At Commonwealth Proper, we love to discover local places/brands that represent some of the same things we do, dedication to a craft, bringing Made in America back, or highlighting people that are changing the landscape in their own industries. This is our Local Intel series that tell the stories of these people and brands.
We take a look into the world of Moderne Gallery, a gallery and showroom in North Philadelphia which has been internationally renowned for it's high quality, vintage 20th-century furniture, lighting, and accessories starting from 1984. Focusing on the work of George Nakashima, Moderne Gallery became known as one of the prominent galleries curating & selling his work spanning from the 1940's-1980's. Over time they began to expand their gallery and have included artists like Sam Maloof, Wendell Castle, David Ebner, Viola Frey, and various artists from the Studio Craft movement, all which can be seen on display at their current location in North Philadelphia by appointment. We had the opportunity to visit the perfectly curated showroom and speak to Bob & Josh Aibel, father and son duo who run the gallery/showroom today.
CMMP: How did you get your start in the world of vintage 20th-century furniture, lighting, and accessories?
JOSH: As I’m the second generation, I was born into it or born for it. However you want to define it, it’s in my blood.
BOB: It began in 1983 by buying a home that strongly lent itself to 20th century furniture. As I began to research vintage modern furniture, my taste and interest were completely transformed by the designs and quality of the work that had been and was still being done.
CMMP: While working alongside your father, do you both have the same taste in furniture or do you both have a unique taste that combines together in the vision for Moderne Gallery?
JOSH: We have a similar taste, though we disagree at times. What you see is what we feel is essential in representing our artists and the studio movement. We don’t have to both like the piece but if we can agree that it is a good representation of the movement and historically important then that’s enough to warrant being represented by Moderne Gallery. Of course, with both of our individual passions, there is the occasional piece that one of us just had to have….
CMMP: As some of the biggest collectors/sellers of Nakashima, what drew you to his work the most?
JOSH: Outside of the incredible woods he used, the history behind each piece and the story of George Nakashima, specifically his karma yoga, which was manifested through his creation, really drew me to the work. Giving a second life to a tree in the way that George did cannot be replicated. I believe it was due to his deep level of spirituality and his practice of meditation as creation.
BOB: I always had a preference for wood furniture so I was naturally drawn to Nakashima's work. As I carefully studied the pieces themselves and his thoughts about them in his book, Soul of a Tree, I grew to understand better and appreciate the design aspects. While deceptively simple, his attention to myriad elements simultaneously proved that each piece was a complex design. In fact, his process began at the very beginning -- when he supervised the cutting of each log.
CMMP: How have you seen the world of furniture evolve since you began working at Moderne Gallery?
JOSH: The major difference since we opened in 1984 is the current strong interest in contemporary work and in vintage and contemporary Studio Furniture. At this moment, Antique furniture, such as the French Deco Moderne started with, has lost much of its appeal to designers and collectors.
CMMP: What trends do you see in the future within this market?JOSH: Upcoming I expect to see a more carefully considered and mature approach by contemporary designers and a much greater level of knowledge and connoisseurship from collectors concerning studio furniture.