Bed-Stuy Duo Sells History With Handcrafted Games

By Paul DeBenedetto on October 4, 2013 6:44am 

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 Fredericks & Mae, a company based out of Bed-Stuy, sells handmade bocce, dominoes, kites and marbles.
Fredericks & Mae is a handcrafted game company based in Bed-Stuy.
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BEDFORD-STUYVESANT — A pair of Bed-Stuy designers hopes to educate and entertain with their own spin on classic games.

Jolie Mae Signorile and Gabriel Fredericks Cohen, both 27, make handcrafted foosball tables, backgammon sets, dominoes, bocce balls and more, with their store Fredericks & Mae.

And while they're all meant to be played with, the company also aims to teach people about the history of those games, the designers said.

"Everything has a specific beginning," Cohen said. "But often people's sense of histories with objects are more nebulous."

Friends since their days at Oberlin College, Signorile and Cohen moved to Williamsburg in 2008, where they started to come up with ideas for projects to work on.

After assembling wings and arrows out of materials from around the house, the two became fascinated with the histories of what they call "ambiguous" objects, and the idea for their shop was born.

"I don't think we had an intention of anything," Signorile said. "It just sort of happened."

Now living and working out of Bed-Stuy, the Fredericks & Mae team prints up rule books for each game that also explain the game's history. A version of Yahtzee called "Hallelujah," for example, started life as the Puerto Rican game Generala, while marbles "originated in Harappan civilization in Pakistan near the river Indus," according to the website.

But while the games may all be in good fun, the price points are serious: Hallelujah will run you $70, while a wooden beach tennis set costs $140. One kite for sale on the website costs $500.

Much of that cost has to do with the quality of materials, along with the fact that each piece is individually handmade. On a recent trip to the company's workshop on Marcus Garvey Boulevard, one worker was individually coloring marbles for a set that would eventually sell for $40 online.

While the designers said that the materials used and the work put into each piece necessitate the high price point, they also acknowledged that the products are a luxury item.

"It doesn't have to be for everybody," Signorile said. "We're going to make those decisions on what materials we use like artists and not business people."

So far that plan is working, they said. Since opening up their workshop last year the two have quit their day jobs and focused on selling items through their website full time.

But their No. 1 priority is to continue doing what they love while not compromising the quality of their work, the designers said.

"We're really trying to grow it, but kind of slow, and in a way that maintains the priorities we have," Signorile said. "Being able to do this is the most important thing."

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