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Midcentury Modern Man

In his store, Red Modern Furniture, retailer, collector and historian Jonathan Wayne relaxes on a “Fried Egg” chair by Hans Olsen for Bramin.

A visit with Red Modern Furniture owner Jonathan Wayne.

By John Roark | Photography by Carl Schultz

“This building spoke to me,” says Jonathan Wayne of the historic two-story Ralph Haver-designed structure that is now the home of his retail store, Red Modern Furniture.

Wayne launched his business in the late 1990s in a storefront on East McDowell Road, specializing in refinished vintage furniture, artwork and decor from the 1920s to the 1980s. In 2006, a chance sighting of a “For Rent” sign in the window of the vacant office building in the Camelback Corridor set his heart racing. As a lifelong lover of the midcentury modern aesthetic, he saw the building’s enormous potential. He bought and lovingly restored it inside and out, honoring its past and giving it a future. Which, of course, is what he does best.

An artist whose background also includes studies in printmaking, death and dying, and Native American religions as well as a stint as a professional tennis instructor, Wayne was influenced at an early age by his grandparents, who lived for a short time in Mexico and befriended some of the prominent painters there in the 1950s, including David Alfaro Siqueiros.

“Growing up, I was surrounded by interesting objects, paintings and sculptures in their home. They bought things they liked versus things that they thought would grow in value,” he recalls.

Finding pieces in need of a helping hand—or “giving them a new breath and bringing them back to life,” as Wayne puts it—is his passion. “This has become my artwork,” he says. Collaborating with a team of in-town restorers that includes wood finishers, upholsterers, metalworkers and fabricators, the thrill of the hunt is matched by the love of continuing the narrative of objects by restoring them to their original beauty and finding new homes for them.

A walk through Red Modern Furniture speaks to Wayne’s reverence for great design. With an eclectic representation of some of the world’s most iconic designers, as well as names you may not know, browsing can be both educational and fun.

This pair of chests was designed in the early 1960s by George Nelson as part of his “thin edge” series for Herman Miller. $7,000/set. The framed weaving is by artist Harold Laynor, who was a student of Pablo Picasso. 44″H by 57″W. $3,400.

A one-of-a-kind desk crafted of solid walnut with metal inlays created by Allen Ditson, who had a working studio in Paradise Valley. 38″H by 71″W by 36″D. $20,000. Accompanying chair by George Mulhauser for Plycraft. $800.

“We’ve never microfocused on any one style,” says the retailer. “From the beginning, the idea was that we would include industrial work; studio furniture; Italian, Danish and Brazilian pieces and mix it all together. That’s why the store is all over the board aesthetically. We want to be the place with items you can’t find anywhere else. It keeps us on our toes.”

Wayne buys what he connects with on a profound level. “Literally every piece in this store has a story behind it,” he says. “For me, that’s part of the intrigue. The people we get items from are often fascinating and have had crazy, interesting lives. I think that permeates the objects as well.”

This three-legged walnut side table was a collaborative design between sculptor and furniture maker Allen Ditson and his wife, ceramist, painter and fabric designer Lee Porzio. 17″H by 12″ in diameter. $2,200

A tambour door chest by Danish designers Peter Hvidt and Orla Mølgaard-Nielsen, circa late 1950s. 37″H by 35.5″W by 18.75″D. $3,200. Above it, a painting by artist Steven Sles, who suffered from cerebral palsy, and taught himself to paint using his mouth. 33″H by 31″W. $4,200 

In the foreground, a one-off 1950s magazine holder by Allen Ditson has a chairlike aesthetic. 32″H by 23″W by 16″D. $4,800. Behind it, another “thin edge” series chest by George Nelson for Herman Miller. 28.5″H by 34″W by 18.5″D. $4,500

Wayne’s Insights on Integrating Modern into Your Interiors

MAKE THE CONNECTION Whether it’s a painting, a sculpture or a piece of furniture, look for something you connect with on a profound level. If you’re buying something for the sheer monetary value or the idea that it might grow in value, you are defeating the process.

ASK THE EXPERTS Pretty much anything can be saved no matter what condition it’s in. The proper restoration is super important on these pieces. There is a nuance and level of detail that can be destroyed if it’s not done correctly. You can try to do it yourself, but I believe it is better to entrust someone who knows how to rebuild from the bottom up.

THE REAL DEAL If you’re thinking of investing in an iconic piece, let the buyer beware. There are so many knockoffs in the market now. I’ve been doing this for so long I can spot the details. I know if something is supposed to be there that the fakes don’t have.

IT’S IN THE MIX If you love midcentury modern design, you can do your whole house that way. My personal preference is to combine a variety of styles together. Telling your story through your furnishings is important. What you bring to your interior spaces can express your thoughts, the way you see the world, your color aesthetic and your journey.

EMBRACE THE SOUTHWEST It’s easy to integrate midcentury modern and Southwestern elements. There is a rich tradition here of Native American objects, language and history. Combine large Navajo rugs with iconic midentury modern pieces for a fresh look. Mix kachina dolls with abstract sculptures. There’s always a way to do it and honor the past.

FLAWS AND ALL I believe in embracing the history of an object. Wear and tear can be reinterpreted as the life of a piece versus a flaw. Some people want things that are perfect, and we can do that through restoration. It depends on the client.

PAST LIVES With certain pieces, provenance is very important and can affect the price point. Who previously owned it? Was it exhibited at a respected gallery or museum? Is it signed? Is there paperwork from the artist? All of those factors are important, especially with higher-end pieces.

Bentwood leg splint by Charles and Ray Eames. 42″H by 4.25″W by 6″D. $950


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