Cat Owners: Got a case of the litter box blues? It’s time for a ModKat Litter Box, a modern litter box with “rooftop access,” which cuts down on the pesky litter spill and which looks much more attractive than any other box on the market.
Meet Brett Teper and Rich Williams, the creatives behind ModKat. Today we’re sitting down with Rich, and he’s answering a few questions how he got into the business of building a better litter box.
Hi Rich! Please tell us a bit about how your company came to be – your creative background and how you began to build your business.
Brett and I first met and collaborated in the design department of a large PR agency during the tech bubble. After the burst we individually freelanced, but we stayed in touch via IM complaining about clients, swapping music and occasionally working on projects together. Eventually, we both tired of working from our tiny apartments, craving human interaction and decided we should join forces and find an office space. Thus began Fulton Street Design, our graphic design agency. We worked with clients like Morgan Stanley, HBO, Van Kampen Investments, Bumble and bumble., Coach, Colin Cowie… The Colin Cowie project took us to China, the furthest we had ever traveled for a press check! Our translator, Jim, was a young, knowledgeable Taiwanese entrepreneur, who we quickly befriended.
We conceived of ModKat in 2007, at first as sort of a hobby, but as the design quickly took shape we realized we had something. We formed ModProducts and immediately called Jim, we were in Taiwan a few weeks later to discuss producing ModKat. We introduced ModKat at The International Contemporary Furniture Fair in 2009, where we received the Editor’s Choice Award for Best Accessory and then in 2010 picked up a prestigious Red Dot Award.
Brett has an industrial design degree from RIT, I have a visual communication degree from FIT.
As a cat owner myself, I can guess how the ModKat litter box came to be, but please tell us how you got the idea for its design.
Ah yes, why design a litter box? Well, it all started when my wife and I decided to outfit our living room with some new furniture. Our small Brooklyn apartment suddenly looked great except for one thing… the ugly, cheap, beige litter box in the entry way. I researched the entire internet for a nice modern, cat litter box solution and came up empty. Obsessed and annoyed, I complaining about it every night. My wife had enough and said ”stop bitching about the cat litter box – you’re a designer… go redesign it!” A lightbulb went off in my head and I came in the next day and told Brett about the idea. He was on board right away and we both began sketching. At first we set out thinking that we just needed to make it beautiful, but after reading reviews about existing litter boxes we realized that we needed to explore its functionality as well. We spent the next two years designing and producing The ModKat Litter Box
Please take us on a bit of a virtual tour of your studio. What’s the neighborhood like? What were some of your priorities when finding a space where you need to be creative?
Our studio is located in Manhattan’s Financial District in the Bennet building
, the largest cast iron building in the world (built in 1869). We were allured to the space by the huge windows with views of City Hall to the north, World Trade Center site to the West and the tips of the Brooklyn and Manhattan Bridges to the East. However, it wasn’t all perfect – drab gray carpeting covered the original pine floors, a drop ceiling with fluorescent tubes masked the top 1/3 of the windows and the vaulted subway station ceilings. We rolled up our sleeves and gutted the space bringing it back to it’s original glory, right down to the exposed steam and water tower pipes. Like our product we kept the space minimal, white and grey walls, simple furniture and a bunch of iMacs.
There’s also a spectacular rooftop to walk out on and take in the view, make phone calls, have coffee… it is really our extended office. The commute is a bonus as well. Brett has a 30 second walk to his apartment and I am in Brooklyn so downtown was perfect.
Where do you start when designing something new? A sketch? A dream? A brainstorming session between the two of you?
ModKat came from a real need, we feel these are how the best designs are created. We try to think of things that we want to use, things we like or need. The best ideas come from the casual conversations when we stop the every day work and start discussing a thought one of us had. This leads to a flurry of ideas if we get excited about the concept. After that, sketches and research then on to engineering. We refine and simplify the design along the way adding only the essential details. We really like seeing how far we can pair something back to reveal its essence.
Now that you’ve perfected the litter box, what other everyday objects do you have your eye on?
We are currently working on three new innovative pet products for early next year. Two more for cats and one for dogs. We are also experimenting with product ideas related to music, which is another area we are passionate about. We always strive to reinvent everyday objects, we want them to be the best they can be. Some say it is just a litter box, we say it is one of the items in your home that you live with and use every day, make it something you love!
How do you stay inspired? Any advice for those who are suffering from a creative block?
I find that so many things that I touch or see on a daily basis have been ignored. If you start to scrutinize everyday objects you will find that they can inspire you to take them further, to change how they are used and perceived for the better.
We also try and escape from the office on occasion to visit stores, restaurants or even just sitting in a bar can inspire unique ideas. We’re fortunate to have so many great resources within our reach.
Do you have any words of wisdom for creatives who are ready to make the leap into a quitting their day jobs and building a business?
After working for clients for years we would really say to any designer that they should do something completely from their own voice without compromise. Something you are passionate about or know you want to do. It is really amazing what doors will open up and how much you can learn about yourself. When we were only doing client work we never won any awards, received any press or were ever asked to speak about design, after creating ModKat we have been lucky enough to do all of these things.
Thanks so much to Rich for chatting with us and giving us a peek into the ModKat studio!