Roberto Gil, founder and chief designer, Casa KidsThe former architect found a market for his well-crafted children's furniture
There’s a reason Roberto Gil’s designs are known to fit effortlessly in any space, as if the simple birch plywood and pop of color were built for each customer’s personal home. Gil has a masters in architecture from Harvard, so he was thinking about rooms long before what to put in them. “I’m an architect for kids, not just a furniture designer,” the Casa Kids founder told us in our podcast. “We are pretty good at creating spaces, especially when they are challenging spaces because of the size or the shape.”
Gil launched Casa Kids, a children’s furniture company based in Brooklyn’s Red Hook neighborhood, in 1992. He was not always a furniture guy, though. After a recession in 1990-91, he lost his job at an architecture firm. “I was doing furniture for myself in my own apartment and I realized I liked it and it was fun,” he recalls. He started selling chairs and tables to his friends. “I didn’t know I had a business for awhile. Meanwhile, I was getting some orders.” Soon Gil was heading to trade shows and showcasing his pieces in museum stores, from Guggenheim to MOMA.
As any business owner could predict, Gil needed more than word of mouth to grow Casa Kids. “I have to wear many more hats than I ever expected,” he says of running the business. In the early days, Gil built a website and learned the tricks of SEO. “Suddenly people started finding me on Google. We just started getting random emails. That’s when my business completely changed.”
Gil was quickly recognized with high regard in the design scene. “I understand space and circulation, ventilation, lights, proportions. It’s not just the furniture but the space in between the furniture and how you organize all of that.” He knew what people wanted. “People are looking for a bit more than just a bed or a bunk bed. They care a bit more about the quality and the design.”
Gil grew up in Buenos Aires and moved to the U.S. to get his master’s degree, then came to New York and began his architecture career. Casa Kids started in Tribeca, but later moved to Brooklyn. “When I moved to Brooklyn 20-something years ago, I fell in love with the area,” he says. “I moved to Vinegar Hill to live near the shop. I had my shop in Dumbo for five years and then they sold the building. They converted it to residential and that’s when I moved to Red Hook.”
Although Casa Kids sells its products beyond the city, Gil appreciates New Yorkers as customers. “They have good taste for furniture in my opinion, and they have some money to spend.” Gill’s pieces range from a $200 chair to a $7,600 loft bed. “Of course what we do is a bit expensive. It’s made here in New York, so it’s very good quality.” All of the furniture is built in Brooklyn by a small team of woodworkers, the same people who install the pieces into local customer’s homes.
With many hats to wear and orders to fill, Gil sees Casa Kids continuing to grow in the coming years, but maybe with some additional help. “I look forward to keep growing the company and do less things, so I can focus on designing.”–By Kora Feder