On a quiet dead end off the main strip of Seattle's working-class South Park neighborhood sits the dynamic hub from which Darin Montgomery of Urbancase spins his creative web of multi-faceted design efforts. The Urbancase studio is well organized and compact, smaller than we expected for a predominantly furniture-centric studio. As we learn more about what goes on there we were convinced more and more that we've quite possibly stumbled upon a Utopian design studio. Here creativity is kept fresh by experimentation with materials, ideas, hands-on prototyping, and occasional contract work, but kept a sustainable business by smart, selective outsourcing to skilled local craftspeople and manufacturers. In a format reminiscent of Italy's post-war designers, Urbancase has managed to use it's local resources to create great products with minimal in-house manufacturing capabilities opting instead to use the services the Northwest has to offer. What was so striking was the ease at which Darin delegates his production work to others while keeping the critical creative functions firmly centered within his company. When asked if trusting others with the critical task of executing his vision was in any way problematic, Darin shrugs it off "I pick people who care about what they do. I try to work with others in a similar position to my own."
He went on to explain his belief that keeping production local and small scale has allowed him to replace a rigorous QC process with a level of trust and confidence in his suppliers. "I was inspecting every box they gave me and realized at a certain point it wasn't necessary. They cared about their work as much as I did." This absolutely shows in the work: curved cabinet edges executed seamlessly, beeswax candles (in the shapes of classic cameras) casted with precise details, finishes carefully applied and rubbed by hand. Can't wait to hear more:
Studio Name: Urbancase
Member(s): Darin Montgomery
Location: Seattle, WA
Started in: 2002
What's the story behind your company/studio? What made you finally realize that you wanted to start your own design company? Take us back to that exact moment when you thought "I'm gonna start my own freakin' design studio!"
I was in Vancouver, BC for a weekend getaway with my girlfriend Rachel. I left a job several months earlier with the intention of starting my own business but was still trying to figure out what direction to go. Rachel finally suggested I should just do what makes me happy. It seemed so obvious. Design makes me happy...so that's what I did. What's your design philosophy and approach?
What are some highlights (life changing events) you've experienced that influenced your current work or design?
We took a trip to Berlin two years ago and it had a huge impact on the way I look at design. Unfortunately, I can't pop over every time I need inspiration. But...I have the photos to which I refer frequently. Any industrial or area in disrepair is a great source of ideas for me as well.
What do you like to do when you need a break from design?
I try to keep a project in the shop that I don't have to think too much about. Something that requires sanding or polishing. If I'm having difficulty resolving an idea or I've been on the computer all day, repetitive motion can be very relaxing.
Every Sunday Rachel and I have a ritual. We make breakfast, have coffee and listen to records then walk through Freeway Park on our way to the library. Even though I'm surrounded by incredible architecture, it's routine and comfortable so I don't even think about design. It's a great way to recharge my batteries.
What do you consider your most successful and or rewarding project?
The projects I rush through or don't resolve completely are the most successful. I learn so much from them and usually have one lying around to remind me of what not to do. Perhaps the most rewarding project was a wine glass rack I made for my parents when I was eight. I built it from scraps found in the garage. It was hideous. My Dad cried when it got knocked off the shelf and shattered. What are the strengths of design in the Northwest? How do you see it becoming stronger?
What's your favorite, well-designed food? why?I would say a seed of any kind. They're perfectly designed for their environment and have a little secret tucked away inside. Salsa is a pretty close second.
A micrometer that belonged to my Grandfather. It's beautiful, functional, and very satisfying to use. It doesn't give you a sense of how much effort it took to design. I love objects that conceal their complexity.
Tell us about your very first experience when you did ICFF. What was it like? How did you prepare yourself? Do you any tips or words of wisdom to all the baby designers out there who are thinking about ICFF?