Smart designs create smart spaces

Photo By Smart Spaces

Ursula Hegvik, CEO and founder of Fargo, ND-based Smart Spaces, did not set out to be a designer. “My degree is in Organizational Communication. I wanted to be an entrepreneur; I just hadn’t decided what type of business I wanted to have.”
Her decision became easier after grad school, when she took a job with California Closets in the Minneapolis-St. Paul area. “I worked there two years and was so grateful for the excellent training and experience I received. They are super thorough about their training process and designing just clicked with me. I was always good with math and spatial things and as I got better in design, the visualization process came naturally and easy to me. I loved the whole process of designing closets, beginning with seeing a new space and talking with clients about their wants and needs.” 
After a move to Fargo, Hegvik pursued a different career path but felt a strong pull to have her own business. 
“I missed closets, so I wondered if I could do that on my own.” She researched suppliers and chose one. “At the beginning, I was by myself and I worked from my garage. Because I didn’t have a showroom, I would do the design work and meet with the clients and show up a week or two later with the materials, doing all the install work myself. I had humble beginnings. Now we have a beautiful showroom, two full-time installers and another who works part-time. I have a full-time designer, a part-time designer and an office manager. Amanda McInnes, my lead designer, is very talented and creative. We often collaborate on projects and I appreciate her so much. We offer a wide range of services including custom-designed and installed closets, pantries, laundry rooms, offices, mudrooms, playrooms and garage systems. There is a showroom in front and a shop in the back, so we have a lot of room for inventory and other things we keep in stock.” 
The showroom was built from new construction. “That way we didn’t have to work with an existing space and were able to create everything the way we wanted. We have cool light fixtures and, in the office, we have a variety of designs ranging from simple to extravagant. It is a wonderful space that we all love.”
Closets & Organized Storage magazine asked Hegvik to discuss her design philosophy. “I think for design in general, it is very important to ask the client a lot of questions. We typically start by asking about their wardrobe, their wants and needs. We want to know their vision for how it will look. In this kind of ‘Pinterest Age’ that we are in, you often have people who come to us and say, ‘I want my closet to look like this’ and maybe the end result will look like it but we might have to tweak it for their particular wardrobe.”
Hegvik feels design, first and foremost, has to be functional and it is so specific to each individual person. “There could be three closets that are exactly the same size, yet all three families need something completely different and want a different look. You want to design for their wants and needs and also make it beautiful. We see fabulous design trends in lighting, textures and colors for closet systems. It’s not just white melamine anymore. We work with beautiful textured materials and when you get to pair them with things like custom handles and knobs and doors with glass and mirror inserts, fun accessories and pull downs with hydraulics to handle things 11 feet off the floor, well, these are just some of the things you are able to use to elevate the look of the space.”
As a designer, Hegvik said she tries to go in with an open mind. If you have been designing closets for 10 to 15 years as many of us have in the industry, you get to the point where you can go into a space and just visualize how it is going to look, but you need to balance your vision with the customer’s vision and wants and needs. With design it is really important to make sure you are providing the client with what they need and want but as a designer you get to elevate it to the point where you are providing things they wouldn’t have thought of on their own. Often it turns out much better than they expected and that is the really fun part of the business. We meet people and we get them from the point of ‘my husband is going to do this project’ and it would have taken him five years to finish and you come in and in two days you have given them the most amazing space that they couldn’t even have pictured. That is the cool thing about providing awesome designs for people. You aren’t just selling a product; you are also providing spaces that people fall in love with and that they use at least twice a day. Closets are a very important space in a home that’s not being overlooked any more. You are dealing with something that is an important part of their lives.”
Hegvik is especially fond of designing toy rooms. “Those are really fun because kids’ toys are all shapes and sizes and then there are all sorts of categories of toys. I recently did a toy room with a desk area for the kids when they are working on homework or a project. The design features a great deal of counter space to work with and they have drawers on each side of that. There is a big, long wall and it is L-shaped into another wall so there are lots of shelves and tons of baskets so they can store Barbie’s or toy guns or anything plus there are built-in bookshelves on another wall. It is versatile with so much storage provided, and it also becomes a room where they are playing and learning with their things, but they are also learning it is important to put things away and that things have a space.” 
Hegvik likes that the design helps teach children to be neat and tidy and organized from a young age and you are providing them with the tools. 
“The same goes for mud rooms, which is a big thing, especially in our area. In cold climates especially mud rooms are popular and needed. Modern mud rooms feature lockers and benches and drawers for hats or mittens and hooks to hang up hoodies. Shoe shelves are very important in mud rooms so that shoes aren’t all over the floor in a heap and you can easily find them. One thing I always put in a mud room right next to the space for shoes is a basket for the kids’ socks. Otherwise the socks are upstairs in their room. The mornings can be hectic trying to get everyone ready and having socks right by the shoes makes sense. People might think that is a small thing, but intelligent design makes people’s lives easier. People yearn for beautiful spaces and we want to give them that but also help bring a sense of order to their life.”
Hegvik also loves designing craft rooms. “One client didn’t just do scrap books or knitting, she did everything! She had stamps, containers of glitter, all kinds of colored paper for scrapping, glass containers full of buttons. It was a challenge to take inventory of what she needed to store and then provide her with a better way to store it. She often had friends over, and she had fold out card tables for workspaces and she needed counter space. We gave her huge counters and it turned out to be a fabulous space. I love when people tell me that they have something really unique and specific because you really need to think about all the things, they are putting in there and where it needs to be. Finding out if they are right or left-handed sounds like a little thing but it makes the difference in an intelligent design that works well for the user.”
Hegvik considers her job “the best in the universe. It is an intimate relationship because you are looking at private areas of their life at times. It is special to get to work with and do something that will ultimately make people happy.”

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About the author
Jo-Ann Kaiser

Jo-Ann Kaiser has been covering the woodworking industry for 31+ years. She is a contributing editor for the Woodworking Network and has been writing the Wood of the Month column since its inception in 1986.