Alameda Business Focus: Urban Island Home Furnishings
Urban Island Home Furnishings’ Steve Ferguson at his Broadway store. Photo by Charles Ballard.
By Heather Lyn Wood
Let Steve Ferguson give you the grand tour of Urban Island Home Furnishings, and chances are you will be back. In 2009, Rocky Mountain Siding closed and left a large, nondescript empty warehouse on the corner of Broadway and Clement Street in Alameda. At the same time, Ferguson was shopping for a place to locate a long-time dream of his. When he stumbled on the vacant RMS building, he saw what his customers now see in the Urban Island showroom: an eclectic mix of furniture and décor to suit any budget.
The renovation took three months and a generous dose of imagination, but that is something Ferguson says he has never lacked. After a long career in the Silicon Valley IT world, he pursued a natural creative impulse and started a home staging business. For him, Urban Island was the logical next step.
“I’ve always been a frustrated designer,” he said, laughing, in an interview.
Ferguson does not seem frustrated as he shows off his newly rehabbed 14,000-square-foot property. The space is full of merchandise, but Ferguson and his staff have put obvious thought into organizing and displaying it. Chairs, sofas and vases are arranged around coffee tables as they would be in a real home.
Ferguson is not finicky when it comes to the age or maker of the art, furniture and accessories he accepts, and close inspection reveals a wide variety of style and taste. “I learned immediately that if I relied on my personal taste alone, the store would be half empty,” he explained. “So instead, I take what is high quality and in good working condition. I rarely turn pieces away. And they sell.”
Ferguson believes that the economy has bolstered the consignment business: Along with retirees downsizing and families liquidating estates, he accepts merchandise from college students who have moved back in with their parents for financial reasons. But economics are not the only explanation for the store’s success. “Second hand items are just popular right now,” said Ferguson. “There is a huge backyard garage sale culture in Alameda, so consignment shopping makes sense here.”
He says many of his buyers are young people furnishing a first residence, who see Urban Island as a place to find affordable, unique items.
While he accepts a wide spectrum of furnishings, Ferguson admits to having a few favorites. He points to two sets of chairs in the showroom that he says exemplify great consignment finds. One, a pair of blocky black leather club chairs inspired by the designer Le Corbusier, came to Alameda when the Style Network’s “Clean House” filmed an episode at the home of a local collector. When the homeowner decided that the new chairs didn’t fit with her décor, she gave to them to Ferguson to sell.
Nearby, a set of curvy red Arne Jacobsen “Swan” chairs are another example of the mid-century modern style that Ferguson says many people love. Ferguson admits that his own design taste falls into that era, and jokes that he has managed to “un-Victorianize” the interior of his Alameda Victorian home with modern art and other pieces from the 1950s.
Although a few items at Urban Island approach the $1,000 range (a one-of-a-kind peach leather chair and love seat recently sold for $900), Ferguson tries to keep prices down. Most items range from $20 to a few hundred dollars, with true antiques mixed in with more contemporary pieces.
Ferguson is happy with Urban Island as a business, but seems even more excited about its future as a community gathering space. A separate area off the main showroom – formerly Rocky Mountain’s machine shop – functions as a satellite gallery for the Frank Bette Center for the Arts. Ferguson hosts two to three artists at a time, and holds a quarterly reception for them at the store.
With owner permission, he donates to the Salvation Army any furniture that fails to sell after four months. And he plans to use the store’s expansive outdoor area to host nonprofit fundraisers, including events for Aids/Life Cycle, a favorite charity.
“My vision,” Ferguson said, “was to create a working consignment store that would pay the bills, but also serve as a community events center. It definitely took vision to create that in this space.” It seems evident that Ferguson has plenty of vision, and that Alameda can look forward to even more.