Since its launch in September, 2013, the Australian online interior boutique Urban Couture has gone from strength to strength. Offering a unique interactive one-stop shopping experience, owners Katriarna Rodgers and her partner Thomas Towhidi have just opened the doors to a fabulous new showroom and office space. Passionate about interiors and design, the couple describe their style as minimal with strong Scandinavian and European influences. Having admired the growing range of products on offer at Urban Couture, I was excited to hear of their grand plans to convert a warehouse in central Sydney. With the showroom now completed, I'm thrilled to be the first to share these photos with you today, as well as my interview with Katriarna.
Have you always lived in Sydney? What do you love about the city?
I was born in Sydney and we now live in the heart of Sydney so we are very much fast paced city-lovers always on the go. We love many different aspects of Sydney, the main one being the multiculturalism, which enriches the culture as it constantly brings in new traditions and ideas whether it be in food or design. These often influence the design industry, evident by the vast range of furniture and homeware stores operating in Sydney.
I see you have a background in design, along with experience in the European furniture industry. Can you tell us a bit more about this, and what led to you and Tom setting up Urban Couture?
Yes, I gained extensive furniture and residential design knowledge working as a design consultant for a large European designer furniture company for many years. We helped thousands of customers all around Australia find the perfect design and furniture solutions for their homes. Tom and I have always been so passionate about design and furniture. Often we find ourselves constantly browsing furniture stores when we travel and even on the weekends.
With a background in Accounting and Law, Tom concentrates on the logistics, legal and accounting side of things. This helps in balancing the business roles within the partnership and we make a great team. I feel very blessed to do what I love with the one I love everyday!
How has the company evolved in terms of structure... how many staff do you employ and what are their roles?
Urban Couture launched in September 2013 as an online store. Initially, it was just Thomas and I, however we have recently employed a talented design assistant, a warehouse manager, craftsman and are working with an industrial design graduate from University of Technology Sydney on exciting new furniture and homeware designs.
In this digital age, e-decorating services are becoming increasingly popular. How does your service differ to others?
In conjunction with the eDecorating service on our site, we also provide the option for the client to be more actively involved in the process through our Couture Board platform that allows the client to create their own mood boards with the products from our website. Clients can then save their mood boards to their own computer or even share them via social media platforms like Pinterest and Facebook to get feedback from other people or to simply inspire others.
Some people may ask “why do you offer this service for free? Is this not selling yourself short?” My answer is absolutely not! It is very important to us that every customer of Urban Couture receives a one on one design consultation, basically making interior design accessible to people all around Australia on any budget. We want to provide a unique experience, making the process of furnishing your home as enjoyable as possible rather than a daunting chore.
How would you describe your own personal style/design aesthetic? How does this influence the range of furniture and homewares you offer?
My design aesthetic could be described as minimal with a strong Scandinavian and European influence. I love clean lines and deceptively simple colour combinations. Clutter of any kind hurts my eyes! This influences the range of furniture and homewares we offer as we look for natural materials like wood and marble which help to create a timeless and elegant design.
You already have an impressive range of products from both local and international brands including Scandinavian design companies Muuto and By Lassen. What are your favourite pieces right now? What are the most popular?
Our favourite pieces right now are our Global Range, which consist of coffee and dining tables manufactured in reclaimed elm with environmentally friendly and sustainable practises. Our By Lassen Kubus Bowls are also a personal favourite, as their versatility allows you to use the bowl for a number of different purposes, i.e flowers, keys, fruit and plants. Our most popular winter pieces are our Joe Linen Sofa and Armchairs. Whilst in the summer, our stunning outdoor range from Harbour Outdoor is definitely the best seller.
The main source of inspiration for us comes from travelling the world and attending various international design fairs, especially the Milan, Stockholm and New York Furniture Fairs. These fairs allow us to spot upcoming trends and give us an opportunity to adapt these to the Australian market. We also draw a great amount of inspiration from Scandinavian Designers like Mogens Lassen, David Geckeler, Thomas Bentzen, and Anderssen & Voll.
You've just opened a new showroom. A big step, was this in the plans from the start?
As we firstly opened as an online store, a showroom was not a part of the initial plan, as we were aiming to keep our prices low by reducing the overheads associated with the traditional bricks and mortar model. However as we have grown, we have had an increasing demand from customers for our sofas and outdoor furniture sets. Consequently, we have found customers are often interested in coming in and seeing the items physically (to sit on it and get a feel for the comfort) before committing to such a purchase.
Additionally, we have also found that a physical presence is essential as we aim to create a space for clients to come in and feel comfortable (without the intimidating atmosphere that you may find in some other showrooms). Our showroom also provides a place for clients to come in for a one on one design consultation, whilst enjoying a glass of wine (or a cup of tea/coffee), a process that in our opinion always helps you to relax and decide what it is that you really need!
Tell us about the project… the original building, the design, your vision and how you brought it to life.
Our showroom is a converted warehouse in the heart of Sydney that used to be an old wool factory circa 1850’s. It is now full of creative spaces, design offices and online store headquarters. We started out with basically a garage with dirty chipboard floors, corrugated iron walls and beams painted in different shades of off-white. We decided to keep it really simple and strip everything back to the stunning raw form of the old building revealing the exposed beams and brick walls. Making the most of the high ceilings, large windows and original features we essentially created a blank canvas by putting up crisp white walls and painting the floor white. Using the exposed beams to frame our styled settings we have created many different rooms aimed to inspire others. In addition we have create an outdoor oasis along with a new innovative vertical garden system by Greenwall Australia and bar for clients to relax and talk through their design with our stylists. There is also a custom built photo studio for us to collaborate with other like minded creatives on various projects.
If you're in Sydney you can visit the warehouse showroom by appointment, otherwise you will find all you need online or by contacting the team. Fellow animal lovers will be happy to learn that 1% of all profits from Urban Couture are donated to the RSPCA to assist in their mission to prevent cruelty to animals by actively promoting their care and protection.
Huge thanks to Katriarna for sharing her story, and images with us today. To stay in the loop, follow Urban Couture on Facebook, Pinterest and Instagram.