A long time ago, Warren Muller heard something strange coming from the street outside his Philadelphia apartment.
“I used to hear this man calling his dog outside of my apartment and he would keep yelling, ‘Bahdeebadu, Bahdeebadu,’” Muller said.
The name stuck with Muller to the extent where, when he was trying to come up with a name for his art shop, he couldn’t help but suggest it.
“We tried it out answering phone calls as [Bahdeebadu] and it sounded so fluent,” Muller said.
Muller is the co-owner of the shop, located at 1522 N. American St. in Fishtown. Muller, along with R.J. Thornburg, specialize in designing interior furniture, decorations and lighting which they sell to restaurants, bars and other local establishments.
Thornburg spent 25 years designing hotel, corporate and residential interiors before joining forces with Muller. A self-declared “antidecorator,” Thornburg puts a strong emphasis on his innovative approach to style, color and scale. Rather than just merely creating another piece of furniture or decoration, Thornburg sees it as an art form.
Muller’s forte, on the other hand, is lighting. Muller finds joy in taking ordinary items and turning them into bursts of fluorescent lights. He has suspended a wide array of objects, ranging from a perfume bottle and bowling pins to deer antlers and a retro Mini Cooper.
The very idea of the shop, Muller said, is giving life to the otherwise mundane.
“[Bahdeebadu] is taking something with no meaning and turning it into something new,” Muller said.
Like Thornburg, Muller also took the jump from being just another employee to being the guy in charge.
“[Thornburg] and I both decided to leave the businesses we were in and start this exciting new adventure in our lives,” Muller said.
Bahdeebadu, however, was not always taken so seriously. Muller said he first rented the space as more of a hobby or side project than an actual business endeavor.
“I started on South Street in the 1970s and it basically just started out as just a fun place to be,” Muller said. “When that changed, we decided to then move to Old City where we stayed for awhile and that was kind of a new frontier for us.”
Like so many other artists who work out of Fishtown, Muller and Thornburg came to the area after taking notice of not only the artistic potential of the neighborhood, but the affordability as well.
“We realized [Fishtown] began to change and we found it as a thriving, affordable outlet for our business,” Muller said.
However, Muller admitted he is still sometimes wary of the neighborhood. Despite the undeniable artistic feel of American Street, Frankford Avenue and other surrounding roads, the modest appearance of Fishtown can still tend to put people off.
“Sometimes I look out at the landscape and just think, ‘This place is a dump,’” Muller said. “And other days I look and see all types of possibilities.”
Benn Colker, Muller’s and Thornburg’s assistant at Bahdeebadu, credited Philadelphia, and Fishtown in particular, for enabling him to live out his dream of being employed in the arts.
“Philadelphia really seems like a pretty small world and I think that closeness and neighborhood vibe helped with me meeting [Muller] and the company,” Colker said. “I have to attribute the city for finding this job. It’s part of my story, for sure.”
While Muller can be critical of Fishtown for its harsh appearance and uncleanliness, Colker, who mainly deals with welding, shrugged it off. When he first came to the neighborhood and entered through the front door of Bahdeebadu, he felt at home.
“I worked for a sculpture and furniture organization and that’s how I met [Muller] and [Thornburg],” Colker said. “And I continued to pester them until they finally gave me the job. When I first walked into this place I couldn’t help but be mesmerized and I thought, ‘Man, this is where I want to be.’”
Muller acknowledged he may have more in common with Fishtown than he admits. After all, he takes pride in being able to turn everyday objects into extravagant rays of light.
“It’s the same with my craft: One day I’ll see a pile of junk and not really know what to do with it, and then the next time I look at it I see a masterpiece in the making,” Muller said.
With an unordinary business name, the creating of unordinary lighting and an unordinary outlook on his craft and place of residency, it’s only fitting the results of Muller’s hard work are not so black and white.
“Oh, it is definitely a fluctuating profession,” Muller said. “Some days I’ll be flat broke and other days I’ll look at my account and be really surprised at the amount of zeros across the line. I wouldn’t change it for the world.”
– Text, images and video by Maxwell Reil