fire escape, he’s tending to emails. Then he’s out the door. “I’m very minimal in many ways,” he explains. “I don’t do early morning consumption of any kind, really – no caffeine, no food – I don’t so much as have a glass of water before I leave the house.” On an average morning he showers, brushes his teeth with an electric toothbrush (“That’s how nerdy I am,” he jokes), then dresses (“I wear pretty much the same thing every day”) and hops on his maroon, Japanese racing bicycle for his daily ride – through Tompkins Square Park, over the Williamsburg Bridge and into Bushwick – rain or shine. “Biking is the only thing that keeps me sane,” he says later.
Kaufmann steers the bicycle cheerfully along the sidewalk, dodging pedestrians. He wears a helmet and carries a backpack. He also wears brown leather dress gloves. “I used to do a lot of mountain biking, and I’ve fallen a few times while riding – so I know the level of protection that gloves can provide…” He shrugs. “I should probably get some real biking gloves, though.”
He arrives at the office and promptly jumps into a round of meetings with his team. The Kaufmann space has grown to encompass a stretch of three bright rooms in a long hallway – one serves as an office, the others as a meeting room and photo studio, respectively.
“I like a thick coat of butter and some salt – it’s how my grandparents would do it.”
Sebastian prepares his favorite snack – bread with butter and cheese. And carrots that he washes in the bathroom sink. “I like a thick coat of butter and some salt – it’s how my grandparents would do it,” he tells us. We read somewhere that Kaufmann selects only one percent of all the products he reviews for his store. Almost on cue, he motions towards the loaf of rye bread on the table and nods. “It’s good, but it’s no pumpernickel.” He’s nothing if not discerning.