Cody Brown grew up in a paycheck-to-paycheck family on County Road 24, near a little farm town 30 minutes from Omaha.
So when his mom needed a new piece of furniture, she would page through the Sears catalog until she found a piece that caught her eye. But even Sears was out of her budget, so she would hand the page to her husband.
“When we were kids we didn’t have a whole lot. But he was a welder and a woodworker, and he would build them for her,” Brown said. “The beds I slept in, the dining room table, were built by my dad. So I think my parents initially inspired that kind of ‘I can do this, I can build that’ mindset in me.”
That craftsmanship paired with what Brown calls a “knack for design” is behind his R24 Studios in the third-floor loft space at 1408 W. 12th St. in the West Bottoms. The new showroom (open by appointment only for now) is in front, showcasing his R24 Studios-branded sofas and chairs, custom lighting pieces and paintings. The workshop is in back.
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“The name R24 is in homage to the road I grew up on, where my parents and grandparents still live, to my family who taught me everything I know and gave me the tools to do what I do,” he said. “It’s home.”
Brown was a 19-year-old interior design student at the University of Nebraska in Lincoln when he started painting modern abstract pieces in his dorm room that he would load into his trunk to sell to designers in Lincoln and Omaha. The college student was soon taking meetings and working with clients on custom orders.
He graduated in 2009 and joined an interior design company in Lincoln, where he was relegated to “kind of a lackey boy,” he said. He wanted more.
Soon he quit to concentrate on R24 Studios, producing art full time and attending trade shows to build his following.
“The clients started asking me if there was anything else I could do. ‘Sure, what do you need?’ I grew up with that mentality,” he said. “So I started designing and building furniture, more lighting, more art. I realized we could grow a brand here. We can create an aesthetic that when people look at our homes they think, ‘That’s a Cody Brown home’ or ‘That’s an R24 Studios home.’ ”
He moved to Kansas City 18 months ago. R24 Studios’ motto is “design and form meet function,” instilled by his mother. When he showed her his “cool” design pieces as a child, she sometimes questioned if they were functional.
So now the 29-year-old does both.
One of his custom coffee tables — selling for $1,200 — has an epoxy-based top, made to look like a piece of art but sturdy enough to be used by children as a stage, then wiped down later and used when entertaining guests.
Brown said he is obsessed with reclaimed items. So the studio showcases lighting fixtures made of an old tractor spring or an old elevator spring. A dining room table — seating six to eight people and selling for $3,500 — is made from wood reclaimed from a century-old Nebraska barn as well as from an old West Bottoms loft and walnut from a Lawrence farmer. A crystal chandelier was rebuilt from several chandeliers, “not perfectly draped but a big web of gorgeousness,” Brown said
He also designs chairs under the R24 Studios brand selling for $400 to $700 depending on fabric and size, as well as sofas selling for $650 to $1,500. He learned about upholstery from his grandmother.
“Using fabric that not only looks amazing but also is durable enough so you can live in your day to day life,” he said.
A pile of 1920s to 1970s chairs sits in one corner, ready for new customized fabrics.
His modern abstract art pieces are created in the back workshop and sell for $200 to $2,500. Brown also plans to mass-produce a faucet and light fixture line.
“I grew up in the Sears catalog era where everything matched, and I hated it. So I like things you can pair with something traditional, something modern, that will work in any space,” he said.
He also has another business flipping houses — six just in the last nine months — along with designing four commercial spaces. He has five employees and plans to double his staff in the next year.
“It’s hard because we are really looking for craftsmen, people who are passionate about what they do. I want people to love coming to work. We’re a family,” he said.
His custom home design paired with custom pieces has attracted the attention of HGTV. R24 Studios recently secured financing to do a “super sizzle reel,” sort of a short pilot, set to be filmed at a house he is renovating on Holmes Street as well as at the West Bottoms studio and workshop.
“Every episode you will see the house and the transformation it goes through. But you also will see us take an uncommon object to build for the house, like ‘Look at this stump in the backyard. Let’s take it back and build a table out of it,’ ” Brown said.
If the show is picked up, Brown plans to flip about a dozen houses a year, drawing on some of Kansas City’s great architecture from the 1920s and 1950s that has remained virtually untouched.
“I’m really excited about this city and what is going on in this city,” Brown said. “There’s a certain level renaissance going on, and it’s a really cool thing to be part of the rebirth and regrowth of a city.”