Like those awkward teenage years, the phase where you’ve you just graduated from budget Ikea furniture but aren’t exactly sure what to move on to can be pretty tricky to navigate. You may not know what upgraded alternatives are out there or are simply overwhelmed by all the choices. It’s this gap that Akron Street, a nascent New York City-based furniture brand, wants to fill with its collection of simple, but thoughtfully-designed pieces for "everyday living."
Launched in summer 2015 by Harvard Graduate School of Design grads Hansley Yunez and Lulu Li, Akron Street—named after the street of the couple’s first apartment in Cambridge, Massachusetts—kicked things off with a series of solid white oak furniture. The initial batch, which included the classic wooden Concord Chair and the tray-top Ko Table, sold out within two months after some guerilla marketing on Craigslist, a top resource for the the design-minded, highly-mobile millennial customer base the brand is trying to reach.
This spring, Akron Street introduced an upgraded and expanded white oak collection that incorporates powder coated steel. Among the new pieces is the minimalist Alta Clothes Rack, which we recently picked as a great buy for tiny apartments with limited storage. Below, check out an email interview with Yunez, in which he discusses just why they love Craigslist so much and what they’ve learned in this first year of growing a mid-range furniture company.
Curbed: Since the very beginning, you’ve been selling a lot through Craigslist. Why is that and how has it been working?
Hansley Yunez: We like that furniture on Craigslist has a story. It’s furniture that’s had a previous life, and now, for whatever reason, it’s moving on to a new one. Along the way, it’s picked up scuffs and scratches, and we think that makes it more interesting. It’s an aspiration we have for our furniture. Someday, we’d like our pieces to have developed a bit of character, to be lived in, and perhaps to be found on Craigslist.
Curbed: Tell us about the new products introduced earlier this year. How did you decide on these additions?
HY: Our 2016 products are an expansion and refinement of our original collection. From our base material of white oak, we incorporated powder coated steel and bent plywood. These new materials have opened up new possibilities for slimmer and lighter designs, like the leggy Tap Side Table.
Curbed: A lot of the product listings on your website seem to have amusing narrative descriptions ("So your new apartment didn't come with closets? We've heard that before.") Who writes these and what are they going for?
HY: We struggle with writing descriptions! We try to gather thoughts and snippets of conversations we've had with friends (and sometimes strangers) about living in the city. From these conversations, we key-in on those specific experiences that are at once utterly personal, and at the same time infinitely relatable.
Curbed: Who’s your typical customer and how do you feel about that?
HY: We’re often surprised by our customers’ fluency in design. There are the design enthusiasts who talk about Kenya Hara, Mategot, and McCobb. Then there are those who aren’t as familiar with the names but are nonetheless very perceptive about design. With each group we learn different things, but it’s always a pleasure to chat with our customers.
Curbed: Can you share more about how you went about sourcing factories?
HY: Good factories are hard to find. We spend a lot of time on sourcing trips, for weeks or months at a time. You need an alignment in your cultural values, in technical capability, and in scale. Because our products lie somewhere between craft and mass production, it requires a bit more R&D than usual. Not every factory is capable or willing to do that, and it’s crucial that our partners get that.
Most recently, we partnered with a Swedish-owned factory in Vietnam to produce our new platform bed. The owner is a designer himself, and that makes it much easier to communicate our ideas. Like us, he’s also eager to explore new finishes, new materials, and new techniques. We’re looking forward to working with him on more products next year.
Curbed: Building a mid-range furniture company in the U.S. is hard. What’s the biggest thing you’ve learned about that process in this first year?
HY: The biggest thing for us in launching a furniture company is finding a voice. It’s made us think a lot about our identity, both as individuals and as a brand. What does Akron Street stand for? That’s a deeply personal question. We have a crux of an idea, but we’re still figuring it out. In the end, the act of executing a brand tells you what feels right and what feels wrong.