Edgar Blazona is a modernist furniture and prefab home designer by trade and a restless problem-solver at heart. Having grown up in the San Francisco area in a family that worked in construction, Edgar honed his manufacturing skills and knowledge through his work for Pottery Barn. He returned to designing his own lines TrueModern and Modular Dwellings to carry out his modernism-for-the-masses vision that his design heroes modeled. He works hard to keep prices accessible, and, during an economic downturn that has stifled many in his field, he uses his nimble mind to innovate and grow.
Twin platform bed by Edgar Blazona for TrueModern
Designing both furniture and prefab buildings is more than most people would tackle. You must either be a great multi-tasker, or these two endeavors must be part of a larger mission for you.
I started out of a specific need. Growing up and living in the Bay Area in California, we don’t have the opportunity to build new construction just because it’s so expensive. I wasn’t in a position to be able to do that, and most of the people I know aren’t in a position to be able to do that. So I started creating prefabricated backyard structures so that I could have a cohesive, modernist living space. So that it wasn’t just placing modernist furniture within a Victorian house I was living in that maybe had stainless steel knobs in the kitchen to try and make it a little more modern. I got kind of fed up with the classic mixed eras of, you know, Eames furniture within a house that had a bunch of ugly crown moulding. So I created these very modern backyard structures. At the time I was designing for Pottery Barn. Modernism is my thing, and Pottery Barn and that sort of look — although it was a great job and I learned a ton — it wasn’t the look that I was really trying to achieve. So basically I created these structures to put my modern furniture in so that I could have a cohesive look through and through.
MD 280 by Modular Dwellings
MD 280 prefab home by Modular Dwellings
And as far as the furniture goes, I had been doing furniture for so long, and modernism has always been my thing. And I really enjoy the interiors of modern houses, so Modular Dwellings really came as kind of an afterthought to the furniture. And now, of course, the two kind of co-exist together and create a better space. I have to say that my efforts these days are more focused on the furniture, as modular housing is a little bit of a tougher sale. As well as the fact that there aren’t a lot of people who can really afford to either build housing or create something for their backyards. So my focus is mostly on the furniture, and I found that I can reach more people with furniture.
You were a senior designer at Williams-Sonoma, where you worked on design, manufacturing and quality control for Pottery Barn, Pottery Barn Kids and Pottery Barn Teens. I’m curious if one angle or perspective — the design angle or the construction angle — was the driving force in the creation of your TrueModern line?
I grew up in a construction family, and I didn’t want the typical take-over-the-family-business type of thing. I love construction, but I just didn’t want to do that for a living. So as a kid, I kind of pushed back. I was a little more creative, a little bit more artistic than what I thought construction had to offer. So I started learning how to build things, and I really used these tools growing up as just the stepping stone to the next thing, to be able to create.
I started with my first apartment — I went shopping for furniture and didn’t have a whole lot of money. And I would look around and think, ‘hey, I could make that.’ So I went out and I bought a welder. And at the time, metal furniture was kind of cool — kind of this era of high-tech in the early ’90s of what was available to the masses. So I started building things myself. My first few pieces I started showing around, and people were really excited about it. I took it to a couple of galleries, and these people said ‘oh, we would love to have that, and we would love to sell that.’ So I took the first few pieces out of my home and gave them to the gallery, and the gallery ended up selling them within a week. And all of a sudden I was born into this new furniture designing world.
I started making furniture, and people started buying it. I was just kind of amazed, like ‘wow, maybe I can make a living doing this.’ So I started to teach myself more about furniture and more about building it — so I’m fully self-taught and didn’t go to school for any of this. I’ve always been talented as an artist and in drawing, and growing up in a construction background I had a good level of building. I started acquiring equipment and tools, and rented a warehouse, and started building more and more furniture. And at that point I was doing a bunch of custom work and started making custom pieces for all kinds of people. And through these stores, I’d get more clients. And these clients kept pushing the envelope with me, asking me to design things I wouldn’t know how to make. I would use the money that I’d make in these jobs to buy new equipment, and I would design things that needed equipment I didn’t have. And so I would just kind of keep this train moving forward. For the most part it worked, but sometimes I would be very late on my delivery dates because I didn’t know how to do it. And I’d have to trial-and-error enough times until I got it figured out, but eventually I’d get it all figured out and would deliver these beautiful pieces.
I spent my first early years really just concentrating on custom work and working for interior designers, and really teaching myself the trade. At that point I had my first line of furniture and really started selling a line. It did pretty well, and I started manufacturing it on a little bit bigger scale and had a couple of people working for me. And I was really trying to make a bigger production out of it and really learn the manufacturing trade versus just building one at a time. I realized after doing that for a little bit that I really needed to learn about manufacturing, and that I didn’t want to spend the rest of my life sanding and finishing furniture and that sort of thing. So I shut my business down and thought ‘where can I learn how to manufacture stuff?’ And Williams-Sonoma and Pottery Barn were in my backyard in San Francisco. And literally, one day I thought, ‘ok, I’m going to shut my business down,’ and I put all of my equipment in storage. I put a portfolio together for the first time. I made three of those portfolios, and I only used one. I dropped it off at Pottery Barn and convinced them to hire me, and that was kind of the end of the story.
I went to work for them and started as a technical designer, and I really worked my way through the system to try to learn more about manufacturing. It was always the goal to go back to my own company again with this knowledge. I spent a lot of time overseas and spent a lot of time in the factories and really learned how to manufacture on a much larger scale. What I realized also was that manufacturing overseas, everywhere except for Europe, they’re building the same way that we build here. The same way I build one, they build five hundred. It wasn’t that big a manufacturing difference other than they had fifty saws versus one saw. But it taught me a ton and I really learned manufacturing, and now I’m doing pretty well.
Unlike many modern furniture companies, your price points really are within a pretty accessible range. What kind of customer are you reaching, and what kind of thought has gone into your production process to make this happen?
We push really hard. Most people don’t realize this, but our stuff is fully assembled. So we’re offering that price point for a fully-assembled piece of furniture. It certainly is a challenge, and we try to keep things simple and clean. And by doing that, we hope we achieve some cost-effective value-to-dollar expense. I do put a lot of thought into it, and I think it’s partially my mass-designing that has really helped me achieve a good price point and a good quality. We don’t have the best quality — I mean, we sell a $700 dresser — but we definitely have good quality for that price. We have very, very few returns based on quality. We make our customers pretty happy, and we hope to continue being not the low price guy, but on the lower side of most modern brands.
Detail of drawer, TrueModern line by Edgar Blazona
TrueModern changing dresser in orange
TrueModern nightstand in blue
I understand you have a new line of sofas coming as part of your TrueModern line. What can you tell us about these products?
I’m expanding into a line of TrueModern sofas and adult items under the Edgar Blazona brand for TrueModern. So we’re trying to kind of differentiate myself personally from TrueModern a little bit and create a little bit more of an exclusive brand, a little bit more of an adult brand under the Edgar Blazona umbrella for TrueModern. These sofas are pretty cool. They’re on a smaller scale, they’re very modern and minimalist in look with nice materials. They’re under the name Lift and Luna. Lift is a metal frame sofa, very square arm looking sofa, kind of clean. And Luna is a sofa with a shaped wooden leg with this buttoned cushion that sits on top, so it’s a little softer than minimalist modern, with a Danish modern influence. The new sofas are ready to launch in the next week or so, and Design Public is handling the launch of these sofas.
Lift sofa, Edgar Blazona for TrueModern
Luna sofa, Edgar Blazona for TrueModern
And for the line of adult stuff, we just got our final samples in. We’ll review and probably go into production in a month or two. So probably 3-4 months out by the time it hits the floor, but we’re really excited to expand into the adult line and expand on the TrueModern brand.
And I’m doing a collection called Reface, which I can’t tell you a lot about at this point. There will be beds, dressers, some living room pieces, media stands. I’m not sure how much of it we’re going to bring in to start, but it is a full collection. We’ll start off small and get a little bigger. There’s a little bit of color to the collection, walnut wood, and it’s manufactured in Thailand. By the way, I should say the sofas are manufactured in California, in Los Angeles, so we’re trying to do some local stuff with the sofas and keep some of that work here in the U.S.
You’ve referenced Charles Eames and Richard Neutra as design role models for you. Tell me about your formal training as well as any turning points for you growing up in terms of developing your design interest and aesthetic.
My parents were into the modernist kind of look, not necessarily Eames and Neutra, but more of an industrial, loft kind of setting. This was in the ’70s and ’80s, and at the time it was called high-tech. It was kind of an era of design that came from Europe and the Conran store that had this kind of modernist, European look that here was considered ‘high-tech.’ I had this book growing up called High-Tech: The Industrial Style and Source Book for the Home, and it wasn’t a kids book but was a book on design, like a coffee table book. It used a lot of day-to-day commercial pieces, like a kind of cool, stainless steel floor grate that was then used as a coffee table top, and I just thought that was the coolest thing. So I spent a lot of time looking at stuff like that, kind of industrialism stuff. And as I got older, I kind of started to develop more of a minimalist sense. I’m definitely influenced by Donald Judd from the minimalist side.
In a way, it’s unfortunate to me that Charles and Ray Eames are so popular because they’ve represented something different to me than I think they have for people who almost worship the Eames these days, purely because it’s hip and cool to like those guys. What I liked about them is that they worked in all kinds of avenues, from film to architecture to furniture, and they really explored all these different avenues. Another thing that really interests me about them is that they were constantly trying to create products that were truly reachable for the masses. And although people didn’t quite understand it, Herman Miller came from furniture for the masses — furniture for airports and schools and all these things. They were really trying to create designs that were very approachable. So when I say that the Eames are the kind of people that I am really inspired to follow, it’s because of that side — that multi-faceted design and the artistic qualities that they had as a couple.
As far as Neutra goes, architecturally I just loved his work, and I love his look. He did some furniture too, but architecturally I find a real calming sense that his architecture creates for me. I really enjoy the look and some of his philosophies in design.
So I look to those people. Donald Judd for the minimalism and what he was able to accomplish in Marfa, Texas, and his Judd Foundation, as well as his steel buildings in New York. And his exploration from architecture to furniture and painting. And you see that in my work today. I have a really hard time sticking to one avenue — I get bored with it. So I really find myself kind of flipping back and forth between furniture and architecture. My focus is modernism, and that’s kind of the common thread. But I have a hard time, frankly, of staying in one realm. For me, for the last bit I have been focusing on furniture, although just recently I have picked up the pen again and started spending more time focusing on Modular Dwellings.
I see you show examples of your Modular Dwellings buildings as everything from a home office in the backyard to a temporary campsite at the Burning Man festival. How do you envision people using these dwellings?
I envision them as a backyard structure, an addition to people’s homes. You know, when the whole prefab modern bubble kind of blew up, I was really pretty far ahead of most of these prefab guys. Most of those guys focused on full residential homes, and that wasn’t really in the budget for me. I have always gone from a build it first mentality — I don’t like to just design on paper and go ‘ok, here’s a pretty picture.’ Anyone can do that. So I took the approach of ‘what can I do? how can I meet my needs?’ So I found that there was this niche out there of people looking for these structures for their backyards and to kind of create this modernist approach. People were looking for something that’s affordable — I focused on affordability. The structures were created for backyards to use as offices and little room additions. At the end of the day, my buildings weren’t as affordable as I would have liked, and they were too difficult to get into people’s backyards. I struggled with this for a long time. At the end of the day, the per square footage price was just too expensive.
Backyard room by Modular Dwellings
Grouping of Modular Dwellings structures at Burning Man festival
So I did a plan set for ReadyMade magazine. I get these emails all the time from people looking for really, truly affordable prefab. So I contacted ReadyMade magazine, and I created a plan set for them that they would handle and sell through their website. And I could push this affordability thing. And to date, we’ve sold probably 2000-3000 sets of these plans at $35 a piece. So it was kind of my way of giving back to the art world and giving back to these people and saying, ‘ok, I wasn’t able to achieve a truly affordable structure for you, I wasn’t able to figure out how to get it into your backyard throughout the country, and I wasn’t able to build a company large enough to handle that type of situation. So here’s a plan set, and here’s a really easy way to build.’ And I really made it as simple as I possibly could so that people could either then hand these plan sets off to a handyman or build them themselves or do something to try to create a little bit of modernism in their lives at a truly affordable price. It was kind of my way of giving back to the community and doing what I could do for them and letting them do it for themselves.
Construction of a Modular Dwellings building
I hear you’re planning a new park model as well as a HUD-approved MD 1000 building within your Modular Dwellings line. What’s your vision for these projects and the company going forward?
Well, my background is in product, and my goal was always to create a product. I don’t want to create a business based on putting a structure in people’s backyards and dealing with codes from city to city, and all the mess that kind of goes along with architecture. It’s so complicated. So what I’m trying to do is team up with manufacturers to design specific structures for them and through their dealership networks sell these buildings. So they would be the Modular Dwellings MD 1000 or MD 1500 or that sort of thing, and I will basically license the design to these manufacturers, and then they can do what they do best. And I can do what I do best. You know, people don’t get modernism. People who are used to building these modular homes, they don’t understand this modernist lifestyle and look. And so they struggle. At best, they hit the ‘contemporary’ look, and I would argue that they’re not even getting that close. So I’m hoping to design these products at a reasonable price — we’re in the early stages, so I don’t have a per square foot price yet.
So I’ve picked the pen back up with Modular Dwellings, and I’m currently working on what’s called a Park Model. It’s a 400 square foot structure — almost like a mobile home — with a bathroom, living room, kitchen, and the whole deal. That’s called the MD 400. And I’m also working on the MD 1000, which is a modular home that I’m currently in talks with a couple of companies to manufacture.
And I’m very excited about these park models. I think they finally offer people a way to put these structures in their lives without going through as much red tape. If it’s under 400 square feet, it’s considered like temporary housing, so in most counties it doesn’t fall under the same codes as true housing. It’s actually a building that is registered through the DMV [Department of Motor Vehicles], a lot like an RV [recreational vehicle]. So you can move this structure wherever you want — you have to have it moved for you — but kind of wherever you do it is up to you. They’re cool, they’re small. It seems like the next evolution for me in Modular Dwellings and a really easy fit for what I truly love.
Assembly of Modular Dwellings building
Are you selling both lines of products online only or through other avenues as well?
Online is a good part of our business — about 70% online to 30% brick-and-mortar. Unfortunately, the modernist market is so small that there are not a whole lot of true brick-and-mortar retailers that can carry it. Every one of those retailers is fighting the economy as well as the internet retailers. We obviously sell through both avenues. We try to help out our brick-and-mortar retailers as much as we can. We’re in a few stores and used to be in quite a few more stores, but unfortunately a lot of those stores have closed down. And I’m not sure if that’s all based on the economy or if that’s based on having a hard time competing with internet retailers. This is one of the reasons we’re expanding into adult furniture, because frankly there are just more adult modernist stores than there are kids stores.
TrueModern bed by Edgar Blazona
Low dresser in green by TrueModern
What’s next on the horizon for you and your companies? Dare I ask if you have any other big projects or companies in the works?
Obviously, I love exploring new things, and it’s hard for me to stay seated at one thing. I’ve really tried to spend my time, especially in this economy, trying to figure out ways to grow. How can I be smarter? All companies, of course, are trying to figure out what they can cut, but I’m trying to figure out what I can add because the businesses that service my business are more flexible than they ever have been. So we’re trying to add stuff, like the Edgar Blazona for TrueModern brand and add a little upper scale to TrueModern. I don’t want to make it a lot more expensive, though I think by using better materials it will be a little more expensive. But I want to make a little more of a signature line than I currently have.
What are some of your favorite things, whether they directly impact your work or just make you happy?
I really enjoy riding things! I’ve really been enjoying go-carts, and I have a wakeboard boat and I go wakeboarding on the weekends. And I’m really just getting back to skateboarding. I have a soon-to-be 7 year old son, and I’m teaching him how to skateboard. You know, work and design are always on my mind, and it’s such a curse in some ways. I can’t go to a restaurant and sit down at the table and just enjoy the time with my family. I sit there and think about how they made that chair, and how this table was put together, and the different design details of the restaurant. And I pick everything apart. It’s really hard for me to turn that off. So I have found that other things like skiiing and wakeboarding and skateboarding and those types of things can really lighten things up and actually kind of keep me more focused.
For more information about TrueModern or for help purchasing products, email [email protected].
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