I recently had the chance to sit down with J.D. Nesbitt in the beautiful modern showroom of Urbanata, a Design/Build firm located in the Industrial District of Seattle. The concept for the company is based on the idea of European Kitchen fitters, which Urbanata takes a step further by providing everything needed for the modern home.
J.D., originally from Indianapolis, is the company’s CEO. He has extensive design experience from his years involved with the home remodeling industry that he applies to overseeing the day-to-day operations of Urbanata. J.D. considers himself a minimalist and loves modern design, European styled spaces, materials, and finishes.
Thank you for taking the time to meet with us, J.D.. What brought you to Seattle?
I am originally from Indianapolis. I was looking to make a change and knew that a more progressive community, with less snow, would be ideal. Also, in business, there isn’t a ton of opportunity in the middle of the country. I was interested in the Pacific Northwest, so then it was just about deciding between Portland and Seattle. The job market in Portland was not as strong as in Seattle, and as you know, things are booming here. Because of the prevalence of technology-based industries, Seattle has a huge draw for new tech-based companies. You already have Amazon, and Microsoft, which both have their own draw, but this also attracts many other businesses who come here and bring new jobs with them. Within this, you have a virtuous cycle of job creation in Seattle. It seemed like the right fit.
Tell us about the background of your company.
Urbanata has been around for over five years. We saw a niche that needed to be fulfilled. There was a hole in the market. There are plenty of people providing design/build services in Seattle, and there are also ample resources for home products, but very few companies provide them both, which is what we do.
The model of this company is based on the European model of ‘Kitchen Fitters.’ The idea of this stems from the fact that a lot of the real estate for sale and lease around Europe does not come equipped with things like kitchens. This is where you get the idea for Ikea. It is because, in Europe, you pack up and take your kitchen with you when you move. If you need a new kitchen, you hire a kitchen fitter, and they have all the products you need, and offer install services. So that is how we started out. We’ve expanded that to include all the things you need for the modern home. Eventually, we are working towards offering furnishings, but that is a little further down the line.
Tell us a little about your showroom and the products that you offer.
Our showroom is about 10,000 square feet. The products we carry have changed some, and our collection has grown over time, but we’ve always offered products to our clients since the very beginning of Urbanata. We offer everything you would need for the modern home. Right now, we have tiles, decking, lighting, cabinets, countertops, appliances, windows, doors, and exterior cladding among other things.
Tell us about the team
Currently, we have 15 employees on staff, and that number is growing. We are a team of highly talented designers and skilled tradespeople who set the bar for the modern design aesthetic in Seattle. We pride ourselves on our ability to take complex ideas and turn them into relatable projects that our clients love.
We offer a cooperative model for our team, and most of the people on our team are designers. The entire staff will work together to fulfill your project to completion. Some design-build firms offer a more competitive model internally but that doesn’t necessarily lead to great customer service, nor does it lead to a pleasant work environment. Here, everybody succeeds together. We are very much advocates of the team-based approach.
What are some of the services that your designers can offer clients?
We offer all design services. On the remodeling side, it is selecting and ordering finishes, project management, handling construction documents, and so on. Basically, it’s everything turn-key from start to finish that you need to put a project together, including installing it. We also have added in interior design consulting, which includes finish coordination, product selection, and space planning.
Where do you find inspiration? How do you stay on top of what the newest trends are?
We have an inherent understanding of the local market. We know what homeowners want and what they are looking for. We know what they are buying. We are doing more than just dropping boxes. Because we have a staff of trained interior designers that work with homeowners, we can come up with some very innovative ideas.
We attend trade shows, and keep our ears open to the market, whether it be industry publications that are talking about new things, and then us investigating those, or being open-minded when prospective products are brought in.
We are always looking for new potential product suppliers. We prefer to bring in products direct, and we don’t stock anything. We aren’t a retail showroom. For us this is preferable because markets change, demand for specific products change, and markets can crash. For those reasons, it can be a big liability to carry inventory. Most things that we carry are available and have a quick turnaround, and are either stocked regionally or are stocked locally.
When possible, we prefer to source products locally, but unfortunately, not everything is available locally. Our European cabinet line for example, comes from the Czech Republic, which usually takes about 16 weeks turn around because it has to come over from overseas and is semi-custom. Some things you just don’t find the same here. A lot of U.S. based manufacturers won’t have lacquer cabinets, they’ll have laminate or acrylic, which is fine, but if someone wants that true European look, it’s better to go directly to the source.
What are the benefits of choosing modern design for your home?
I think that modern design adds value to the Northwest home because that is what a lot of homebuyers are looking for. The modern design aesthetic appeals to both the older and younger generations. But the younger generation wants less fuss and less mess. A big driving factor here is, ‘does it require maintenance’? A lot of stuff done in homes now is done to eliminate or reduce the maintenance that is needed because, especially here, everybody wants to be out and about. They are out dining, attending events, or up in the mountains, or seaside for the weekend. You are doing all this other stuff, and you don’t want to have to worry about what’s happening at home.
Any current design trends you are paying attention to?
As a company, our motto has always been that we try to lead rather than follow. We try to go out and find the new great products available that we think our clients are going to want. When we notice these products popping up and being offered by our competitors, we take that as a signal that it is time to move on and find the next big thing.
For us too, we carry products by a lot of Italian manufacturers, so we handle a lot of educating consumers about those. We don’t carry Miele, Subzero Wolf, or Thermador which are all major players, but I think people don’t realize that there are other brands out there like Smeg, which is an amazing brand, which we do carry. Most consumers in the US know Smeg for their smaller appliances, but they are a great company that has been around since the 1940s and offer a variety of appliances in standard sizes in addition to smaller ones. They have a new line they are launching which we will have available in our showroom, that is very sleek and modern. We are pretty excited about that. Smeg, like many of the Italian brands that we carry, are all high quality and competitive to other products.
How do the grey skies of the northwest and the overall climate here play in to design decisions and color palettes?
You have to consider bringing in warm elements and choosing finishes that will help you move light through the space, especially in the winter months. I have done entire kitchens in dark grey, which isn’t a bad idea in this area when paired with white walls and cleaner floors.
What is it that you love about modern design? Why the modern design aesthetic?
It was a big draw for me coming out here. For me, I am a minimalist so I just like the cleaner, sleek look. We are always trying to strike a balance. We don’t want to create the type of modern where it is austere and like a museum, and we don’t want to push it to the point of what I call ‘Beetlejiuce Modern’ where it becomes so Avant Garde that it’s impractical. I think that what we try to do is bring the warmth and the comfort of a traditional aesthetic but in a modern sense. I feel like you can have modern, clean lines without feeling cold, which the Northwest overall does a good job of.
Thank you for taking the time to chat with us, and tell us more about your company! If you would like to know more about Urbanata, check out their website.