I think this is our first trip to the Midwest for Design Store(y)! We’re virtually visiting Minneapolis modern shop, Forage Modern Workshop, owned by Mike Smith and James Brown. We spoke with Business Manager and Buyer, Rebekah Cook, about the shop.
Why was this city/neighborhood/storefront chosen?
East Lake Street is a great part of the Twin Cities that a lot of people look past. It’s not trendy. There are tons of abandoned buildings and storefronts and we felt really passionate about being part of the revitalization of East Lake. We were already living and working in South Minneapolis and the Longfellow neighborhood. It’s probably not the best business plan to buy a building and try to make a store in an area that wasn’t street-retail-traffic heavy, but that’s what we did. Plus, it picked us in a way. This incredible 1951 building, a former carpenter’s union hall, came up for sale and we had to have it.
Where did the name for the store come from?
Oh man, it started with this—looking back, horrible—idea of remodeling furniture. Mike and James saw all of this horrible furniture made in the 80s that they wanted to fix up and reuse. It was a pretty steampunk idea and I’m glad it ended up being one of those ideas that never happened. Nevertheless, hence, Forage Modern Workshop.
The longer version is… Owners Michael Smith and James Brown own a design+build contracting company called Brownsmith Restoration, specializing in period design and restoration. They also sell real estate. Through this work, they became interested in modern furniture design by architects. A lot of great work came out of the Midwest. For example, Ralph Rapson. They were really inspired by Ralph Rapson’s store in Boston back in the 50s and how it influenced mass modernism. Mike and James wanted to create that same effect in Minneapolis. Good modern designers were flourishing here, so they wanted to create a space where local and regional makers could showcase their work alongside an eclectic global and national collection. They convinced me to quit my job and help them start Forage. Now, it’s more of this idea workshop. Sure, we sell beautiful things, but we also work hard to get people to think twice about their stuff—who made it, where it comes from, how long will it last. We have this crazy idea that craftsmanship and beauty can make the world a better place.
Has it changed much since it opened? How?
Yes. After the final idea of Forage Modern Workshop came to fruition, we made sure to let it breathe and morph into what it wanted to be. For example, when we opened we carried a lot more vintage Mid-Century Modern furniture. We still definitely have a large piece of vintage goods, but it’s much less of a focal point now.
Our opening in Minneapolis was timely. It seemed that we struck a vein that was already there, ready to burst. We’ve had great support from our design community. In a sense, we don’t really have any rules or ideas of what we are supposed to be. In this way, we try to stay open to change and new creative energy.
What’s one of the challenges with the business?
One of the hardest things has been translating our desire for an artistic and meaningful experience into retail. We want everything to be meaningful and make Forage a cultural contribution through retail. But, retail is really hard. It’s also challenging to find interesting and amazing designs at an attainable price point.
What other stores have you and the owners worked in before opening this one?
Mike and James’ background is actually in design/build and real estate and mine is in business administration and customer service and not retail. Funny, huh? Love for design was a hobby for all of us.
What’s your favorite item in the store right now?
Muuto Nerd Chairs.
What is this season’s theme/inspiration/story?
We’ve been talking a lot about “more art, less art direction,” really trying to let our inspiration be the pieces we carry and the designers that make them and less about how cool the photo will look on Instagram.
Are you carrying any new products and/or undiscovered gems you’re particularly excited about?
What’s been a consistent best seller?
Does the store have its own line?
We’ve done some collaborations and exclusive pieces in the past, but stay tuned for more on this in the future…
Any special events/exhibits/pop ups/collaborations coming up?
Yes! Our friends, Bodega, a creative firm in Minneapolis, is curating a newsstand of gorgeous small press publications in our store this spring. We are really excited about a collaboration that we are doing with the American Craft Council curating a Hip Pop booth in April. We also have a really exciting real estate project we are working on that I can’t share the details but it’ll be across the street from us and totally amazing.
Do you have anything from the store in your own home?
Yes. A lot. A favorite is in Mike’s house – the Rapson Greenbelt Rocker.
What’s next for the team and your store?
We will continue to do our best to bring the best to our followers, but we are currently trying to decide what that will be. A lot is unknown and in limbo. But one thing is for sure, we’ll have tons of fun doing it!
Visit Forage Modern Workshop at 4023 East Lake Street, Minneapolis, MN 55406 or online.