This week, we travel to Berlin, to see how the woman behind one of the world’s most honest homeware brands lives (and decorates). Spoiler alert: It’s all-round fabulous!
In today’s fast-paced, quick-fix, cost-cutting world, it seems impossible to find a business whose core driver is to do right by its customers. That is, until Urbanara came along to turn the traditional homeware supply chain on its head. The company’s transparency and perpetual strive for the best possible quality has made it a benchmark for how homeware should be designed, produced and sold.
Walking into a bright Berlin flat, the Urbanara value system that has made it what it is today, is instantly put into context in the form of co-founder and marketing/brand/product development guru (and you thought you did a lot in one day..) Claire Davidson.
Tell us a little bit about yourself...
"I hail from London and have a strong marketing background, and was headhunted to launch the U.K. Market for a French furniture and homewares company in Shanghai when I co-founded Urbanara in 2009.
The start up we worked for in Shanghai pioneered the idea of buying directly from the factory and passing the savings on to the customer – an idea we loved. But with Urbanara we wanted to focus more on traditional manufacturing, on pieces that are made with care and will last a lifetime - not cheap, disposable furniture from Asia – the world doesn’t need more crap!
I moved to Berlin with my co-founder Ben in 2010. Until this January, I acted as Director of Marketing and Product Development, working to build Urbanara into what it is today: a high-quality homewares & textiles brand that’s been featured in all the major interior press, with over 3,000 products and over 100,000 customers worldwide. It’s my biggest and proudest achievement to date."
What is Urbanara, what does it mean to you, and how did the idea come about?
"Urbanara is a homewares brand that focuses on high-quality textiles made from natural materials and fibres. We place a lot of emphasis on making sure that all of our products are the best that they can be, so people can love and use(!) them for years to come. We do this by producing our products with people who love their trade, and who use a combination of time-proven and modern crafting techniques, so every piece comes from a happy place that customers can be proud of.
By cutting out the middleman, we can offer them at a lower price and it’s how we address our true value mantra. Urbanara represents all the things I believe in, and which I want for myself and those around me.
We built Urbanara on the premises of quality, transparency and affordability. On the belief that home was one of the most important things in life, and it should look and feel its best. It’s this idea that, by surrounding ourselves with things that are beautiful and natural and healthy and well-made, we improve the quality of our own lives in turn. Like superfoods for the home, but less corny and more beautiful!
Urbanara started when Ben, my co-founder, and I were living in Shanghai and looking for pieces to furnish our new homes. We were sick of the cheap-looking, semi-disposable IKEA pieces, but all the high-quality, long-lasting accessories we found (and loved) were just so expensive. We couldn’t afford to pay the high prices that these brands were asking, nor did we want to. It was either ‘designer and exorbitant’ or ‘cheap and nasty’; there was no middle ground. And we decided that it shouldn’t be the case.
In essence, Urbanara came from the belief that quality should be something that everyone can enjoy."
What makes a house, a home?
"I believe that a home is for using. When I was the director of Product Development and Marketing, I often read interior magazines and blogs and went to tonnes of design fairs to keep up with the latest trends. As you can imagine, they’re full of beautiful imagery and products, but so often the houses they’re showcasing are pure show homes! I don’t want to own a sofa I’m too scared to sit on or a dining table that I’m fearful will show red wine marks."
"Home for me is when you’re surrounded by things that you love and use and which are a part of your life, and which help to make stories you remember. Like the tablecloth your grandma pulled out for every Sunday dinner, or the blanket you use for every movie night… The pieces that travel with you through life and which you pass down, and which you grow to love more as time passes. And I think it’s important to design a home with this in mind. It should be beautiful and design-y and stylish. But it should also be for living and it should reflect the people who live there."
How would you describe your interior style?
"Our style is quite modern eclectic: we’re big fans of blending designs and textures and genres. It draws inspiration from lots of sources, from fine arts to rustic elements to industrial. It’s fluid and reflects where we’re at in life.
Overall, our interior style it’s quite light and bright – we wanted the entertaining areas especially to be warm and inviting. There’s obviously (unashamedly!) a heavy focus on textiles. It’s an easy way to add warmth and cosiness to a space, and when you need a quick spruce for the season, you can swap out a few cushions or a rug and you have a whole new look."
"We were also adamant that it was flexible and was easy to adapt to our lifestyle. Pull the chairs in for a smaller, more intimate gathering, or push them to the side for a big gathering with cocktails and canapés. Both work!"
What two items would you chose to describe your interior style?
"Ok, bit of a left of field answer here, but… our floor! It’s gorgeous herringbone parquetry and when we refurbished it, we chose an oil with a slight white matt finish to keep it light. It’s classic and sophisticated, but also modern and warm and is the best canvas for our furniture and accessories.
Spot two I have to give to my art. I have a lot of it – I’ve been collecting for years – and it’s one of those special things where you remember exactly where you were and how you felt when you got each piece. And there’s nothing that shows off your personality and style more than a personally selected artwork."
What is your favourite design trend of 2017, thus far?
"The eclecticism of Spring/Summer is intrinsically appealing to me since it affords a lot of flexibility, and I appreciate the focus on time-proven techniques. I’m also loving the navy bronze trend though – it’s at once calm and dramatic and glamorous and soothing… and is particularly appealing for a modern boudoir!"
What would your home feel empty without?
"A full fridge and a big dinner table that seats all my friends and family."
What is the quirkiest item in your home, and what's the story behind it?
"I think the quirkiest item in our home is our vintage globe. It’s actually hand-made in the 1920s by a German manufacturer and still has all the old borders! Back then, only one company made these globes and all the names are in German. It’s like a little part of history sitting in our bedroom. I think there’s something really cool about that."
And finally, what advice would you give to someone looking to start a business?
"Do something you love. When you are doing something you love, even the hardest days will seem do-able. Then find people to work with who complement your skills. Too often people go into business with friends, but often that's a recipe for disaster, as you all bring the same things to the table. Focus on doing what you are great at and find other people to do what they are great at.
Finally, Get the values right first, and everything else will fall into place. Okay – a bit of elbow grease is also required and you’re bound to make mistakes long the way – but with a rock-solid mission statement, every tough decision you face will be easier to make, because your answer will always have to support your vision. I also strongly believe in company culture. We made it a priority to make sure that not just our business model followed our values, but that our workplace did, too.
It’s one of the ways we actually define quality: We love what we do and always respect our core values of quality, affordability, and transparency. We don’t work with people who don’t. It’s concise, but it says it all."
As we say goodbye to Claire and her bright Berlin flat, we can't help but feel as though there has been a true meeting of the minds. That’s why we teamed up with Urbanara to bring you the best of both worlds in one fell-swoop, with the launch of Homewings x Urbanara Udesign. The service combines Urbanara’s Incredible furniture, with Homewings design expertise, making it easy and affordable to transform any space. Click here to see how it works!