Exclusive Interview: urbancase’s Founder

Trends & Events

It’s a well-known fact that modernism–with all its sleek, no-fuss trappings–sprang up at least partially due to the fact that folks were strapped for cash and looking for a style that would work without a lot of pieces. Introducing the idea that less is more, it’s no wonder that modern styles continue to be popular in homes today. We’ve found one punchy furniture and design build company not just building simple, streamlined modern furniture, but creating designs that hope to shape the way users interact with the world and help them live that highly sought-after, simple lifestyle.

Urbancase, a furniture, accessories and design build firm based in Seattle, Washington, has pretty lofty aims with its furniture pieces. They want to change how you actually live your life (for the better) by making furniture pieces that hearken back to a time when life was more simple. Take their “Ledge;” it’s a streamlined, wall-mounted desk that plays homage to the secretary desks folks used to compose letters at. If handwriting isn’t your thing, this modern equivalent is equipped with all kinds of digital-accommodating details. Their “Emergency Cocktail Station” is designed with the old tradition of having a drink after work and before dinner in mind–when folks used to socialize, reconnect with loved ones and unwind after a long day over an old fashioned.

You might notice that many of urbancase’s furniture designs are compact; this plays into founder Darin Montgomery’s personal views on design and space needs. Darin and his wife live in a tiny Seattle apartment (like under 600 square feet tiny) and don’t feel like they need more space–especially by incorporating modern and space-saving ideas and designs. Rounding out urbancase’s current catalog are some more fun furniture designs, some sassy textiles and some clever candles that will make you miss old technology that’s no longer around. We sat down with Darin to discuss what his background is, why urbancase loves collaboration and just what’s in store in the next few months:

Our podcast music is “Dropping out of School” by Brad Sucks, licensed for use
Creative Commons license Attribution-ShareAlike 3.0 Unported

You better believe we’ve got a transcript for this interview below. And we believe in this product so much…we sell it! Find urbancase on 2Modern. The audio interview: Darin Montgomery 2Modern Interview

2M: We’ve got Darin Montgomery with us today; he is the founder of urbancase, a Seattle-based furniture and design firm founded in 2002. Thanks for talking with us!
DM: Thanks Adrienne, it’s my pleasure.

2M: Let’s dive into your company’s philosophy which I think is really refreshing. You guys create objects that contribute designs that work toward a simpler, pared back lifestyle. Why start a design and build company based around that kind of idea?
DM: It’s a really a personal as well as business philosophy. I’m a firm believer in occupying a small footprint. My wife and I live in 520 square feet, and we never feel like we need a bonus room or a four car garage or swimming pool—it really gives us everything we need. And I feel confident, or I feel strongly, rather, that we should all be thinking about living in more dense situations rather than suburban sprawl. So the idea behind urbancase is based upon developing products for smaller living spaces. We wanted to incorporate quality craftsmanship; it’s far more important to me that we build one piece of furniture that lasts rather than ten pieces of furniture that don’t. When you start looking for products, many things that are quality made aren’t necessarily made for small spaces. I know when we were remodeling our space, even though we build furniture, I wanted to incorporate items that other people had built…it can be a challenge at times to find nicely made furniture for small spots.

2M: So are all your products aimed at that smaller side?
DM: We have some casework that’s not necessarily for small spaces, but the sizes vary, so they can accommodate small spaces. The majority of what we work on and the majority of our designs are geared toward small spaces.

2M: I think I read that you come from a metalworking and sculpting background…how do you go from that kind of artistic, sculptural background to deciding you want to build things for people’s homes?
DM: I had a metalworking studio in the Georgetown neighborhood of Seattle, and there were some guys across the alley from me who were doing a lot of design/build work, and I started collaborating with them on a few projects. We started working on some furniture pieces and some more functional pieces and it really struck a chord with me. The transition occurred over time, somewhat organic in many ways. I didn’t going into a metalworking studio thinking I was going to design furniture. It just evolved.

2M: Well let’s go over everything you guys create. I know you have some products for sale…are those product lines?
DM: Well we’re really focusing right now on developing product lines and our design work. We have a line of casework that’s less specific in use, like a credenza, side board or media center. It offers a lot more flexibility in terms of what it can be used for. We have a couple of pieces in the line. We also have an Emergency Cocktail Station that is a wall-mounted cocktail bar. I have this romantic notion about people having drinks before dinner, getting away from the computer, or getting away from the television or getting away from the kitchen and getting to have a drink. Creating more of a social environment.

We also have a series of textiles that are made primarily from European army surplus blankets. We have some German and some Italian blankets that we have made into either cushions or blankets with an embroidered image on them—all really beautiful, vintage wool. So those are really exciting. The cool thing about those is we’re constantly looking for and finding new stashes of surplus. So this year it might be German blankets and next year it might be British army blankets or hospital blankets. It’s quite fun.

We have a series of small products, like some candles. We work with a local candle shop that is all 100% beeswax. We’re working on a series of candles based on outdated technology: we have now a Polaroid camera and a transistor radio and we have some other objects in the works. We have the Ledge that was introduced and was a collaboration with Trey Jones who is a design wonder boy. It’s a piece that we started talking about the notion of a writing desk, but it turns into a lot more with space for electrical components. There’s this romantic idea about sitting down and writing a letter, and actually going through a ritual to correspond.

2M: Interesting. I like how everyone’s trying to do simpler things, but I like how you’re trying to actually create a simpler life with the products you’re making.
DM: I think it’s just this ebb and flow. The late 80s and 90s were obviously about being very decadent. And I think this time now is a reaction to that. I look at the trends in food right now. In the 80s and 90s it was all about stacking food and the ingredients were over the top and recipes were impossible to follow. And now, so many of the good chefs are making incredible dishes with as few ingredients. I think in design and architecture right now it’s a reaction to the abundance that we were experiencing.

2M: Do you get inspiration from other things? Do you look at what other designers in other cities are doing? Do you kind of pay attention to what’s going on in your field?
DM: Oh definitely. I look at local and international designs, and find myself gravitating towards people that I either have a connection with or people that I’ve met or they’ve had one or two things that have really spoken to me. So I check design blogs frequently, I look at websites of people’s work that I really admire and I try to keep up on what people are doing. I feel like it’s—at least for me–really necessary and I really enjoy the energy. I enjoy seeing other people succeed.

2M: You guys haven’t been around that long but you’re doing pretty darn successfully. What do you think it is that sets you guys apart? That has made people recognize what y’all are doing?
DM: I don’t know. I mean we’re just doing we want to do. Maybe that’s it, actually. That it shows. That we’re passionate about the products we’re creating and that we truly believe in what we’re doing. I think there’s a sincerity perhaps that comes through that really resonates with people. Especially right now, there’s been a shift to more locally made furniture to small companies that I think are getting more attention now than in past years.

2M: So what’s on the horizon for you guys? Are you guys going to ICFF? Debuting some things? Give us the dirt.
DM: Oh we are. We’re really excited. We have some side tables that we just recently introduced that we’re still working out some manufacturing and pricing details. There’s some floating bedside side tables and some sofa side tables. We’re gonna offer a few different options. We just finished a new chair that is a follow up to our 1.1 chair; it’s the 1.2 chair. We’ve got a new product line that we’re actually collaborating with another company and will be released at the International Contemporary Furniture Fair. We’re not really at liberty to discuss all the details—I don’t want to make it sound super secret—but we’re really excited about it. We’re working with another company to incorporate product that works with the piece so it’s been a really exciting year for us in terms of collaboration. And then yeah, as I said we will be exhibiting at the furniture fair this year—it’ll be our 5th year there.

2M: Well thank you for talking with us; I really enjoyed it.
DM: Oh thank you so much, truly.

2M: Be sure to visit urbancase.com for more information about all their projects and products coming up. You’ve been listening to a 2modern designer interview. For more fun podcasts, inspiring design posts and design advice, check out the blog at 2modern.com.

And if you’re loving urbancase as much as we are, hop on over to Treehugger and vote for them for Best of Green Readers’ Choice in the Design and Architecture category!

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  1. scandinavian design lover

    Apr 7, 2011 at 5:21 am

    wow i love these, especially the chair and storage unit, such a simple twist, what great design, thanks for bringing them to my attention.

  2. Adrienne Breaux

    Apr 6, 2011 at 2:07 pm


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