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UrbanOffice: Smart and stylish solutions for the workspace
By Cindy Bent Findlay
Ed Shuttleworth, owner of UrbanOffice.
Photo / Gus Brunsman III
It's not unusual for home furnishing showrooms to be warm and appealing, but showrooms for office furniture?
The term generally conjures up visions of metal filing cabinets with sharp corners that bite, and rickety “wood-look” Formica and aluminum desks jammed into big-box stores between the computer supply aisle and the checkout counters.
Ed Shuttleworth's store, UrbanOffice, is different. For one thing, the place smells like bread and spices - it's next door to bakery Eleni Christina. Warm-scented votives burn on a glass and steel work table that somehow manages to look simultaneously sleek and inviting.
Ancient wood floors refinished the shade of honey, and contemporary art the colors of snow, straw, and winter forests hang in the white-walled, high-ceilinged space. A leather and chrome lounge chair, frosted glass and aluminum floor lamps, and a couple of incarnations of gorgeous smooth modern-contemporary wood work stations create an environment that is unmistakably professional, but one in which most people would actually be happy to hold a meeting.
UrbanOffice marries what once were the two sides of Functional Furnishings, for 25 years an icon of the Short North at 601 North High St. That showroom, before it closed this past fall, was once a hot stop on the Gallery Hop. Patrons wandered through a roomy gallery that was for a time bisected, with half featuring chic but cozy contemporary home furnishing displays and half stocked with somewhat cool and impersonal Techline office furniture.
Combining good business sense…
The convergence of style is no coincidence: Shuttleworth started his career in commercial furnishings at Functional Furnishings. For 17 years he worked in sales, and in the early 1990s he was the force behind the shop's venture into commercial furniture that eventually morphed into an Arena District stand-alone, Functional Office.
Jeff Ungar, co-owner of Functional Furnishings, says Shuttleworth urged the company to take on commercial furniture and was largely responsible for developing the business.
Commercial furnishings can be a tricky business, Ungar says, because profit margins are much lower and customers have greater time pressures – office furniture must be installed under deadline and service is doubly important. Selling furniture to businesses also requires much more in the way of outside sales, whereas residential customers tend to walk into the store.
“But Ed was really able to develop the sales,” Ungar says. “He's not just a good salesperson, he's a truly easy person to talk to and establish and maintain relationships with.”
Shuttleworth landed major medical clients such as Mt. Carmel, Grant, Riverside, and Children's Hospitals, various departments at Ohio State, and many private physician firms and countless home offices.
By the time of Functional Furnishing's closing, Ungar says, the commercial line comprised more than 35 percent of the company's business. Shuttleworth decided to carry on with the same commercial lines and took over the distributorships, and UrbanOffice was born.
By September 2004, Shuttleworth had picked up what he considered the crucial commercial furnishings lines for his business - Techline, Jesper, and OFS cabinetry and work stations; Allseating, Carter, and Eurostyle sofas and chairs; and Sonneman lighting.
UrbanOffice currently serves between 12 and 25 client projects at any one time, in markets as far away as Athens in the southern part of Ohio. Shuttleworth says he has a client base of about 1500.
One customer who followed him into his new business is HealthLinx Executive Search, a health care recruiting company with offices in a pair of old Victorian homes in German Village.
HES had just placed an order with Functional Office when the announcement of the business's closing hit, says Cathy McIntosh, a search consultant who worked with Shuttleworth most recently on purchasing furniture for new employees.
“He followed up on everything; we trust Ed completely,” McIntosh says. “He's one of the few people in professional life who never minds if you call.
I can call three times a week, and he's just as chipper to talk to me as ever.”
… with an artist's aesthetics
UrbanOffice's furnishings are simultaneously spare and fresh, but at the same time evoke an air of ease. The Sonneman lighting line, for example, features frosted aluminum and shiny chrome construction, lean angular shapes and sweeping glass but at the same time has the look of Prairie School architecture re-thought.
“It's a myth that you need a house full of contemporary modern for the look to work. It's a clean, tech-friendly look that's quiet enough that it can fit into even a Victorian home - maybe not next to it, but it's not going to fight with other décor,” Shuttleworth says.
Shuttleworth's aesthetic philosophies are more than window dressing. They play a great role at UrbanOffice because his business is to provide much more than the occasional desk or lobby chair. His design services, provided free of charge for clients, are his differentiator in the industry.
Ask Shuttleworth to provide desks and cabinetry for a home office or medical center and he'll not only show you what he sells, but also will come to your office to help design a workspace that's functional and a pleasure to spend your day in.
Shuttleworth prefers a neutral palette with a few bold but natural contrasts like white walls, tawny floor coverings, and a dark cherry or mahogany work station. Textiles and art humanize the look.
“People don't realize the things that have an affect on you… bad carpet, harsh depressing lighting, noise – all have a direct impact on your productivity at work,” Shuttleworth says.
HES also appreciated that talent. McIntosh says the company has a unique workspace - two Victorian houses joined together, with lots of small nooks and tricky spaces - and Shuttleworth was able to design custom work stations and storage units that not only work efficiently, but also look great in the old houses-cum-office.
“He's got such a diversified background; on his own right he's a very accomplished artist,” says Ungar, who believes that Shuttleworth's design services were a part of Functional Office's success and are a good value-added service that makes business sense.
When Ungar says Shuttleworth is an artist, he doesn't mean only with furniture. Shuttleworth has been a painter since his teens, and has exhibited work at Sharon Weiss Gallery in the Short North. His next show there is planned for December 2005.
Some of the art in the UrbanOffice showroom is also his. Mostly Ohio landscapes, they can be described in the same way as his design philosophy: colors and textures real to the rustic farming country he often portrays, contrasting shades echoing the light of the seasons, natural but never stark.
Darkened bales of silage dot snowy fields; gray sidewalks and clapboard houses reflect the lemon light of winter evenings. The paintings graced the model homes of the Decorator Showhouse in New Albany in 2002. Imagining the restful farmscapes over fireplace mantles, it's easy to see why they all sold.
Shuttleworth is also a musician, although it's been years since he played guitar in a band. And he's the busy dad of three children; his wife, Marie, serves as the business's office manager from the 120-acre farm on which they live in Fairfield County, a 45-minute drive from the Short North.
All in all, it's a busy life, but one that suits him. Shuttleworth says though he'd like business to continue to grow to the point where he has regular retail hours (you can catch him by chance in the shop, but as he's often out at client sites, it's technically open by appointment), he's happy occupying a small niche and continuing to provide personal design service himself.
“I do this as much because I enjoy it as for the money,” Shuttleworth says.
Functional Furnishings –
Landmark Business Bids Farewell
For a quarter century, Functional Furnishings stood at the corner of Goodale and North High Street as an unofficial southern gatekeeper to the Short North.
The shop's cutting-edge home furnishings drew customers from all over the Columbus area, and the store was one of the busiest stops on the Gallery Hop.
Owners and brothers Jeff and Matt Ungar and their mother Belle were active in the Short North community and were important players in the growth of the area from a drug- and crime-ridden slum into one of the jewels of Columbus.
But construction throughout the Short North, including the Cap over I-670, almost removed Functional Furnishings’ parking over the past year or so, making retail life difficult. Simultaneously, the value of the building at 601 North High grew by leaps and bounds as the promise of the neighborhood and retail rental prices continue to skyrocket. Finally, the Ungars decided to sell their building and shutter the store for good, including closing their satellite shop at Polaris Fashion Place mall and Functional Office in the Arena District.
“The neighborhood had matured to the point where the value of property was so high, it just seemed to make better business sense than to run a retail furniture store,” Matt Ungar says.
Personal preferences also played a part in the decision. Matt is currently pursuing his design career, and Jeff cites a desire to get back into sales and away from management and retail. He's now working with David J. Glimcher, a commercial developer, learning the commercial real estate game. Jeff Ungar and Glimcher handled the sale of the building and will manage retail leasing on the ground floor.
Ungar says the top floors are probably destined to be developed as condominiums.
Details of the final sale were not released as of press time, as the building was currently still in contract.
“It's really a tremendous loss to the neighborhood,” says Ed Shuttleworth, who worked with the Ungars for 17 years.