Monday, September 19, 2011

DWELL Guest Blog: Muu Kids' Furniture, An Interview with Robert Kwak

I had the pleasure of sitting down for a cup of iced coffee with Robert Kwak, the owner, founder, and designer for Muu, a great modern line of furniture for nurseries and kids rooms, manufactured in the US. I was curious about his decision to keep the process stateside, especially considering the extra regulations involved in crib manufacturing which are on top of the more stringent (and some may argue more expensive) worker and environmental regulations that companies must follow to manufacture in the United States.

A lawyer by training, Robert left that field looking for other creatively enriching opportunities. He worked for a while in politics and had a chance to experience more of the country than the two coasts he had lived on.  He learned there was more of a commonality among the people in the 50 states than he had previously been led to believe. A commonality in what people want for their lives, their homes, and their families.

Robert started Muu in 2008, inspired by the birth of his daughter. While they shopped for furniture for their nursery, everything looked the same after a while. He was interested in starting a business, loved design, was a woodworking hobbyist and saw an opening in the crib market. Here is Robert's
daughter, Amelia modeling a crib for their first catalog.

The idea was a high-end customizable line of modern kid's furniture. Robert developed a panel system that allows you to change the look andfeel of your furniture as tastes change and kids grow, without having to replace the whole piece. Made with magnets, the panels are simple to change, no tools or DIY skills required.

The name, Muu, came from a Zen concept: Mu which, according to Muu's website "teaches that there is no difference between us and our environment." But in our conversation, Robert relayed that it is also about interconnectedness. He believes this relates to the connection between the product itself and where it came from (the manufacturer) and where it is going (the customer).

When deciding where to get his fabulous new line of furniture manufactured, for Robert it came down to two key words, quality and safety. He found that when he broke down the process of what it would take to insure both of these qualities in his furniture, manufacturing at home just made good sense. Between quality control, shipping costs (and the damages that come from oversea freight), tariffs, and lead time, the cost difference was much less than he thought. Combine that with the pride he felt in the Made in the USA label and it wasn't that difficult a decision.

He also takes pride in knowing that the people lovingly creating his pieces are getting paid a living wage, have 401K and truly care about the work they do. There are no cultural barriers between the manufacturer and the people they are making the furniture for. No language barriers confusing Robert's interactions with the factory. They can also react faster when there are changes in the marketplace or in regulations.

For decades Robert's grandfather Sam, owned two shoe stores that were distributors for the iconic American kids' shoe brand, Stride Rite. He was also a real stickler for quality. The debut line of Muu furniture is named for him. With a great splayed leg base in two finish options, these pieces are classic and modern with a slightly retro vibe.

Muu's second collection, Ray, was named for two strong women named Ray, Robert's great-grandmother who raised eight kids on the Lower East Side and Ray Eames. As a father of a daughter, he wanted to give recognition to strong female role models for Amelia.


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