No–we haven’t run out of inspiring designers, architects and business owners to interview. We’ve just decided to introduce you to some of the folks that are behind the scenes of our website–they’re the people who started 2Modern, run 2Modern and basically make 2Modern how great it is! We might be a website that sells modern designs to people all over the world, but behind the website is a group of folks truly passionate about modern design, excited about all the amazing new products and so grateful to get to work in such an awesome field.
We’re kicking this series of 2Modern interviews off with one of the founders, Greg Finney. Greg, along with his partner Jennifer Sitko, began 2Modern to share good, modern design with more people. What started out as a small collection of vendors has exploded into the awesomely curated collection you see on the site today–and it’s still growing! More than just an online retail store, we also wanted to do these interviews to show off all the other things we’ve got going on here: our 2M Directory, the 2M Collective, our new Trendsetters section and yes–our blog–all areas we hope to keep growing and expanding with your help.
Though I’ve known Greg for a few years, it was a delight to get to hear about his interesting and varied background, learn about how 2Modern got started and even get some hints of what’s in store for 2Modern in the future. And guess what–Greg gave such a good interview we’re splitting it in two! Listen to part 1 below to find out what Greg really thinks modern design is:
Our podcast music is “Dropping out of School” by Brad Sucks, licensed for use
under Creative Commons license Attribution-ShareAlike 3.0 Unported
You better believe we’ve got a transcript for this interview below. Check us out at 2Modern.com. You can catch that audio interview here: 2Modern Greg Finney. Be sure to check out part two of his interview after you finish up this one!
2M: We have a very special guest with us today. So along with our podcasts of designers and architects, we wanted to interview some of the folks who run 2modern to give you a little picture of what it is that we do here and why we do what we do. I can think of no better place to start than with one of the founders of 2Modern, Greg Finney! Thanks for sitting down with me.
GF: Oh it’s a pleasure to be here. You’ve been doing a great job with the interviews and I’ve been listening to all of them and it’s wonderful to get some of the voices behind the designs that we represent.
2M: Totally. Well let’s get to know you first. What’s your background like? Schooling…early jobs?
GF: [laughs] I have an eclectic background…I went to several different high schools. I guess you could say I was someone who questioned a lot of things. [laughs] And rebelled against a lot of things. So I got to see a lot of different types of experiences out there…I was chopping wood, I was doing a lot of stuff. I was always doing stuff in the creative world. I did a lot of acting and writing and I would direct skits. I did a lot of photography growing up. I just really enjoyed the creative world. And people in the creative world. And so once I graduated college I traveled around the world for about a year, and got to see a lot of different cultures and different types of design and architecture and all kinds of stuff and it was just very exciting for me.
I started an interactive agency with my partner, Jennifer Sitko, who’s now the creative director at 2Modern and does a really wonderful job and is just a great designer and does a lot of the 2Modern stuff, too, like pillows, and rugs and artwork. But we started working together in 1996, and we started an interactive agency and did a lot of websites for Levi Strauss, Charles Schwab, and Siebel Systems at the time, and UCSF, and Clorox, and then we just started thinking about and incubating our own company ideas because it gave us a lot more creative flexibility. 2Modern was one of the sites we first started. That was in 2002, 2003. It just really took off and we loved it because we were creative people working with other creative people and we loved modern design and architecture and art. All of a sudden we got to combine two of our passions–and that’s how 2Modern got started.
2M: What is it about modern design that really drew you in and made you want to create a business around it?
GF: Well I think a couple of reasons. First and foremost we were just drawn to the modern design aesthetic. Our office design was all modern, our homes were modern, you know, everything that we were naturally attracted to. Jennifer also did a lot of furniture design in college and did it as a hobby. I was doing photography and art and some other things as well. So just naturally, it was just one of those things we paid attention to, like in magazines and publications and tours and all sorts of things. We were thinking about what would be a business we would really enjoy doing, because we already had a certain amount of expertise in ecommerce and marketing and branding and all that–we could choose whatever we wanted to do.
The second part of it was the business aspect of it. Looking at the time, there was really a fractured market out there, especially in terms of small to mid-size, emerging designers out there; they just weren’t really well represented or known. So we were able to go okay, well we have the ability to show these people off and bring them to a more world-wide office. And these guys are doing a great job at designing this stuff. So it was a really good fit from a business side and a natural desire.
2M: Do you have a definition of modern that really resonates with you?
GF: That’s a great question and it’s one where there’s this constant debate that goes on, not only within my head but also in conversations with other people. I personally equate modern design with good design. It’s people who are pushing the frontier in terms of aesthetics, what looks good, but also in functionality, whether it makes sense and what materials are being used and all that. There are a lot of people who talk about modern design or modernism. And it makes you think about the Mid-Century time frame—and there’s obviously some wonderful pioneers from that time—but leapfrog forward to today, and with the manufacturing processes that are available and the various materials that are available and all that, there’s just this completely different world in terms of what is possible. So I kind of look at it as modern design isn’t equated to a certain time period, and not even really—at least in my mind—equated to a particular design style, I think it’s more—what appears to me at least—functional, beautiful design. And in a real simplistic sense, good design.
2M: Do you think your definition has changed throughout the years? Or has it evolved, too?
GF: It’s evolved. It’s become far more broad. A lot more horizontal. I think at one time I was a pigeonholer and thought modern design was a real specific niche. Whereas as I’ve traveled around and gone to more shows and met more people and as I’ve been in this business I’ve really expanded my view. Things that might be on the fringe of what some people might consider to be modern…it’s not George Jetson is modern design; it’s a lot of different things out there. And it’s not just sofas and couches and bed–it’s artwork, it’s rugs, it’s watches, belts, it’s kitchen accessories, etc. There are just so many things out there. So contemporary design and modern design–it’s a very sort of blurred line between the two.
2M: And I like that that brief product list you just gave kind of matches all the variety that you guys have on 2Modern. You guys really seek out those different types.
GF: Yeah absolutely. That’s the funnest part of doing what we do. Is really finding all the new designs and working with our designers and their new designs and constantly refreshing and dealing with different color palettes or moving into different categories. And also doing some of our own design, which is just so much fun. That’s what it’s all about. Obviously there are a lot of logistics like customer service, which we take very seriously, and search engine marketing and more, which has it has its pros and cons, some of them are fun and some of them aren’t as much fun. Dealing with the actual design and looking at what people are doing in the emerging world of design is fascinating and I love doing it—it’s a lot of fun.
2M: In what ways has 2Modern, the store and as a site, evolved since it first began?
GF: Well it started with about three different designers at the time—I think it was Blu Dot, Offi and Inhabit—of which we still represent and they’re constantly coming up with new designs and it’s a pleasure working with the three of them. I’m in contact with them quite often. So from a size it was really small. It was more like let’s see if this really works at the time. It’s so common place now that people don’t think about it but at the time we were like “are people really going to buy a chair…buy a bed online? Without ever really sitting in it?” So we wanted to try to put something out there that we really liked, with good price points, that wasn’t widely available everywhere—at least at the time—and see what happens. People did. People bought it and sat it in and it was just this evolution that started to happen there. We obviously started to represent a lot more designers and then moved on to other categories and you know, over time, we’ve added to what we offer already. We have the modern design directory, which is directory.2modern.com, and that’s a way for individuals and businesses to locate modern designers—interior designers or architects—within their area. They can search by zip code, or whether or not they’re eco-friendly. It’s a very curated place—people have to apply to be in the directory and they have to have work that is visible to us and a lot experience. And so that’s a great tool, not only for architects and designers to market themselves but for people to actually find them.
And of course the blog is something that has really evolved as well. We can’t even really call it a blog anymore, what it used to be was more of a blog; it’s really today evolved more into a community where there’s thousands of articles related to all sorts of things. Most of it is not even related to 2Modern.com the store where people can buy furniture and lighting, accessories and things like that. It’s dealing with new modern, sustainable architecture in China or a practice that might be out of Bulgaria or there might be some rug designer we don’t even represent out of the Deep South–I mean it’s all over. So 2Modern.com is kind of branching itself into different areas because at the end of the day we’re really kind of following more of our passion which is again this good design and all the wonderful and exciting things that are happening in the world of design globally, and just kind of branching out into different things. So we have a lot of exciting things that are going to be evolving even further, not just with the stuff I mentioned but also with other things as well.
2M: You were just listening to Part 1 of the interview with 2Modern’s very own Greg Finney; you can catch back up with Greg and more about modern design with our Part 2 later this week at the blog at 2Modern.com.