MidModMen: From Pop-Up to Mainstay

Jon Mehus (left) and Neal Kielar (right) take a moment to smile between sharing stories about the furniture at MidModMen+friends. Photo by Hubert Bonnet

Jon Mehus (left) and Neal Kielar (right) take a moment to smile between sharing stories about the furniture at MidModMen+friends. Photo by Hubert Bonnet

“You know what would look great right here?”

Regardless of the answer to that question, it can probably be found at MidModMen+friends. The store, founded in 2012, offers a “classic/modern mix” with an emphasis on 20th century modern design. Something that owner Neal Kielar calls a flexible concept.

“We believe in mixing the iconic with the unexpected, and more importantly including furniture and decor that’s meaningful to the individual,” he says. “So, you can anchor your space with a mid-century modern must-have and combine it with a classic piece of art, an intricate area rug, and some object that reflects your personal interests. Above all, we seek to offer home furnishings that are high-quality in design, materials, and build. We simply favor a modernist point of view.”

Mid-century modern, the streamlined, minimalist aesthetic that defined the 1950s and ’60s, has enjoyed something of a revival lately, Kielar said, thanks in large part to the success of Mad Men, TV’s popular homage to the mid-century New York advertising industry.

Refurbished vintage furniture. Photo by Hubert Bonnet

Refurbished vintage furniture. Photo by Hubert Bonnet

Kielar and his partner, Jon Mehus, got into the furniture business by accident, when they bought a dresser in late 2010. Just about everyone’s heard the saying “Do what you love and the money will follow.” That’s something that Kielar thought was empty talk until recently.

“We started the business because both Jon and I feel passionate about great design, 20th century modern design to be specific,” he says. “We started by searching for things for our own home, but couldn’t leave behind so many amazing items we kept finding — even though we didn’t need them ourselves. Jon used to restore furniture as a hobby, so we had that going for us.”

When the duo decided to go bricks and mortar (something that was Kielar’s vision while Mehus remained cautious), they agreed that it would be on a trial basis. So they rented the current St. Paul space (just off the Raymond Avenue Green Line LRT stop) as a pop-up store with a three-month commitment. It took about a month to embrace the fact that they’d captured what Kielar calls “lightning in a bottle,” and have been operating in that same space for two-and-a-half years.

With product coming from multiple sources, in a lot of ways, presented in varying condition, the men have their hands full. Inventory mostly comes from a small group of friends (that’s the “+friends” part of the store’s name) who share their aesthetic and commitment to quality.

New artworks. Photo by Hubert Bonnet

New artworks. Photo by Hubert Bonnet

They acquire items in ways that are unique to their skills and interests. Some sources drive as far as Arizona via Arkansas and Missouri along the way. One of their contacts is a wizard at community-wide garage sales. Then there are rural auctions, the occasional estate sale, and even flea markets. The men have also been contacted by a lot of people when it’s time to sell items (including entire houses full of furnishings and decor). They even have out-of-town connections — people from other parts of the country who source and supply things to them that aren’t typically found here.

“Selecting the right items isn’t hard when you focus on quality and durability from the start,” Kielar says. “Since we restore or rejuvenate every piece in some way, we choose items with great design, good bones, and the potential to become something desired by our customers. And we only sell restored, rejuvenated, and/or clean items that customers can take home and enjoy right away.”

In their bid to refurbish items, MidModMen+friends not only works on pieces within their own workshops (both formal and informal), but partners with local upholsterers to have sofas and chairs professionally restored.

Kielar says, “As eclectic as our sources are, we feel that we’ve achieved an identifiable style: sophisticated without being stuffy. Grown-up but with an attitude that says, ‘I have a personal style and know how to use it.'”

Collections of vintage and modern barware and more. Photo by Hubert Bonnet

Collections of vintage and modern barware and more. Photo by Hubert Bonnet

One of the fun things about shopping with MidModMen+friends is the ever-evolving inventory. The experience is certainly not an Ikea or other furniture warehouse that will feature the same designs each time you go.

“You never know what we’ll have in a given week (sometimes even we don’t know very far in advance),” Kielar says. “And inventory does change weekly, sometimes extensively if there’s a surge in customer buying or when we have all of our restoration workshops in full gear.”

Pieces vary and there will be unique items from time to time, but the store’s mainstays stick within the same realm of mid-century and Danish modern furniture, vintage lighting, both vintage and current art, an extensive selection of vintage and modern barware, and period art glass and pottery. What’s constant is this: shoppers will find a large range of furniture, artwork, decorative items, and vintage barware that’s been hand-selected. Every piece will be in excellent condition.

Kielar says, “We can’t emphasize quality enough: great design, carefully selected inventory, restored or rejuvenated items, original art, a constantly evolving mix, and the ability to offer furnishings that are not only beautiful but also meet the everyday needs of real people — functional and durable.”

Photo by Hubert Bonnet

Photo by Hubert Bonnet

The store experience is equally important. MidModMen+friends is a happy place run by people who love what they do. So, the people behind the furniture are welcoming, friendly, attentive and quick with a good story. People are also quick to compliment the store on how well-curated the selection is and how easy it is to navigate and see what they have to offer.

“Going forward, our vision is to stay committed to quality while tracking trends, seeking input from designers and makers, accommodating customers and having fun,” Kielar says. “We’ll always tweak our offering to reflect demand, try to push the envelope with a new offering, and be a design-friendly resource in the region.”

Staying on top of trends is something Kielar and Mehus do well, while still incorporating their mid-century modern design. The big trend — and one that Kielar thinks is going to have very long tails — is on heritage. That is, products that come with a back story, a history, an anchor in time or place or materials or process. It could be that the piece itself has a history or that processes used to create (or revive) that piece are time-tested. The growth of craft brewing is the epitome of that.

“People are looking for authenticity in their lives, and one way to achieve that is to surround themselves with things that have meaning beyond the items themselves,” he says. “So, we offer pieces that are the opposite of throw-away. They might have been thrown away once, but we’ve revitalized them.”

Photo by Hubert Bonnet

Photo by Hubert Bonnet

Items in demand are credenzas or low dressers that can be used as the focal point of home entertainment, small accent tables that are versatile and portable, and floor lamps of all kinds.

The biggest tip they could offer heading into the spring and summer? Edit. Prune. De-clutter.

“It should be a year-round activity but most of us associate it with spring and summer,” Kielar says. “Rearrange your stuff; shuffle your art to different walls, move furniture from one space to another. Rethink how you’re using a space and repurpose it.”

And mixing in vintage finds is an easy task. If you’re in the buying mood and you can choose quality over quantity, do that! A well-made, carefully chosen piece is one you’ll value for years to come. Kielar also advises finding ways to bring the outdoors into the home. Fresh flowers are obvious, but consider putting those flowers in colorful, vintage art glass.
Or, just the opposite. Find ways to take your indoor life outside. One of our favorites is the vintage glassware caddy that allows you to carry a set of glasses from the kitchen to the patio in one hand (and the cocktail shaker in the other). Lastly, if your space is feeling a little bland, add texture with interesting objects and pops of color. That pop of color could come in the form of some new artwork, something that can also be found at MidModMen+friends. The two have created a collaboration with local artists to design new pieces that are then featured in the store, even dedicating a gallery space to showcase these creations.”It goes back to our classic/modern mix aesthetic — combining vintage with new,” Kielar says. “We’re not big on creating time capsules that ignore current style. So adding current art is one way to achieve that mix. We’ve also done it with a furniture maker, photographer, and a collection of small batch personal accessories.”
Photo by Hubert Bonnet

Photo by Hubert Bonnet

Kielar and Mehus support the local arts community and see visual and performing arts as a perfect complement to what they’re doing with their store. Kielar says, “Our store is in the Creative Enterprise Zone, so we operate in the spirit of that by combining art and commerce to form a unique energy and place.”


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