Modernism is for moms, says Kim Sibley, and just as importantly, their wee ones too. One year ago, Sibley opened Little Urbanites, a modern design store for kids, with her mother Suzanne Sibley and colleague Jacqueline Gault in the eco-friendly city of Portland, Oregon.
[UPDATE: As of 2014, Little Urbanites is no longer in business. For modern design for children, we recommend MoMA Store, Modernseed, and the Dwell Store.]
Sibley’s extensive experience as an early childhood educator—ranging from teaching kids arts and crafts in a Washington state children’s museum to directing a daycare center in Portland—helps her find Little Urbanites-worthy goods, products and furniture that are age- and developmentally appropriate for kids, and pleasing to their parents’ modern design aesthetic. “I have spent the past 10 years researching so you do not have to,” she writes on the store’s website.
I recently had the chance to speak with Sibley about what’s flying off the (physical and online) shelves, being played with in the showroom, and how her interests shifted from childcare to children’s chairs.
What was the inspiration behind founding Little Urbanites?
Everyone in my family has always owned a business so I knew it was something I was going to venture into someday as well. There were all these amazing products for kids out there but no one was serving that market. I love serving a community, I love retail, and I love talking with people—plus my mother’s an interior designer—so it was a perfect fit.
Why is Portland a good city for a design store?
It’s where I wanted to live, but it’s also a place filled with progressive parents who are seeking out high-quality, eco-friendly products that are also aesthetically pleasing. People who are very creative migrate to this city, and it’s a great place to raise a family.
How do you define good design?
For children’s products, it’s those that parents are also excited about. It also needs to be age- and developmentally appropriate. Aesthetically, the biggest thing for me is something you’d never think of, for example, the Child Child Chair. An infant can sit in one seat and a child can sit in the other seat and they’re at eye level. The second I saw it, I fell in love with it. It’s something forward thinking, new, and fresh.
What makes a good design consumer?
For Little Urbanites, I think it’s parents that want to carry the aesthetic of their home into their child’s room or play area. Our customers are looking for high-quality products that can last through their kid’s childhood, that aren’t going to be destroyed, and that are made of sustainable materials. To me, those qualities are all part of being a modern store.
Why did you want to sell modern products and furniture?
They’re very timeless-looking pieces, like the mid-century modern works of Charles and Ray Eames—I’m still selling their rocker today. As long as you use high-quality materials, these designs don’t go out of style. It’s also my personal style and taste preference.
What are your criteria for selecting an item to sell?
I look at how it’s made, what material it’s made out of, the philosophy of the company, where it’s being produced, and how it’s going to service a parent and influence a child’s life in a positive way.
What’s your favorite piece in the store or online right now?
Because it’s the holidays, I really like the Max Push Car. This is the classic underneath-the-Christmas-tree gift that’s never going to go out of style. I like the Olga Rocker too. They’re both beautiful pieces.
What do the kids who come into your store tend to like the most?
They’re constantly zipping around the store on the Svan Scooter and running around on the House Kidsonroof. It’s pretty big so kids love that thing.