As I hinted at previously, I’ve been spending a lot of my time working on a big rebrand as well as redesigning and rebuilding our entire site from the ground up. But I’ve still been designing lots of new products, and we are excited to release 4 of them today!
Ugmonk has always been about designing products that fit my personal aesthetic. And while I’m no home design expert I wanted to share the design process that went into remodeling our kitchen.
When my wife and I bought our first house a few years ago it wasn’t in terrible shape structurally, but it needed a lot of cosmetic work, updating, and repairs. The previous owners had a very eclectic taste with their decor and color selection so it’s taken a lot of time and sweat equity to transform it into our modern, minimalist style. Before we even moved in, we spent a full month doing major cleanup and cosmetic upgrades throughout the house to tackle as much as we could. Since then we’ve been doing smaller projects each year, working one room or area at a time to create a home that we love.
The existing kitchen was functional (for the most part), but we really wanted to remodel it to make a better use of the space, improve the functionality, and match our aesthetic. This was a major renovation so we chose to wait until we addressed other more urgent projects throughout the house and saved up some money to do it right.
Anyone that’s gone through a kitchen renovation knows how much of an inconvenience it is to live without a kitchen for while (especially since I work from home and we cook almost every day). Prior to the actual renovation my wife and I spent several months researching, planning, and designing the space to figure out as much as we could ahead of time. This included gathering inspiration on Pinterest, measuring and mapping out floor plans, and fussing with the super janky IKEA kitchen planner tool. (This tool has so much potential but is an absolute pain to work with).
Here are a few “before” pictures of our kitchen:
I’m fairly handy with basic tasks around the house, but for this big of a job we decided to hire a professional contractor to do the actual installation.
One of the things I’ve learned over the years with both personal projects and with Ugmonk is to balance do-it-yourself with hiring experts. We were able to save a lot of money by doing all of the design planning and cabinet assembly ourselves, but hiring a contractor (who happens to be a friend and really good at what he does) was a VERY worthwhile investment.
We knew from the start that we wanted a bright, modern aesthetic with clean lines and monochromatic color palette. We’re big fans of Scandinavian design and wanted to create a space that would look great for years to come.
One of the most challenging aspects about doing a kitchen renovation is that it can get super expensive super fast. We wanted to spend money on quality materials that will hold up over time and require very little maintenance but without having to sacrifice on style. Unfortunately most of the options available in big box stores like Home Depot or Lowes didn’t fit our modern aesthetic and are just plain ugly. It took a lot of digging and searching but we were eventually able to find materials and fixtures that looked great and were reasonably priced (although we did splurge on a few items).
Our original vision was to do all white cabinets with a dark gray countertop, but after doing some mockups we realized that our black appliances would really stick out and cause the room to look disjointed. So we decided to switch to a split design with black lower cabinets, white upper cabinets, and a marbled white countertop.
Though it was tempting to look at high-end cabinet brands, we actually liked the simple cabinets that IKEA offers and had heard great things about their new kitchen system. Using IKEA cabinets was one of the main ways we were able to keep the cost down. And since I’ve probably assembled more IKEA furniture in my lifetime than most IKEA employees, we were fine with doing all of the assembly ourselves to save money.
Just be aware, building an entire kitchen is no small task. Here’s what it looks like during the process:
After we decided to do black and white cabinets, we found out that IKEA doesn’t actually make cabinets that are a true black color (almost everything they make is black-brown). After doing some research and asking around, we found a local Amish woodworker who was able to make custom black doors that matched the shape and sheen of the white IKEA doors to keep everything consistent. It was a tedious process to make sure all of the measurements were correct, but the black doors turned out amazing. Thankfully we were still able to use the IKEA cabinet bases combined with the custom black doors.
We decided to make the new upper cabinets 10 inches taller than the original ones to fill the space better and provide extra storage. Rather than doing one tall cabinet on the right of the refrigerator like the original kitchen, we continued the split cabinets and countertop to extend the horizontal lines and bring continuity. This also created a perfect space for keeping non-food items like mail and papers that used to pile up on the main island.
Say what you want about IKEA’s quality, but their new kitchen system is very impressive and sturdy. The engineering and thought behind each piece is incredible. The new drawers and hinges snap together and require very little hardware. IKEA also makes nice soft-close hinge attachments and for both the doors and the drawers. It may seem like a small thing, but being able to throw a door closed without it making any noise is one of those little details that makes a big difference.
One of the biggest functional changes we made was moving the cooktop off of the island and combining it with the oven along the back wall. This created a huge clean island surface that can be used for food prep, entertaining, and eating. By moving the range to the back wall, we were also able to eliminate a lot of clutter and dirt from the island (where everything always seems to end up).
We chose an induction range which heats the pan through magnetic induction which is faster and more efficient than a typical flame or electric heating element. As an added benefit, if a pot boils over or food splatters it won’t burn onto the cooktop since the actual burner doesn’t get hot. This makes it amazingly easy to wipe clean. The range was our biggest splurge, but well worth it since we use it every day.
In addition to gaining space by removing the cooktop from the island, we also enlarged the island by two feet in each direction to incorporate the structural pillar that was previously just standing alone in the middle of the kitchen. This also provided more room for seating and helped define the kitchen as a cohesive space. Plus, we’re loving the added storage.
Countertops & Backsplash
When we switched to black lower cabinets we also decided to switch to white countertops. My wife and I both love the look of carrara marble, but it was WAY out of our price range and required too much maintenance. Since a kitchen countertop tends to takes a beating we wanted something super durable and wouldn’t stain and eventually decided on a white textured quartz which has a similar look to marble but is much more affordable and easier to maintain.
We wanted to emphasize the horizontal lines along the back wall, so we chose an elongated 2”x8” white subway tile and white grout for the backsplash.
Sink and faucet
While some people prefer having multiple sinks with lots of bells and whistles, we just wanted a simple setup that would be versatile and easy to use. As a result, we chose a large rectangular undermount sink made from a heavy-grade stainless steel. Regardless of your sink configuration preference, I would definitely recommend an undermount sink. The undermount creates a seamless transition without the annoying edge that crumbs and dirt always get trapped in.
A faucet seems like a simple thing, but when you think about it you will interact with it for varying needs and in varying states of dirtiness. We found a stainless steel curved faucet that can change the flow and temperature of the water with one hand. It also has an integrated hose sprayer which is great for more precision or washing larger dishes or pots (or dogs).
Finally, we installed a new garbage disposal which is more powerful and reliable than our old one that constantly clogged, and underneath the sink there was just enough room left for a pull-out trash can. (While the trash can doesn’t hold quite as much as a full-size trash can, it stays out of the way and forces me to take out the trash more frequently which my wife appreciates.)
Finding modern bar stools that were both comfortable and didn’t break the bank was especially challenging. Most of the bar stools that look great either had no back (which is not great for sitting long periods of time) or cost more than a mortgage payment. After a long search, we found these wire counter-height stools online for a decent price. They are actually replicas of the classic mid-century Bertoia chairs, and in addition to complementing the rest of the kitchen nicely, they are surprisingly comfortable.
Other Small Details
Under cabinet lighting is one of those details that doesn’t seem super important, but actually makes a big difference. It’s helpful to have additional light while prepping food or cooking, and the lights also make for a nice mood during the evening when the rest of the house is dark. We asked our contractor to prepare the electrical wiring during the demolition phase so that we could hardwire the LED lights that are mounted under the cabinets.
To create a nice focal point on the large island, we found a beautiful hand-blown glass terrarium that we filled with black river rocks and a few air plants. Air plants do require a lot of light so they should survive here, but we’ll see. The only other item that we keep on the island is the frequently-used olivewood salt cellar.
This was a massive project and dragged on longer than we anticipated, but we’re thrilled with the final result. Whenever we entertain and have friends over the kitchen tends to be the place where everyone hangs out, so it’s nice to finally have a space that’s not only functional but feels great to spend time in. After all, it’s ultimately not about the kitchen itself but about the time spent with family and friends enjoying it.
Hopefully our experience has helped or inspired you!
Have a question about our kitchen renovation? Leave a comment below or tweet at me here.
Ugmonk has always been about creating better versions of products that I personally want. My strength and skills are on the creative and design side of things, but I’m certainly not an expert on the manufacturing side. The way I’ve been able to achieve this is by partnering with great manufacturers who have helped me turn my ideas into physical products.
A couple months ago I flew out to the Black Anchor in Tacoma, WA to film the detailed process that goes into crafting our leather mousepads, wallets, and card cases. Though the products look simple from the outside, there’s actually a lot that goes into making each one of them by hand.
The beauty of collaboration is that when we play to each other’s strengths we’re able to bring great products to life that otherwise would have never been made.
According to “studies” our age, race, family background, or economic status determines our fate. In reality, though, we’ve been given a gift: the gift of creativity!
It’s not as easy as “you can do whatever you believe you can do.” Often life is full of hard work, tough failures, and unexplainable losses, but the worst way to respond is to retreat. Your experiences, your story, your skills, your sphere of influence, your creativity are all unique to you.
Explore your endless possibilities to create, give, help, and make an impact.
New Letterpress Prints
While we love big prints we realized that not everyone has huge wallspace to hang them. Many of you requested smaller size prints that you could display at work or in your home.
Today we’re making that happen and we’re doing it in style. These 8″ x 10″ prints are beautifully letterpressed on thick paper stock and fit just about anywhere. The black prints are printed with a special silver foil on thick black paper stock. The white prints are printed of high-quality lettra stock which maximizes the letterpress imprint.
The weather is getting colder and it’s time to layer up to stay warm. We’re releasing a new Plus Minus Crewneck complete with 3-color felt appliqué sewn onto a super soft black fleece. Made and sewn in the USA.
The holidays are just around the corner and so is our special Holiday Sale. Get your shopping lists ready because everything in our shop will be 20% Off on Friday.
Along with the sale, we’ll also be releasing 11 new products!
8th Annual Charity Drive
In the holiday spirit of giving, we’re excited to kick off our 8th Annual Charity Drive. We’re partnering up with our friends at Rice Bowls again to help feed kids in need. With your help we’ve donated over 46,000 meals during our previous drives!
Starting today through the end of the year, each item that you purchase will provide 3 meals for kids around the world. You can also donate directly or increase your donation here.
I’m excited to publish our newest Ugmonk Lookbook today!
Ever wonder what a product will look like in person? Whether it’s that missing piece in your wardrobe or that gift you’ve been scouring the web for, these photos will give you a better sense of what our products look like in context.
For this lookbook I teamed up with my friend and talented photographer Patrick Chin. He took my specific vision and aesthetic direction and captured the essence of the Ugmonk brand perfectly with these beautiful images.
Scroll through the photography and click on the “+” symbol on any of the photos to shop the specific products in each photo. View the full lookbook here >
Designing and launching a product may seem like a relatively simple task from the outside, but there are hundreds of steps to getting an idea from inside your head to a physical product in your hand and then releasing it to the public and finally shipping it all over the globe.
Back in 2009, when Ugmonk turned one year old, I thought it would be fun to celebrate by designing a special limited edition anniversary shirt to celebrate. At the time I didn’t think much past that, but the next year I decided to design a full limited edition set and each year I’ve continued this tradition. It’s a fun challenge to raise the bar each year.
Here’s a detailed look at what it took to design, manufacture, and launch the 7th Anniversary Set:
1. Concept & Design
The first stage was brainstorming the general concepts and ideas. At this stage I try to think as far out of the box as possible not worrying too much about pricing or manufacturing difficulties. Any time I think of something, I’ll add it to the list of potential ideas to explore.
I started with a general aesthetic in mind, but the design ended up evolving quite a bit from the early concepts. I always like to start with pen and paper to rough out ideas. Using paper allows me to explore a variety of styles and ideas without being constrained to specific typefaces or tools within Illustrator. These initial thumbnail sketches are super rough and usually don’t see the light of day but are helpful to get the creative juices flowing.
For the 7th Anniversary Set I wanted to do something specifically playing off the number seven. Seven is already a favorite number known for it’s luckiness, but I didn’t want to just rehash the idea of luck with this year’s set. I wanted to focus more on a clean, elegant seven and allow it to live in it’s purest form. At the same time, I wanted to add an extra layer of depth to give it the trademark Ugmonk touch. When thinking about different interpretations of the number seven I came across the 3D seven-sided shape called a “heptahedron.” As soon as I saw it I immediately knew that I wanted to incorporate as the secondary design element in the set.
With the general aesthetic and list of ideas in mind it was then a matter of narrowing down the different items that I wanted to include in the set. One of the trickiest parts of producing these sets is figuring out what’s feasible for a short run production at a reasonable cost.
Finding manufacturers involves lots of googling, emails, and phone calls. Unfortunately there is no single source or magic directory that can make anything and everything. Even with Google at our fingertips this can be incredibly time-consuming and frustrating. For the 7th Anniversary Set I had to work with 6 different manufacturers.
Producing the steel heptahedrons was an especially huge challenge. Even though we’ve made other metal products in the past, nothing is automatic. The manufacturer that we had worked with in the past fell through at the last minute and left us back at square one searching for a new manufacturer. Most of the machine shops and fabricators that I contacted about making the steel heptahedrons didn’t understand what I was trying to create or simply weren’t interested. It took a lot of leg work to finally find a new machine shop to create exactly what I was envisioning. This unexpected setback actually delayed the whole 7th Anniversary release several weeks.
Once I had honed in on a specific aesthetic direction and selected the final parts of the set, I dove into refining the design elements that would be carried throughout. During this process I quickly mocked up the designs on blank t-shirts and other items to get a better idea of how they would look as final product. A design may look great by itself but doesn’t always translate well to a t-shirt or packaging depending on the proportions and shape.
Production & Manufacturing
Designing a product is only half the battle. Producing physical products isn’t as easy as just pressing File>Print. It’s a multistep process that involves a lot of back and forth communication and rounds of sampling with each manufacturer to dial in the details for each piece.
For example, the small serif type on the tin label design looked great on screen but had to be tweaked ever so slightly for the letterpress printing to get the best result. Rather than digitally printing these, I chose to use letterpress printing for a more premium feel. Even though this process has been around for hundreds of years it still creates a crisp, tactile print that digital printing just can’t replicate.
For the 7th Anniversary tee we wanted a semi-transparent print that would allow the heather gray fabric texture to show through the ink and also leave a super soft print. This took a few tries to nail the opacity and exact look we wanted. When sending the t-shirt artwork to the screen printer we’ve learned that it’s not enough to just email the artwork and assume they understand everything clearly. Working with a good manufacturing partner is certainly half the battle, but even then, it’s important to verify and iterate to make sure things are in line with your vision.
Once all of the pieces of the set had been produced and we had everything in hand, it was time to prepare for launch. This involved assembling the sets, photographing them, and designing all of the assets to prepare for launch.
With all of the pieces in hand, we could move onto counting, sorting, assembling, and packing the Anniversary Sets to get everything ready to be shipped out.
Even in this seemingly simple stage, we encountered the challenge of figuring out how to adhere the labels onto the tins with everything to lined up correctly. Since there were 300 sets, we needed a process that was easy to repeat without taking too much time per label. We ended up creating a simple, hand-made template out of cardboard to ensure each label would be centered and squarely positioned on the tin.
While tasks like these can seem somewhat mundane due to their repetitive nature, this type of quality control and attention to detail is a crucial part of a successful product launch that results in happy customers.
Good product photography is essential to selling products online. If there’s one point I can emphasize the most it’s this. Since people can’t hold it or see the product in person, the photos need to tell the narrative of the set and convey the incredible amount of detail that went into everything. It’s not simply enough to snap a few quick photos and move on. Every detail should be carefully considered, including lighting, focal point, and environment. These photos can make or break how well the product sells. A picture is truly worth 1000 words.
For the anniversary sets in particular I like to go all out with the product photography, and this year I even decided to shoot a behind-the-scenes video. While I could have hired out the photography and videography to someone else, showing the product and process through my personal lens is a key part of telling the story of the set. This always takes a huge amount of time and effort to do right, but is worth every bit. (I’ll write more about my photo process in a future post.)
Product Page Design
I needed a place to share all of these photos, so I designed a custom product page for the anniversary set. My goal was to create an immersive narrative for the viewer as you scroll down the page and absorb the story of the set through photos, videos, and text. I’ll design the page mockup in Photoshop and then hand it off to my brother for the actual coding and build out.
For each new product there are many little details that have to be thought through and planned. This includes product name, product description, dimension and specs, and pricing. One of our goals is to tell a story to go along with each of our products. When it comes to an anniversary set we like to take the opportunity to reflect and celebrate with all of the people that have made Ugmonk a success – our customers. Copywriting is an art form in and of itself. Many brands seem to overlook this part and don’t inject any creativity or personality into the product description. The story breathes life into a product and helps customers and fans connect with the product and the brand.
At this point the anniversary set had to be converted into a product. We had to finalize the description, price, and photos and enter them into our ecommerce system (Shopify).
We also had to create the additional images and graphics that need to be created for each product launch such as the homepage banner. Each one of these assets takes time to design and think through since each product is unique. It’s small things like this that can add up quickly but are all necessary for a successful product launch.
Now the payoff! It was finally time to reveal the set to the world. Even after 7 years, I still get the same nervous/excited adrenaline rush each launch day. So much work went into this moment and there are so many things that can go right or wrong.
Here are the basic steps I focus on during launch day:
Now that the Anniversary Set was live on our site and visible to the world, it was just a matter of making sure everything was working and loading correctly on our website and then answering questions or replying to comments on social media.
And then the fun part: watching sales start to flow in from all over the world (we hope). No matter how many products I launch, it’s still incredibly humbling to see people spend their money on something that I created.
As you can see, launching a product is not a simple task. It takes months (sometimes years) of prep to turn a concept into a tangible reality. But despite all of the headaches, stress, and work behind the scenes the end result is always worth it.
In the end, this is not the one “right” way to launch a product, but I wanted to give you a detailed look at my process and share some of what I learned during this launch and over the past seven years. I’m constantly learning and looking for ways to improve each step of my process. The journey is all part of the fun.
Thanks for an amazing 7 years!
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P.S. There are just a few 7th Anniversary Sets left here.
After shooting this video of Iceland and then seeing it go semi-viral, I became really interested in learning more about the craft of filmmaking. To be honest I shot the Iceland video on the fly without much planning or experience. I love the challenge of learning new things and it’s been fun to dig deeper into the world of video.
This behind-the-scenes Letterpress video was the first full video that I shot and produced since picking up my new camera gear a few months ago. Since the letterpress shop is local it was a great opportunity to put my skills to use and shoot the printing process for the new 7th Anniversary Sets.
Music plays a huge role in video. Rather than picking a stock song I had the neat opportunity to collaborate with Vyking (my brother-in-law) to write an original track for this video. It was fun to work closely alongside each other to tweak the song and footage and bring it all together. After many revisions and edits, I’m really proud of what we produced.
As a consumer, I alway enjoy when brands share their process through video and I’m excited to show you how more of our products are made. In fact I recently flew out to Tacoma, Washington and filmed at our leather manufacturer and am currently editing that new video. Stay tuned for more updates.
It’s not often that I do any design work outside of working on Ugmonk products, but when my friends from Reach Records approached me with an opportunity to collaborate on a special artist collection I couldn’t pass it up. I’ve been a fan of Reach and the 116 movement for quite some time and was honored to team up with them.
We’ve been working together for the past year to dial in all of the details, from cut and sewn hoodies to special woven tags and embroidered patches to custom stitched snapbacks.
I designed a custom script and 116 typography that’s used throughout each of the 13 pieces in the 116 x Ugmonk Collection. Each item relates to each other with a slightly different interpretation of the 116 theme of “Unashamed.” Limited quantities are available here.
116 is the movement of the unashamed. Established alongside of Reach Records, the music helped propel 116 into a community with the heartbeat to live an unashamed life. You can find 116 worldwide, from athletes to tattoo artists to businessmen, all joined together in this passion.
Believe it or not, in the past seven years of running Ugmonk we’ve never written an official business plan. While we do plan out a general schedule for what we want to accomplish each year, we’ve spent very little time thinking through a higher-level strategic plan and vision. We’ve been fortunate to have a good bit of success over the years by figuring things out as we go, but we also realize there is a lot of value in having a detailed, focussed plan. Having a plan brings clarity, and clarity leads to action.
We recently traveled to the middle of nowhere West Virginia for our first-ever Ugmonk planning retreat. While we could have easily done this at home, it was extremely helpful to be in a different physical location isolated from all distractions. It also didn’t hurt that the place we stayed was a beautiful modern prefab house nestled in the woods.
We spent the whole weekend thinking through our vision for where we want to take the brand. Rather than getting caught up in building out features designing or fixing things, the entire weekend was dedicated to brainstorming. The beauty of true brainstorming is that there’s no such thing as a bad idea. Brainstorming allows you to be unfiltered, not worrying about the validity of the ideas. Just getting everything down on paper (or a Google Doc) is extremely helpful. Once we had our giant list of ideas compiled, we filtered them down, organized them, and turned them into an actionable plan.
It feels great to return with a clearer vision and renewed excitement for the next phase of Ugmonk. We’ve just barely scratched the surface of our potential. Lots of exciting things in store :)
Here’s a few starter questions to get you thinking about your own business:
What is our mission?
What are our core values and unique strengths?
What have we done in the past that we should be doing more of?
What should we be doing less of?
What are our biggest bottlenecks or roadblocks?
What size to we want to grow the business to? How are we going to get there?