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It is funny how these things come to pass . . . . What exactly qualifies me, a home improvement-type dude, to interview a purveyor of fine vintage goods, an artist by fact — Dino Paxenos at Modern 50.  Let’s just say one thing leads to another, which leads to another, which reminds you of something earlier that you had meant to follow up on.  And . . .

Brass Pendant Barber Shop Globe via Modern 50

In other words — Brizo faucets brought me to New York (thanks Brizo and . . . Jody Brown) where I met the Brooklyn Contessa, Nicole Dufour DuRocher.  About a week or so later, and on her site Bklyn Contessa :: A Life+Style Field Guide. I found an image credited to Modern 50Modern 50 — who I knew simply as Dino from high school, and who, at some point, had discussed having an interview with me.

About two years after that discussion — Dino’s business thriving; I get a not-often-granted interview. 

Note: For brevity’s sake, I removed chunks of the backstory Dino provided.  But much too good to discard, I included as an Outtake at the bottom of the post.  Thanks and enjoy. ~jb

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BMoxie:

I remember hearing through a friend that you were doing this “thing”.  That was a few years back, and before “reclaimed goods” became a catchphrase.  When did you formally launch Modern 50?  And what motivated you do so?

Modern 50:

The general idea for the initial website, Modern 50, 1920s Oak Iron Drafting Table Lit via Modern 50was created around 2002 by Eric Ginter and Dino Paxenos.  In the confines of a large corporate building, a blue architectural fin cutting through it, Eric showed me the monetary value in certain Mid-Century Modern Esoteric furnishings and items.  In retrospect, he conveyed a confidence to me in the possibility of making a legitimate living completely outside of anyone’s payroll.   The independent artist inside me quickly transformed this into a grandiose vision of true freedom . . . .

BMoxie:

You have a sister site, Factory 20.  Who and what is Factory 20?  What is your role?  How and when was this connection made?

Modern 50:

. . . As far as the two websites go, Eric runs Factory 20 and I run Modern 50. About 90% of the content is mirrored. This separation ended up increasing web traffic, but initially gave us autonomy over our own content.

BMoxie:

Your website reads: “Modern 50 is a multi-disciplinary art and design collective which strives to create an ever-evolving nonlinear consumer lifestyles collection.”  That said, what is Modern50?  And how has it evolved in the years since you wrote those lines?

Modern 50:

The idea flushed out in 2008, when I wrote the basic manifesto for our business.  It was something we had been thinking about for Mercury Glass Meth Flask Featured in the upcoming Smurfs Movieyears.  We wanted to be more artistic and less merchant.  We wanted to be unbound by traditional constructs, parameters, etc.  That (statement) was for a world we were leaving behind.  We wanted to be artists, just as much as pickers, antique dealers, or re-claimers.

BMoxie:

Apartment Therapy says, “. . . carefully curated, beautifully photographed vintage finds.”  (I notice concrete panels in many of your shots — are these images taken in the studio in which you live?) Are you solely responsible for the staging of and the photographing of your products?  Tell us more about this?  It’s art in itself, isn’t it?

Modern50:

Eric and I both photograph and do the styling for the products we sell.  I do have a bit of a photography background and that helped get us started.  I always enjoyed taking pictures.  College photo and film classes got me competent, but the trespassing and the dreaming alone in the abandoned buildings of the Baltimore waterfront in the late eighties got me hooked.  I shot roll after roll of color slides back then.

Vintage Wood Torpedo Mold Cast Bomb via Modern 50Product photography was a bit more straightforward, but equally as addicting.  I figured out a good lighting setup that jived with my digital camera sensors at the time; I tried to mimic the glossy DePury and the Wright20 auction catalog shots.  When we started Modern 50, we used that setup on a larger scale and for the most part shot on white.  We quickly moved on and played around with different backgrounds until one came to us and we finally stuck to a look.

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As far as the propping went, I started to Frankenstein my Herman Miller chairs and started shooting the odd combinations of chairs and bases — mainly just fooling around.  I enjoyed looking at the shots and playing around with them in post production.  I sometimes would throw those artsy shots at the bottom of an eBay auction or in a craigslist ad to provoke odd questions or reactions.

When we got our first warehouse space in 2003, we started having fun setting up the shots.  It started as pointlessly propping, not the purposeful vignetting of multiple items like in the older Skinner or Rago auction catalogs.  But we were only giving one item prominence; we were actually garnishing it.  It was a poke at the seriousness of some of the product photography out there . . . . A lot of our collaborative ideas remained dormant, but in 2008 we started analyzing things more seriously.  Building on our acquired skills, we started applying a lot of these ideas to our processes and ultimately focused more on selling products.

BMoxie:

I know you’d have to kill me after, but . . . Procurement?  Can you tell us a little bit about this process?  Where do you find many of your “finds”?  How do you target pieces?  And how do you work to set market value on, sometimes one-of-a-kind pieces?

Modern 50:

For me creative freedom in my buying and in my work is essential. I am an artist and a bachelor, so I am living and breathing my work at all times. A collector of strange reference materials and old books. I do a lot of research to find ideas. This guides my buying, sharpens my eye, and gives new inspiration for making sculpture or artwork. To me, research is relaxing and energizing.

according to Modern 50 "A fun shot used as a background"

I think research & development is crucial for successful procurement, it keeps your menu lively, it trains your powers of manifestation. And as for the site; if you are not teaching, showing or revealing something to your clients — they will not return.  My ultimate passion is for art, and design, I think this crosses all disciplines and I think our collection does that as well, pushing the boundary of the preconceived “online vintage store.”

. . . I do a lot of research in the oddest of places, it is one of my favorite hobbies, and like being able to put up some of the fruits of that research. Happenstance stuff . . . for example — I am collecting every object in a Jasper Johns painting and putting that up as a collection. Older esoteric objects from obscure industrial designers, artists or craftsman; a bronze snail that doubles as an ashtray; a couple work from neo-cubists Lola Dupre, Scandinavian teak and rosewood housewares, and some of my own fine art and concoctions.

BMoxie:

Obviously you have developed an eye for style? Can you tell us a little how your skill(s) was developed?

Modern 50:

. . .  As far as good composition, it comes with practice, I have been at it for a while.  I have always had a desire to convey my excitement over the beauty in something, especially if I felt it was overlooked.  Wanting to see beauty in everything is probably a helpful trait.  Not everyone has the time or the mind set to see like that, it comes with an over-sensitivity.  But most people do like to be shown beauty.  And these subtle skills when recognized and applied can create some good imagery and convey desire.

I am the single-minded, unfocused, aimless, and obsessive type. That trait has always helped me to find a little success in my endeavors. I come at things a little backwards. Really live what I do, and for as long as I get energized by it. I think I used to feel bad about how my mind and artistic energy worked.  I mean — I consider myself a bit of a poser, always moving from thing to thing, immersing myself for a while in something then moving on.

Vintage Wall Salvaged Shelf in the Modern 50 Studio

But If you know what truly excites you, you are lucky, don’t judge it, go with it, there may be something authentic lying there and when it ends, hopefully there is something else on the horizon.

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BMoxie:

What is like working where you live or is that, living where you work?  Would you consider your space eclectic?

Modern 50:

We live in a fairly new community in northern Virginia near Reston, and a bit to the west is not very old.  So to say our space is eclectic would be quite a stretch.  We are near the 1960s Eero Saarinen-designed Dulles Airport! But our workshop is just a 2500 square foot hangar.  It works for us, sometimes we think it would be nice to have more space, or have a factory, or work out of a barn, but we are patient and happy to have something going that is providing for us.

BMoxie:

Are there some pieces that you find it difficult to part with?  I assume many don’t even see your site… tell us about your secret personal stash?

Modern 50:

Things I most likely would not sell — my Margaret Kilgallen and my Jim Houser Skateboards.

BMoxie:

Your website says you have rentals available, and have served the film, television, and theatrical industries — would we recognize any of your pieces from anywhere?

Modern 50:

One of our biggest accomplishments in that sense came last year when we provided one of the main work tables for the workshop scenes in “INCEPTION”.  Maple Block Table, here.

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Maple Block Metal Factory Desk Featured in the Movie Inception via Modern 50

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Thanks again to Dino — living the dream.  Visit them now @ Modern 50 and Factory 20 and/or feel free to follow new items as they are posted on Twitter: @Modern50 and @Factory20. ~jb

More Moxie (Related Info):

* Modern 50 recently was highlighted in a Wall Street Journal article >> Hiding Wealth in Wear and TearMarket Watch cites the trend of the industrial vintage craze.

* Props to Modern 50 in various places on the internet:

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Outtake: A Creative Journey

In the early nineties, I was floundering around in my seventh and eighth years of undergrad, oscillating between majors, and being an artist; splicing film projects together at bars, sneaking around the Clinton Street (Baltimore) waterfront taking photographs of the abandoned warehouses, and mountain biking.  But my studies brought me into more and more contact with an old high school friend, David Lloyd.  He was now working in animation/multimedia, and long story short — we landed jobs at an IT corporation, poised for the impending northern Virginian Internet bubble.  It was 1995 . . . .

By 2002, the spit of the bursted Internet bubble had all but dried up from the streets of northern Virginia, and it was pretty clear things were angling downward.  People shuffled into new careers, and friends moved onto green pastures, San Francisco.

I had just returned to work at a small Internet start-up after a 14 month sabbatical in Africa and the Mediterranean.  Through twists of fate I ended up back at the original corporation that hired me in 1995.  I was working again with Eric Ginter who was then an art director.  We became friends and we quickly discovered we had a lot in common; crafty, independent, mischievous, clever, non-conforming, and the corporate structure did not mix well with either of our personalities.

-Discovery of Digital SLR

However, we did enjoy exploiting the freedom the job provided; the non-confrontational managerial style, and the benefits and the money.  We also noticed that we enjoyed our creative collaborations. The results were surprising.  By late 2007, things started to change, and we were both laid off in October of that year.  Eric went to San Francisco, and David Lloyd hired me as a co-photographer on a book he was making for company on emerging markets in Asia.  This gave me my first experience with a digital slr camera.  Contrary to how things seemed to be going, in a few short months, Eric and I were both back on the east coast. By June of 2008, we were working full time together, redesigning the Modern 50 site and launching Factory 20 . . . .