A Visit to Module R

This month, Design Store(y) goes a little farther downtown, and across the bridge, to brownstone-filled Brooklyn to tour Module R, an architect-owned and curated enterprise that specializes in, you guessed it, modular art and design products. Indeed, all the items in this red-fronted shop on the border of Brooklyn Heights and Cobble Hill can be reconfigured, customized, stacked, nested, and otherwise personalized. That’s what we call focus. We chatted with the man behind the movable pieces, owner Donald Rattner.

When did Module R open?

In November 2010, with only six weeks lead time, we opened a pop-up shop  that ran until the end of March 2011. Then we moved into offices in DUMBO and spent six months building the catalog. We opened the store in November of that year.

How did you come up with the name for the store?

We wanted it to say something about modular design, since that’s what we’re doing, and I like to play with words. The letter “r” is a double entendre — it makes the word “modular,” and also stands on its own as a unit of the alphabet, which is a modular system itself. Plus, my last name is Rattner, so there’s also a hidden personal connection there.

Where did you get the idea for a store in which everything is modular?

My first introduction to modular design was about ten years ago when I worked on a modular prefab project. It opened my eyes to this way of designing things. Eventually I realized there were quite a few artists creating in this way, but no shops or galleries that focus on it.

Do you have to explain concept a lot?

No, people get it. Personalization is such a cultural trend.

Why did you pick this neighborhood and storefront?

My wife and I live in the neighborhood. We moved to Brooklyn Heights in 2000. At the end of the day, you’re looking for a certain demographic and customer profile. The store itself is an extension of my interests, so I look at myself as part of that profile. I live here. There wasn’t that much available space in the right size, so when this opened up it all came together. We get great traffic. People seem to be happy to see us here; we get a lot of compliments.

What other stores have you worked in before opening this one?

I’ve never worked in retail before, but Aimee Morris, our store manager and director of merchandising has ten years experience, and has been with me since the pop-up. I source the products, and she does whatever it takes to make them appear on our shelves. We also have a good sales team. In all my years working as an architect, I had never given one second thought that I might end up in retail.

What’s your favorite item in the store right now?

That’s impossible. If you had 100 children… We really vet our stuff. I like everything that comes in.

Do you have anything from the store in your own home?

We have a mid-century modern home in Connecticut, and we keep saying that we can’t believe we started the store AFTER we finished the house. We have the Morpheo Crystal Candlesticks [by Seletti] there. Our Brooklyn home is from the mid-19th century, so we the style doesn’t work quite as well there, but our eight-year-old has the Snap Circuits.

What’s been a consistent best seller?

The Kidz Paintable Place Mats by Modern Twist are extremely popular. They’re silicone placemats printed with figures and animals, and kids can color them in with dry erase markers. During the holidays, the Black + Blum Lunch Pots were very popular, as were other food boxes. People love the LEGO phone cases, as well as the IDAPT Universal Charger and the Universal Travel Adapter.

Does the store have its own line?

We do, of sorts. When my wife and I acquired the mid-century modern home in Connecticut, we had a lot of bare walls to contend with, so we decided to design our own artworks. I thought, “How could I combine modular architecture and modular art?” I thought about Dan Flavin and Sol Lewit of  the 1960s and looked into laser cutting and printing using digital technologies. Those artworks are part of our catalog. They are laser cut felt tapestries that slide together and can be built up. There are also rotational paintings—16 square canvases that hang in a grid, with which you can create patterns. Plus, hanging sculptures in wood and acrylic. We have ideas for similar pieces to add to those.

Is your wife part of the business too?

She works in non-profit, but she’s definitely part of the executive think group and she comes in on weekends to help with sales; she’s quite good at it.

Do you have any special events coming up?

On May 10 we opened an in-store exhibit, “Hexhibition.” It’s all about hexagons in contemporary art and design. It’s all the products in our catalog that are hexagonal, which is sort of seasonal with bees and birds, you know, with honeycombs. It runs through the end of the month

Visit Module R at 141 Atlantic Avenue, Brooklyn, New York.

Marni Elyse Katz is a Contributing Editor at Design Milk. She lives in Boston where she contributes regularly to local publications and writes her own interior design blog, StyleCarrot.