Davies Allen, PC Interviews Kirby Kelly Studio
Founded in 2017, Justin Kelly Beene , Gigi C Parke, and Alex Kirby Bowman have set out to create an all-inclusive client-catered real estate experience to Utah clientele. They agreed to sit down with Davies Allen, PC for a personal interview.
Tell us about Kirby Kelly studio. What is it that you do?
Alex: We started Kirby Kelly Studio about a year and a half ago. We saw an opportunity to bridge really good design with flipping houses. We find houses that nobody wants to buy because they’re dated and then we come in and add the design touch to reimagine the spaces. We call it reimagining versus flipping a renovation. We feel we hold ourselves to a much higher standard.
How was your interest in interior design sparked?
Alex: I worked designing products for a very long time for different companies. I always liked setting up the vignettes at the end of the process, which sparked my interest in design.
Justin: Both of us worked in retail for our entire careers and I think we’ve been pretty successful because we are doing what we always did. In retail, we identified a consumer, we created a product, and then we made sure that it was well-designed and well-priced. We basically do the exact same thing. It’s just much more extensive and expensive.
Where do you go to for inspiration?
Justin: Alex is the inspiration guy [laughs]. For more inspiration, we look at a lot of other interior designers.
Alex: Obviously Instagram. But my favorites are always Australian magazines. For some reason, they are so much better in Australia than we are here. I think they take a lot more risks than we do. They also have a climate where you can make houses look beautiful. You can have single pane, whereas we can’t here. I also have my collection of blogs and Instagram people. Desire to Inspire is one of my favorites. Remodelista is also very good.
How do you define success in your business?
Justin: When it comes to our business, we have very high standards of ourselves in terms of great design. We also want to have a great group and a really high-quality product. Obviously, we want to be very successful financially, so I think the success lies in all of these things in a combination of quality, aesthetics, design, and making sure that it’s financially viable.
What kind of tricks have you discovered that keep you focused and productive in your day-to-day schedule?
Justin: One of the big things is that we’re all doing something we really like. I think it’s easier to focus on what we’re doing because we all really enjoy it. Frankly, it’s not always the sexiest, like moving furniture around and cleaning.
Alex: Our timelines keep us really focused, so we knock out these houses very, very quickly. To do that, we all have to be on top of every job. You have a list-date set on the calendar, so that keeps you focused knowing that you have a ticking timeline and everyone’s relying on you
Gigi: I find it’s important that we talk together a lot in meetings or texting each other and staying up to date on what’s going on in different projects and knowing when things change.
Justin: One of the differences in this business versus sort of having been in corporate is that 90% of the people who impact our timelines are not our employees. You know, painters, landscapers, and framers that we have to rely on. One of the things we are still doing is figuring out what the right team of subcontractors are that we need in order to be able to stick to our timeline to get that great quality. So that’s a lot more difficult than when it’s my team. There’s a lot more finesse required for that. We all have very different skill sets and I think it makes a really good, well-rounded whole. Alex is our creative. He’s the one who basically makes our projects not look like flips and I think that’s why they sell as well as they do. You know, I’m more on the project management and construction side of it. Gigi’s really kind of the glue that’s holding things together and she’s also been spending a lot of time getting us up-to-date on processes and going through our risks and liabilities that we have and helping us round out this business. When we started, I had kind of been on the financial side. I’ve run billion-dollar businesses, but it’s always been a huge corporate team of support that did that, so I never had to really think of the entire financial picture. So one of the first things we did was hire a lawyer and accountant who could help us set the businesses up in the right way to be successful long-term.
Can you tell me specifically how having an accountant has helped you with your business?
Justin: We had to do a lot of reading, but then it was really sitting down with Davies Allen and then with our lawyer to say how do we have to set this up? What are the things we have to do to sort of minimize our financial liability and sort of maximize our ability to develop this business and drive this business and make it as profitable as we can. I’m always able to call in or email with questions, so there’s a difference between somebody who’s just there to do our taxes at the end of the year and truly help us plan our business. That was one of the things I interviewed a lot of different accountants to say I’m not looking for somebody who’s just going do my taxes at the end of the year because frankly, it’s not all that difficult. It’s somebody who can really help me plan and organize the business long-term. One of the things that like we love most about what we’re doing and sort of excites us is we find these homes that have been loved by families. We are buying our seventh project now. Every single home we’ve bought was from the original owner and every single one was in a version of the original state. One of the things we love about original owners is they build it, they maintain it well, and they don’t usually change it a lot because they built it the way they liked it. One of the things that we love is being able to go in there and take that home full of family’s memories and then really reinventing it for the future generation to love it the way they did. It’s one of the conversations we have when we buy and sell the homes. We’re not just slapping a coat of paint on it and calling it a day. We’re really trying to think forward.
What’s on the horizon for Kirby Kelly?
Justin: Right now our bread and butter is the projects, reinventing, and investing, but we’re also very rapidly growing our interior design with private clients’ business. So we have a few smaller to medium-sized projects. We actually just completed one really large remodel project with a client. Growing that side of the business is something that’s really exciting for us. And then Alex is really passionate about having physical space someday in the future. It’s a physical reaction to focusing on the experience of being in a room versus a shopping list.
How would you describe your look or your style?
Alex: We call it organic modern. The idea is that it’s not hard-edged or cold. So we bring in a lot of organic materials, whether that’s stone or raw metals or natural weave carpets. So that gives it a much warmer feeling. I wanted it to feel like a warm, cozy space. Lighting is what I pay the most attention to in any space because it really sets the mood for the experience you’re trying to create.
Justin: Gigi and I both have an eye for design. We definitely know when it’s right.
Every detail is thought-through. Alex is the one who brings it together. So I think that’s really sort of our secret sauce and I think that’s what makes what we’re doing very different from anybody else who is renovating homes at this level.
What is your business process when you have an idea or a vision?
Justin: The creative process is really key. I think it’s really fun for all of us. It absolutely is 85% really hard work and slogging through picking a tile and making sure the tile is actually there, et cetera. I still think it’s really fun and I think Alex brought a lot of what sort of the process we did in retail in terms of mood boarding. I think one of the things that we do pretty well is we identify our target home buyer before we even start the house. So I think there are a few important things. We always say you can’t fight the house. A lot of people try to take every house and apply a formula to it, but you can’t fight the house. You can’t fight the neighborhood either. The people we target are doctors, lawyers, or bankers who work downtown. Alex then creates a mood board based on the house, the neighborhood, and those people. We use that to guide all of the design decisions.
What is your process like for starting a project?
Alex: We start with the mood board. I’m really I’m kind of set in my ways on the mood board.
I insist on like, six images to tell the story of the whole house instead of having, you know, ten images per room. We really have a very concentrated idea of what the house would look like. That also gives you freedom to say the master bathroom can be different than the six pictures on the board, but then we start pulling the physical materials and that’s where it really starts taking shape. A lot of it is a blend of what we love that’s in-style. If it’s not in stock, you have to quickly pivot to find a last-minute choice that’s going to fit within that mood board. There’s a lot of logistic hurdles.
To Do List or digital?
Justin: One of the things that Gigi has done for us is bringing really great processes with Gantt charts. So we use Gantt charts for projects now and then we also use Trello for our to-do lists, but I think the big thing is team meetings.
Gigi: Yeah. I think it’s just constantly touching base and having face-to-face discussions, but we do use the Gantt program for each of the projects, we use a spreadsheet program to keep track of all the items that we are purchasing, because it’s hundreds of items that you have to pick out and then tracking to make sure things are arriving on time and managing that whole process, and then also keeping track of the budget.
Justin: That’s one of the things that we make more difficult on ourselves. I think that’s why our houses all look very individual and are successful. We don’t have a formula. For example, we don’t have a way we always use paint. Everything kind of gets picked based on what we decide the house should look like so it makes it more difficult on us because there’s a lot more organizing, you know? Every single house is really unique and individual and I think that’s what makes them successful. This is also what makes it fun for us. I don’t think any of us would be excited about going to work if we were applying the same formula to every house that we do.
How have you integrated into the rest of the design community?
Justin: We see our business transitioning into a full-service design and real estate company where people see our projects as a marketing tool for someone that has moved here or is looking for a new house and wants to take on a full remodel, but can’t quite see the potential of the project. We love the idea of people coming to us to help them find a house, help them design it, and then remodel the entire project from start to finish. There’s not a lot of that. Real estate has become a very self-service industry over the past 10 to 15 years. We think there’s an opportunity for real estate to be much more service-based in terms of us identifying what somebody might not necessarily look at. There are things that we see that your average consumers can’t see, so that’s where we have an opportunity in terms of real estate. That’s sort of how it all comes together from a design perspective.