An interview with Joanna from Urban Coo
Today I am happy to share my interview with Joanna from Urban Coo, an online purveyor of well designed, durable, carefully chosen goods for you to enjoy for years to come. I was curious to hear about the journey that led them to start up a family business selling such a carefully created collection of home wares ranging from ceramics from the Cornish Coast to the incredible Danish furniture brand Enkl and including beautiful but affordable art from the likes of Amelie Hegardt, Peytil and Loulou Avenue . The emphasis and ethos of Urban Coo is very simply buy less and buy better.
Here Joanna talks about family, her inspirations and some advice to anyone thinking about starting their own business…
Could you tell me a little about yourself, where you live and who with?
I am Jo and i am a lover of all things design. I grew up in rural Scotland and run Urban Coo alongside my husband Calum and our two young kids Abigail & Sebastian in South West London.
What did you do before starting your business?
I worked as an architect for over 15 years at various architectural studios and latterly at a busy London practice before taking a break to have kids, i needed it! Calum has been sitting in a dark room every day for around the same amount of time joining pictures together, some would call it editing. He was looking for a way out!
Why did you decide to start selling homewares and furniture?
Well actually our original plan was quite different. Having rocked up to an industrial estate in SE London to buy some mid-century furniture for our home we saw how unloved so many of these beautiful pieces were. We had an idea to start buying and selling. This is where the desire to start our own business came from but as we progressed it became something quite different. Struggling for storage space and living in rented accommodation rendered our idea impractical but it did spike a desire to start something of our own. We decided to focus around items that we love, designers that we obsess over and to create a brand that would champion young designers and support the creative industries.
Why the name Urban Coo?
We would love to say that there is some deep meaning here but actually it came to us relatively easily when we started throwing ideas around. We really wanted a link to Scotland because we are both Scottish but currently living in London. We joked about the Highland Cow, or as we would say the 'Heelin Coo’ and that is where it came from.
What is the philosophy behind Urban Coo?
Lack of living space is a challenge to many, from young professionals still living at mum and dads, through to single-occupancy studios and house-shares. We believe there is a market for beautiful, quality items and home wares that enable customers to invest in their love of design with pieces that won’t impact on valuable living space. We sell forever pieces in an attempt to move any from the throwaway culture that prevails today.
What or who inspires you?
My sister is married to a Dane and they have lived in Copenhagen for the past 20 years. The Danish are masters of design. Not to sound weird but if you walk around Copenhagen at night and peer into their houses (they don’t ‘do’ curtains, too fussy!) you will find that their interiors are unbelievably tasteful. You will struggle to find a bad one. The Scandinavians fully understand that great design will enrich their life, that’s what inspires us!
How do you select pieces you want to sell?
I am a lover of simplicity. Architecture has taught me in life that the simple ideas are usually the best and the most beautiful. We look for products that are well designed, well crafted and will stand the test of time. We both have to be in agreement before we will proceed with a new product which can sometimes lead to some lively debates!
Would you ever be tempted to design your own pieces?
Absolutely, yes! Our long term aim is to design our own pieces which we will sell alongside our other fantastic brands. We have so many ideas and are very excited about what the future holds for Urban Coo.
What was the most challenging thing when starting your business?
Building the website was not an easy process as i was learning on the job. Despite Calum having a post-grad in web design i would say that he was absolutely no help whatsoever (seemingly things have moved on)! Aside from the risk involved both financially and emotionally i would say the transition from being a safely employed architect to running an actual business has been a huge one and i am learning every day!
What advice would you give to emerging designers or business owners?
If you truly believe in your idea or product then find a way to do it. There is nothing quite like building your own brand. We are building our business and are so passionate about every bit of it, the possibilities are endless - i don’t think i ever had that passion whilst working for someone else!