For lovers of monochrome, stepping into ur place is like entering design heaven. From the products to the custom made counter, nearly everything is rendered in chic shades of black, white and grey—even the plywood floor is painted black.
Opened last year, ur place reflects owner Kathryn Whitwell’s passions: a neutral colour palette (along with husband Steve she has just finished painting the exterior of their house black); supporting Australian designers; and encouraging people to embrace their own interiors style rather than the latest trends.
“I struggled to source monochrome and textural homewares for my small interior styling business and my own home,” she says. “Everywhere I went there was colour and lots of it—quite often shops are flooded with the colour that is ‘on trend’.
“I wanted an opportunity to show people that you don’t need colour to style your home and to purchase homewares based on your personal style not what is on trend.”
The store’s fitout—completed by Whitwell and Steve in eight weeks with help from family, friends and Whitwell’s dad—is striking. Along with the black floor, one of ur place’s two rooms features an exposed blonde brick wall (which had been hidden under several layers of wallpaper, including green carpet) and the other, used as a space to display the store’s selection of art, is painted entirely in black.
Outside, the store is plain white with black trim to match the minimalistic branding, and Whitwell says the low key look was a deliberate choice. “I wanted an exterior that didn’t give away too much and that intrigued people to come inside,” she explains.
“I had a very clear concept from the beginning and started the design process a year before our actual opening—I even did this before a business plan. The space we are in now was actually vacant at the time, so I used it as a case study.
“We wanted to create a space that allowed us to showcase the designers that we carried minus the clutter you so often see, so it was the flow and the layout of the store that was imperative… I didn’t want any one particular feature to detract from our wares rather than complement each other and make it feel cohesive.”
A sense of cohesion also comes from the product selection. Although the offering is diverse (think candles, towels, Cheeky Reubens light fittings, linen bedding, stationery, Usahmama bags, and Pony Rider wall décor), the brands tend to share common features.
“ur place is a platform to showcase Australian designers and artisans to our customers and hopefully steer them away from the mass produced homewares that are more about quantity than quality and just end up as landfill,” says Whitwell.
“Because we stock a lot of likeminded brands they tend to be environmentally conscious and ethically sourced which consumers are taking more notice of.”
Whitwell says Instagram is her main resource for sourcing new brands, as well as marketing her business. “It’s like a giant portfolio for me,” she says. “You can really tell a lot about a brand by their Instagram.
“In such a visual industry as ours it’s a great tool for both retailers and designers. I also frequent markets looking for the next big thing.”
The unique approach to the fitout and product selection—offering a narrow edit of products in a limited range of colours—is working for Whitwell. ur place has had regular customers from day one, and it is gradually becoming a destination for lovers of minimalist interiors.
To keep customers interested the stock is constantly remerchandised. “It keeps people guessing what is new and what is not,” says Whitwell. “Shifting product to a different position in the store allows people to see it in a different light or next to a different product. It’s also a cost effective way when you don’t have anything ‘new’ to showcase.”
Starting a retail business and dealing with “working 12 hour days, six days a week in store and the other day on the store” has been a challenge, but ultimately Whitwell is grateful to be doing something she enjoys.
“Being able to come to a job that I absolutely love and am very passionate about is an everyday highlight for me. Not many people can say that about their job.
“I want people to get ideas and inspiration when they come into our store—to feel inspired and to realise the importance of an interior space and the effect it can have.”
By Ruth Cooper