Sleeper Plumbing Fixtures Company Watermark Designs Has Decades in East New York

The family-owned company Watermark Designs may be Brooklyn’s best kept secret of plumbing fixtures. The company’s 75 union employees crank out thousands of solid brass parts, and conduct pressure testing, hammering, sandblasting, polishing and plating, all from a 60,000-square-foot factory in East New York.

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Avi Abel on the factory floor

“Everything we do, more or less is made to order,” said brand ambassador Nathan Figueroa. “Most of our business is collection based, but we do a lot of projects. A lot of designers and architects want to put their own twist on it, so we can do that.”

Watermark was founded four decades ago in Sunset Park, before the neighborhood became a creative hub for artists and designers. Back then, the company was called Sepco and it produced lower end fixtures and sold them to home centers. The company changed its name to Watermark some 20 years ago and started producing higher-end, decorative fixtures.

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The factory on Dewitt Avenue

At first, the owners disguised its Brooklyn location in marketing materials by advertising its location as Spring Creek, a little-known section of East New York.

“We were definitely trying to hide it,” said president Avi Abel, whose grandfather Herman got his start as a metal plater and later founded Sepco with Avi’s father Jack. “I remember 20 years ago, I was considering taking speech therapy to disguise my accent.”

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Watermark fixtures in a Windsor Terrace row house. Photo by Francis Dzikowski via Barker Freeman Design Office

In 2010, after considering a move to North Carolina, the Abels decided to stay in Brooklyn and capitalize on the borough’s newfound cachet.

“When we realized how important it was to stay in New York, all of a sudden the recession came about, people started loving ‘Made in America’ product again, then all of a sudden Brooklyn became cool, so it was just good timing for us to piggyback our brand on the Brooklyn brand,” Abel said. “The reality is they’re very similar. We’re creating, we hand make things.”

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Parts are strung up on copper wire, awaiting the plating process

The company’s signature Brooklyn line has a sleek, industrial aesthetic with round wheel handles. Finishes include chrome, various types of nickel and brass, and customers can customize finishes to follow the current trend of mixing metals.

Most of Watermark’s 24 collections began as collaborations with architects or designers for residential or commercial projects. Watermark’s design and engineering team creates plastic prototypes for clients, then converts them to solid brass.

Its fixtures are sold through hundreds of dealers across the country and are all made to order. Prices range from about $600 to $1,200 for a bathroom-sink faucet (not unusual for solid-brass fixtures made in the U.S.).

“When we get someone who says they want a certain type of detailed design, we have the experience, the machinery to piece things together and fix problems that some manufacturers can’t fix,” Figueroa said.

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The plating process

The company is undergoing another transformation by hiring a new marketing team, starting an in-house photography studio and editing its product lines. Watermark recently cut down from 36 finishes to 24 to reduce lead time, and is slowing down the number of new collections.

Abel said he hopes Watermark will appeal to a wide range of customers, from the owners of a contemporary Brooklyn brownstone to a more traditional house in the Hamptons.

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The ‘Brooklyn’

“We really are trying to carve out our own little niche. We want the brand to mean something,” Abel said. “With Watermark, for the last 10 years, we’ve been doing a lot of industrial, so we’ve kind of been known as this more industrial company, which is great except that now everyone is doing industrial, so we don’t want to get pigeonholed into being just another industrial faucet company.”

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watermark brooklyn

The pressure testing station

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brooklyn design ideas

A display showing finish options for handles

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These faucet handles look like wood but are actually made of concrete

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[Photos by Susan De Vries unless otherwise noted]

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