You may know Edgar Blazona for his TrueModern kids furniture line. Yes, the pieces are loved as evidenced by the photos from our customers showing their cute kids posing next to a TrueModern dresser. And you may have helped Edgar with the naming of his new Edgar Blazona for TrueModern sofa line (congrats, Penny, it appears your ideas were winners!). But, what you may not know is that Edgar Blazona has led quite an extensive and interesting career in the design world. Take a look at where he has been and what he has in store for us soon. Enjoy!
Edgar, you have quite an extensive background…we want to hear all about it! Tell us more about your time as a furniture designer for Pottery Barn, the creation of the ice chaise lounge for the Ice Hotel in Sweden, your Modular Dwellings, etc. Share pictures too!
My time at Pottery Barn was great. I will always be thankful for what they taught me about the furniture manufacturing business. I would not have traded that experience for anything. The only thing that Pottery Barn lacked was clean, modernist design. But I always knew that I could get back to modernism at a later date.
I was given the opportunity to go to Sweden to the Ice Hotel. A good friend of mine was part of the creative staff there. When I arrived there, it was so cold and freezing that the ice would crack if left outside. They set me up in a warehouse with stacks and stacks of ice – 4 ft. by 8 ft. bricks of ice everywhere. I was given a chain saw and a few large chisels and I got to work. It didn’t take long to figure out what I could and could not do with the ice. The hardest part was making it perfectly flat and smooth. Not to mention, it’s not so easy carving a 90 degree angle with a chainsaw in the freezing cold. The piece turned out great. It definitely reminded me of Donald Judd and some of his early cast concrete works. The hotel was nice enough to put it in the lobby, which made my really proud.
When I was at Pottery Barn, I had to create something that was a little more simplistic and true to my roots. I was struggling with the “everyday living” lifestyle. I started creating prefab housing in the beginning before the prefab bubble exploded on the design community. Everyone else was working on full houses trying to get them down to the magic $100 per sq. ft. price point. These were mostly architects working on paper and 3-D renderings. I have always lived by the philosophy of “build it first” and not spend so much time tweaking out the drawings. But building a house as a prototype was quite expensive, so I scaled it down to make it affordable for not only myself but for the community to actually buy and own. I felt like we were trying to fill our Victorian style homes with modernist furniture and there was a real disconnect. I thought that people could create these buildings in their backyards, fill them with cool furniture and have a complete modern look at a reasonable price. This turned out to be harder than I ever imagined to get large prefabricated panels or structures in people’s yards. There are other companies out there today who took it quite a bit further than I ever did. Modern Cabana being one – one I really respect.
What is your workspace/studio like?
I design and run the business out of a small prefabricated building (www.modulardwellings.com) which I designed several years ago. It sits in my backyard here in Berkeley, CA. I also have a warehouse in Oakland, CA which I do prototyping and a bit of warehousing.
Tell us about the process of starting TrueModern and how you got where you are today.
I really enjoyed modern furniture as a kid. My favorite book growing up was a book called “High Tech.” If you can ever get your hands on one of these books, check it out. It was all about using everyday industrial products in your home of loft. This was way before lofts hit the mainstream, and certainly before what we consider apartment lofts today. My parents were in the construction business and had an eye for this type of minimalism. My father taught me that I could have furniture built if I couldn’t find exactly what I wanted out in the marketplace. When I was 18, I got my first apartment and wanted to furnish it with a modern look. At the time, the only thing affordable and somewhat cool was Z Gallerie. But their type of modernism wasn’t really what I had in mind, so I decided to make my own furniture. Little did I know that these few pieces of furniture would turn into a career.
After selling my first few pieces through local galleries, I decided to create an entire line of modern furniture. I built most of this stuff myself in a small warehouse with wood and metal working equipment. After a few very hard and long years of trying to learn the manufacturing business, I decided it would be best to learn how to produce furniture in larger quantities in other parts of the world. The only local retailer that I knew about that was doing this type of thing was Pottery Barn, so I convinced them to hire me. I started out as a technical designer and worked my way up to a designer, spending more and more time overseas working on furniture with the typical Pottery Barn look. I always knew I could translate this manufacturing experience into modernism at a later date. To keep my modern design juices flowing, I started to design and fabricate small prefab structures, which I turned into a side business called Modular Dwellings. By doing this, I was able to keep my modern roots and still learn about mass manufacturing. Shortly after leaving PB I started TrueModern because I felt there was a need for reasonably priced modernist furniture for everyday people just like me. I started with kids because I felt that there was a lack of good, simple design for the minimalist modernist parent.
I saw that The San Francisco Examiner praised you as a designer “whose goals…simplicity, function and cost effectiveness.” Kudos! How hard is it to balance your design ideas with something that people can actually afford?
It’s very hard. In general, material prices have gone up. The consumer has gotten more savvy and with the minimalist look, things need to be perfect design-wise. It’s always a struggle to find a perfect combination of materials used in a minimalist way that creates just the right function. As a designer, I strive for simplicity. Sometimes that helps and sometimes it just makes it harder to design.
Your new Edgar Blazona for TrueModern sofas are beautiful. What made you decide to venture into the world of adult furniture?
The majority of the people who have bought my TrueModern kids line always ask when I’m going to come out with some adult pieces. Given our current economy, I felt like going forward with reasonably priced adult pieces could not only help the economy, but give me a great opportunity to grow as a designer.
What were the inspirations behind the designs for your sofas?
Some of the inspiration comes from mid-century modernism. I’ve always studied and followed the Eameses, George Nelson and Donald Judd. Their design and style really rings true to me in this era of modernist living. Most of my design has a little bit of influence from these designers and their philosophies.
If your TrueModern or Edgar Blazona sofas could outfit anyone’s room, who would it be and what piece would you want to feature?
Currently we have a few different adult collections that we are about to launch. One particular collection is called Reface, which I am extremely proud of. I can’t tell you much about it yet, but you will get to see it very soon. I’d have to say that the metal leg sofa is my favorite item that i have to date. I feel that this sofa can blend into any modernist home, either mid-century modernism or 21st century modernism. So whose house would i want it to be in? Wouldn’t it be nice if the White House got a little bit more modern? How cool would it be to see our new president in a sleek lined sofa instead of an overstuffed, frumpy, button-tufted leather couch? The Obamas are just about cool enough to pull it off.
What advice would you give aspiring designers?
Just do it. Make things, photograph them, show them. Don’t get caught up on 3-D images. It’s always better to have the real item than just a fancy picture. There was a time that I used to sell items that I made right out on the sidewalk on Union Street in San Francisco. I would sit out there on Sundays with a bunch of furniture talking to anyone who would stop by to ask me what I was doing. I didn’t sell a whole lot of furniture, but I did learn the art of interacting with people and how they interacted with my furniture. This helped me to learn what people liked about design and what really pushed them over the edge.
Finally, what is next for TrueModern and/or your new Edgar Blazona line?
Right now I’m focusing on a signature adult line, the Edgar Blazona for TrueModern collection, as well as the line that I mentioned earlier, Reface. In Reface, we have bedroom pieces as well as a few living room pieces. With these pieces, I’m trying to play with a mix of color for adults along with dark veneers to create a fun and new approach to adding color to our lifestyles. I can’t wait for these items to launch. I think you guys will love them!
I enjoy wood paneled station wagons, German food and senior citizens (I am 80 years old at heart). Nearly every weekend I am taking photos at other people's weddings and I have a blog of my own (but I don't update it often enough). I love to paint, sew and knit. Check out my DP Staff profile on Hatch.