When we think of modernism, we think of a clean, calm aesthetic. We don’t usually think about words like energy and restlessness. (OK, maybe that’s just us.) But Edgar Blazona, who designs (among other things) a line of modernist furniture called True Modern, has a certain restless, expansive energy that gives his work warmth and depth and humanity. At some point in our interview, he uttered the words, American Classic….and it clicked–that’s what he is: inventive, pioneering, can-do, straightforward, pragmatic, passionate. And you can see it, in his work, home, and life.
Edgar has perfected the art of creating furniture that’s simple, aesthetically pleasing, highly functional, AND affordable–designed for the way real people live. One of our complaints is that if you want clean, simple design, there are relatively few options between IKEA and Design Within Reach. True Modern steps bravely into that wide open, slightly scary space with value-conscious modernist design.
He gave us a tour through his home (which he remodeled himself), highlighting his furniture and collections. Bonus 1: he made us try on an Eames-designed wooden leg splint on display on his kitchen wall (looks more like a tribal mask than an orthopedic device–but it works!)
Bonus 2: we got to see his at-home office (a very cool modular dwelling he designed) in the backyard.
(The Modular dwelling came from an earlier Blazona venture, where he set out to create a low cost, high design modular home…he was never able to hit the pricepoint he wanted to, but ended up spreading the word by creating and distributing a set of plans through ReadyMade Magazine to help people create the dwelling themselves. While it’s not an on-going venture right now, he loves hearing from the people who’ve built them; in particular, he loves seeing the stories of people who’ve never built ANYTHING build themselves a dwelling. Very cool.)
Were you always drawn to design? I come from a construction family, but I’m largely self-taught in design. I learn from looking at objects, at the things around me. I spend a lot of time looking under things. (We noticed Tara rolling her eyes a bit here.)
My father taught me that I didn’t have to buy something off the shelf; I could make it. He had coffee table cubes made…which I found intriguing. My mother was a draftsperson, and every year she would always make me sit down and draw a house plan (!)….I always thought building was cool.
Seems like you’ve got this desire to always be improving things. There’s an energy there. Yeah. I’m a little bit of a rebel. I was rebellious as a kid…a graffiti artist. I suppose I wasn’t the best student (!). I was only focused when I wanted to be focused. (He then chuckles and tells us that his 7-year old is much more of a student – he enjoys school, is good at it, and is a “builder,” thanks to Edgar’s lessons on basic engineering.)
Were you an arty kid? Depends on what you mean by art! I went to a high school focused on the Arts, but it was all about fine painting…I would get Ds in art class because I didn’t do portraits! Instead, I would arrange shapes, cool objects and paint those. I felt that art was for me…not school, not anyone else. (A determined, self-starter from the beginning. Kudos.)
How go from furniture making to furniture design? I remember being behind the table saw, pushing material through, and sucking in the dust. And I thought, “I have to find a better way of doing this.”
That week, I decided to shut my doors and decided to get a job learning manufacturing. I wanted to learn how to design things in a way that allowed good design and quality to be available to everyday people, where to make the right trade offs, etc.
So, I landed at Pottery Barn. It’s an amazing place to learn these things. Design for manufacturing is an art in itself.
What exactly is it about modernism that resonates with you? It’s just in my blood–something I was immediately drawn to. I also grew up in a reasonably minimalist house. When I was little, I would always flip through our coffee table book, High-Tech: The Industrial Style and Source Book For the Home. It was all about industrialism, and there were big pictures showing different structures and environments…it was about taking these simple things and showing them as design.
Do you have any pet peeves? Pet peeve…that’s easy! I hate bad bathrooms. The first thing I do when I go out to eat at a restaurant is visit the bathroom. If it’s badly lit, white, standard…it drives me crazy. I won’t go back. It’s the one space we all will use….People invest a lot into the back booth, but not into the bathroom itself. (We both have since started paying attention to all bathroom decor…and have started to see what he means…)
Have a motto? My Design Philosophy is “build it first”… It’s about being able to build and manufacture a design at a reasonable cost…
Tell us about your line, True Modern. I designed the brand to be about pieces that are relatively inexpensive yet made with decent materials. The true modern sense of design is about simplicity. There are lots of other types of modern: Italian modern, there’s contemporary…tech….there are all these forms of modernism….but True Modern is about simplicity. It’s American Classic modernism.
Isn’t a lot of modern design super expensive? No! It doesn’t have to be! I really have a problem with modernism being so expensive, so I’ve tried to create furniture that’s affordable. In my mind, modern design has to be cost-effective. Eames did a good job of making things within reach though if you look at Eames prices today, you don’t get that. A standard True Modern dresser is $899. The typical “modernist” stuff is twice as expensive.
Where’s most of the furniture made? A lot of pieces are made overseas, though the sofa is made closer to home, in LA.
Your typical client? Usually 30-somethings. It’s their first round of getting nice things for the house. Will buy a $1500 sofa. I think that that sets a tone right there. My kids furniture is aimed toward moms who like modern homes…Someone looking to be different from Pottery Barn Kids.
What’s it take to build a brand that’s got a new take on modernism (even if it’s going back to the future)? It’s really tough! You have to be patient, you have to make sacrifices–you’re really trying to get people to rethink things. In order to do what I want to do with True Modern and my own Edgar Blazona brand, I design for other people, too. (He names a couple of very big box retailers.) I’ll do that right after our interview ends.
Something you would never design? I don’t really like chairs…do we really need another chair? So many people have designed chairs. I would, however, love to design a full house.
Books on your bedside table? Right now…Orange Is the New Black: My Year in a Women’s Prison about a San Francisco woman involved in a drug ring, who is indicted, but whose sentencing took 10 years. Fascinating story.
Your heroes? Oh, heroes. I know it’s cliche, but, Charles Eames. His whole point was to bring modernism to the world at a good price. Donald Judd came late into my life. I see similarities between us. When he wanted artwork for the wall, he made it. Like me, he would create a space out of a need identified by him. He started with a personal need…then it became a business. Then there’s Gehry, who keeps his own vision while designing for others…
What inspires you? I study everything. I pick up things and take them apart…I don’t go out and look at things to get that translation of inspiration. It comes from construction…
What defines you? (Hilarious discussion about how sons, wives, etc. should be mentioned in this category. With permission from Tara, he focuses on “things”…)
1. Cabinetry — things where I can store things, so I can appear to be more minimal…But I DO have a warehouse where I can store “stuff”…My view of minimalism is not about not having things…of course I have things…I just don’t want to drown in the things I own.
2. Something sporty — I love wake boarding. We have dirt bikes, we have a boat. (Sheepish look)…I love NASCAR, a little bit of that Delta thing. I’m not above it all! I love riding things fast….burning fuel.
3. Burning Man — We go every year…this is my 11th year. I love the openness of being a little different. What’s cool about Burning Man is that when you’re in the Bay Area, you’re the weird one here. When you go to Burning Man, you’re the normal one. No one looks at you as if you’re weird. No one looks at you any way….it just is. There’s a comfort to really being free there.
(We decided at the end of the discussion that maybe “What defines you?” should become “What represents you?”…Is that more fitting?…Will think on that!)
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