Urban Front where a passion for natural hardwood doors opens a niche high-end market
A married couple who took a bold decision to quit their professional careers in London to see how far their combined creative talents could take them, are now enjoying life running their own business designing and manufacturing stylish hardwood doors.
Nabil and Elizabeth Assaf took time out to research their market, create their own distinctive brand, register their designs with the Intellectual Property Office, and to attend college for a year to study product design and interior design respectively.
They designed and built their first front door in the back garden of their home in Hertfordshire, with cedar purchased from a yard in nearby Watford.
Although they have replaced their front door twice since then, it proved to be a milestone for the couple, who went on to launch Urban Front in 2005 with Nabil and Elizabeth as co-founders, designing all the doors themselves.
They learnt quickly picking up advice and guidance from test houses and manufacturers in the UK and abroad to overcome the considerable challenges of manufacturing hardwood and keeping it stable – for example to avoid it splitting, warping, changing colour and degrading.
“Quality can be difficult to control and if you get it wrong you end up with a defective door which is no use to anybody, “explains Nabil.
Today, from their showroom and workshop in Chesham, Buckinghamshire, Urban Front sells a range which includes front doors, garage doors and internal doors in natural hardwoods, including fumed oak, walnut, iroko, oak and cedar. The doors are also available in bronze and painted finishes.
Their doors come with a number of key features. These include steel reinforcement, ventilation, insulation, high security and with pivot or hinged options. Front doors are between 80-100mms thick. Most importantly, all the doors are designed and made in the UK.
Their products are mostly for the high-end residential and commercial markets in the UK with around 20-30% of their doors being exported to the USA, Canada and Europe. Such has been the success of their business that they have not exhibited at a major show for the last couple of years.
In 2017 Urban Front joined Secured by Design (SBD), the national police crime prevention initiative, which accredits products, which are sufficiently robust to resist physical attack to deter opportunistic burglars. SBD has accredited one of their front doors, which has been certified to LPS 1175 SR2, after rigorous physical testing.
SBD Development Officer, Doug Skins, says: “Urban Front’s SBD accredited door shows that security and safety can go hand-in-hand with a beautiful product. For a hardwood door to achieve the LPS standard is an enormous achievement.”
It’s all a far cry for Nabil, who spent 12 years in foreign exchange and private banking and Elizabeth, who worked for seven years as a researcher and assistant producer for independent TV companies making home innovation and design programmes for BBC and ITV alongside household name presenters like Sarah Beeny.
Nabil (left) with SBD's Doug Skins
Nabil with his certificate from SBD with the SBD accredited natural hardwood door
Nabil comments: “We were both more interested in design, being creative and serving a niche market for people who are looking for specialist, bespoke doors in natural hardwood finishes.
“We ensure that our doors have been well-designed and have a high level of quality, performance and security so we constantly evolve, improve and adapt to new challenges.
“We are passionate about what we do to the extent that we dream about doors and are interested in buildings and how doors affect your lifestyle. Doors are a big part of our life, and we love it.”
Elizabeth has written a RIBA CPD certified book, Door Couture, a Unique perspective of Contemporary doors, which is available from Urban Front, Amazon and the RIBA bookshop.
Tel: 01494 778 787