Life Meets Function: from a Nebraska dairy farm to Kansas City and beyond
by JOEL BARRETT
If you are not familiar with the name Cody Brown … just wait. You will be. At only 30-years-old, Cody is already an accomplished artist, furniture and lighting designer, and he has a successful interior design business. Rumor has it that his name and handsome face may soon appear on TV nationwide.
I met Cody at his R24 Studios in the historic West Bottoms. Together, we climbed the wooden stairs to the third floor of an enormous, nearly-empty warehouse being renovated and repurposed. The warehouse was built in 1886, originally housed the Creamery Package Manufacturing Company which made a variety of glass containers for dairy products. Today, the unrefined, industrial space with its high ceiling, rugged plank floors and exposed brick provides the ideal setting for Cody’s work — a daring blend of rustic, industrial and refined.
“It’s a fun experience for people. It’s like you’re in Brooklyn coming up a back staircase where you don’t really know where it’s going,” Brown said of his space.
I stepped inside the third-floor studio and discovered an expansive showroom dotted with groupings of custom-made furniture for nearly every room in the house. The walls are filled with Cody’s own abstract artwork of textures, colors and compositions.
His latest paintings involve a mixture of epoxy, acrylic and oil paints. The chemical reaction of these elements creates unique, unpredictable patterns and hues which are masterfully coaxed under his direction into works of art that defy a singular message.
“Each piece is completely unique. I like making something unique and different that the eye gets lost in. Peoplealways see something different in them,” he said.
Everything in the R24 Studios space is a reflection of his mix-and-match approach to design. Elegant, crystal chandeliers hang over rustic farm tables surrounded by industrial chairs. Cody describes his style as “life meets function.”
“We don’t live in the era anymore where you have your formal room that you don’t go into unless mom is hosting a party. I like finding a way to create furniture that looks awesome and makes a statement, but is durable enough for the kids to stand on and play king of the castle. It will work for everyday use and take the beating, but then you can wipe it down and it’s ready for entertaining on Friday night,” Brown said.
Cody’s artwork often doubles as the surface of a coffee table or end table uniting life and function into a work of art that doesn’t just hang on the wall.
Cody is a muscular, bearded man who stands well over six-feet-tall. It is easier to imagine him bailing hay on his family’s Nebraska farm than designing interiors, but the farm is where it all began. His interest in architecture began when his family built his childhood home on the dairy farm that had been in the family for generations. That farm is located on County Road 24. The name R24 Studios is his way of paying homage to the family that taught him much of what he knows today.
“My dad and my grandfather taught me a lot about construction and building furniture and the mechanics of how it works. My mom would find something that she liked in the Sears or JC Penney catalog and show it to my dad,” Brown explained, “He would figure out a way to build it. Most of the furniture in our home, from the dining room table to the bed I slept on, was made by my dad.”
With his knowledge of construction and a sharp design eye, Cody started building furniture and making lighting fixtures. Today R24 Studios is a one-stop-shop for renovation, new construction, interior design and making custom-designed pieces for the home.
“We no longer live in the Sears catalog-era where you buy the whole set and that’s how you decorate your home,” he said. “I like our space here because we can pair different patterns with different styles of furniture. What I try to do with this space is help my clients to think outside their box when we’re designing their homes. I enjoy helping them see that we can do something different with something they already have, take an antique they really love and put it with something modern to give it new life.”
He credits his mother for noticing and encouraging his interest and love to design things at a young age. She gave him the free reign to paint rooms and use his skills in their own home. She often challenged his choices with, “Why would I do that, Cody? It doesn’t serve any purpose.”
Today, that challenge continues to guide his work. “How do I make something really beautiful and amazing, but also function well?” That is the goal of every project which bears his name.
Cody is an ambitious man. He started his company in 2007.
“I always knew I wanted to be a business owner, but I didn’t know how all the pieces would fit together,” he said. “In college I started doing paintings in my dorm room and taking them around to different interior designers and selling them. Pretty soon I got a following and people started coming back. As it grew, people started asking me if I could do other things and I always said ‘Sure! What do you need?’”
Cody is now working with commercial and residential clients all around the region on a wide array of projects that include new construction, renovation and interior design.
Cody is not afraid to respectfully challenge the old with something new. Growing up in a strong Catholic home, his family initially struggled when he came out at the age of 21.
“It was hard for them to wrap their head around it for a while,” Brown said. “They never rejected me, but we did have a few years where it was a struggle for all of us to educate each other.”
As time went on, his parents saw him grow and come into his own.
“When you’re not out, you tend to hide and not be your authentic self. Eventually, my parents realized, ‘This is our son and we love him no matter what. We can see that he is happy and thriving and as a parent, that’s all we can ask for’,” he said.
He acknowledges that every family and individual goes through their own struggles.
“The important thing is that you learn from those struggles and grow and move forward in life,” he said.
I asked Cody about his impressions of the LGBTQ community in Kansas City. He finds the community to be very welcoming. “It’s quite an inclusive city that welcomes everyone in.” He recently joined the Mid-America Gay and Lesbian Chamber of Commerce.
“As a young gay man coming into the city, it is cool to see successful business people who also just happen to be gay,” he said.
Breathing new life into the old is symbolic of Cody’s life. This theme pervades everything he touches. Perhaps this is why he already has a deep love and appreciation for Kansas City after just 18 months here.
“To me, there’s just something about this city. Something magical is happening here. There’s this renaissance and this growth! People love this city!” Brown exclaimed.
In his childhood, Cody often imagined what it would be like to live in the one big warehouse located outside of his hometown. While he doesn’t live in the West Bottoms, he and his team spend every day creating and designing in a 130-year-old warehouse. “The dream has come full circle. I come to work in a space that I’ve always dreamed about having.”
His vision for R24 Studios is to grow it into a place where old-school craftsman and skilled artisans can build amazing pieces of furniture for people’s homes. Breathing new life into the old warehouse district is part of his vision.
“I’m a huge advocate for the West Bottoms. I’d love to be a mainstay down here. I would love to be part of the team that helps reshape this while retaining its integrity, but making it livable for people too,” Brown said. “We’re a design-build company. It’s cool to put my own little stamp on the city. I love being a part of it.”
R24 Studios is currently open by appointment. For more information, visit R24studios.com