Ryan Comment and E.J. Holland, former Pembroke Hill school buddies, operate on a simple, philosophy: “You’re only as good as the mistakes you can fix.”
That quote drives both men — now co-owners of Bootlace Design & Build, a custom cabinet shop in Union Hill and a showroom in the Crossroads — to find innovative solutions in craftsmanship from closets to kitchens, and even the rare project like a giant snake terrarium or dog kennel.
Their modern, high-end aesthetic has been honed by stints in remodeling and handyman work, but both men started from more cerebral than hands-on backgrounds — Ryan studied economics in college and E.J. English literature. Their willingness to tackle a challenge with engineering enthusiasm has made their product a highly sought-after commodity in the design/build community.
Kansas City is a pretty traditional town, but your work is very sleek and modern. Is this a good market for you?
E.J.: KC has really been developing design-wise. It’s one of the best-kept secrets in the country as far as design/build, art and even music. I don’t quite know how to quantify it or why it took so long to see more modern design here, but people have just as sophisticated tastes here as in other places and even other countries.
How do you get jobs?
Ryan: We primarily work with contractors — Ian Hurst, Brian Faust and Prairie Design. There’s a really talented group of builders in KC. We kind of float with this group of really smart people. Our Houzz website has really helped, too. Even if people aren’t looking at our stuff, they’re getting an idea of what they want, and we can take pieces of what they like and put it together. We fought putting up a website for the general public, because we’re so small there are only so many kitchens we can do.
How are your cabinets built?
Ryan: We build Euro-style cabinets, which can be made to look transitional or even traditional. We only use metal drawer systems from Blum.
E.J.: If a client wants wood, we don’t work with them. We’ve got systems in place that work for us. Going outside of that just complicates an already minutia-filled process.
But you use wood for the fronts. What type of wood do you work with?
Ryan: We like to use primarily domestic woods due to their sustainability. We use a lot of walnut and oak. There are beautiful woods around here, and you can get different looks with the grain.
You build everything in your shop?
Ryan: We don’t sub anything out besides the metal work. We use Pascal Meya for that. At our shop we have an interesting network of people. Each of us can do a little of everything. Each of us can draw, fabricate, finish and install. That way none of us gets sick of doing the same thing, and you understand why each step is done the way it is. We try to keep the job flow moving so we can have three jobs going at the same time but at different stages.
What is your design philosophy?
E.J.: Function is more important than anything, even design. That’s mainly because we didn’t come from a design background. It’s about taking a crazy idea and thinking how we can make it work. In a kitchen, function is huge, because where you put the trash can is huge. Who cares how cool it looks if you can’t live in it?
What’s the process for custom cabinets?
E.J.: We do everything from full 3-D renderings to the final install. It takes about four or five months before we even start building anything. It takes 100 to 150 hours for the drawings and research. We’ll spend 20 to 40 hours on the phone with manufacturers just trying to figure out appliances. The minutia and detail involved is nuts. As simple as everything ends up looking, it’s surprisingly complex, and every job is taking it to the next level.
What would all that cost?
Ryan: Something like the kitchen in our showroom is fairly simple and ranges anywhere from $18,000 to $25,000. Then you throw in appliances and countertops …
Do your clients balk at that?
Ryan: We have a high-end product, and our clients expect a high level of quality from us. Some clients will ask us for something they’ve seen on HGTV, and after going through the initial process with us they will balk at the price, but then call us back a few months later after they’ve called around.
E.J.: When their cabinets are done, with the fronts on and ready to move in, you can see that switch in their brains, like, “Oh, this is why.”
You’ve also been working on a prefabricated closet design that is on display at your showroom.
Ryan: We teamed up with Keith (Wardlaw of Plus Modern Design) to design that. He was going to use Valcucine, but we told him we could come up with something just as good. E.J. and I designed this system and even the brackets. The only thing we purchased was the aluminum extrusions. It would be great for small apartments, but it could be used for anything: closet, bookshelves, entertainment. You can keep adding to it, too. We did one downtown that’s pure closet with LED back-lit panels. It’s pretty wild.
Shelves, kitchens, snake terrariums — you’ve done a bit of everything. If you could build anything in the world, what would it be?
Ryan: We love anything crazy. It could be a bridge, a building or a kitchen, as long as it’s challenging. The job is the juice.