MidModMen+Friends in Saint Paul Features Midcentury Modern Home Furnishings

MidModMen+friends brings a taste of midcentury modern style to Saint Paul.
Co-owners Jon Mehus, left, and Neal Kielar at their unique store on University Avenue.

On a late Sunday afternoon, you might find Neal Kielar, co-owner of MidModMen+friends, moving a sleek walnut credenza so customers can more easily circulate the room during the next business day. He restages the store often, as the market is fluid, and caters to buyers seeking a desired look at home.

Located at University and Raymond Avenues, the one-of-a-kind home furnishings store refurbishes and rejuvenates midcentury modern furniture primarily from the 1950s and ’60s. The store sells items including couches, chairs, dining room sets, hutches, nightstands and more, often with a Scandinavian slant. The store’s merchandise comes from the store’s contributors (the “+ friends”) and a variety of additional sources.

Kielar, along with co-owner Jon Mehus, opened the store in October 2012, with the space open two days per week. “We decided we were going to give it a trial run. After one month we said, ‘This seems to be working.’ Now we are open on Thursday, Friday, Saturday and Sunday,” says Kielar.

The partnership is a seamless collaboration between the owners. Mehus completes a significant portion of the restoration while Kielar’s work often focuses on merchandising and marketing for the business. The pair are quick to admit they couldn’t fill the store without the help of contributors like Ferrous Furnishings, Lex Winger and their lighting partner from ModiLumi. “The store runs as something of a collective; all contributors are recurring characters in the story,” Kielar explains.

A particular point of pride is the quality of the pieces they sell. “We’ve tried to put ourselves in a certain niche. Because we restore things, the quality has to be good. There’s no point in putting a lot of hours into restoring a dresser that might look nice, but will still be flimsy. So we pick high-quality items from the era which are quite good by today’s standards,” Kielar says.

Besides the restored and rejuvenated furniture, the store is delightfully accented with pops of color such as deep-hued red wool couches, patterned lampshades, turquoise-and-gold accented bar ware, vintage forest green club chairs, and both original midcentury artwork as well as contemporary artwork contributed by artist friends of Kielar and Mehus. The textures, fabrics, color and variety of décor create interest anywhere you look.

One of the thrilling things that MidModMen+friends features is the effect the contributors have on the feel of the store. Josh Midland of Ferrous Furnishings is a full-time contributor, restoring pieces as well as building entirely new items from salvaged materials found at auctions, rummage sales and flea markets.

“The number of new things that show up in the store each week is something that we’re always striving to outdo ourselves with. We do get a lot of feedback from customers who notice all the new things coming in and marvel at how we’re able to do that and to keep the standard that we strive for,” Midland says.

Midland, who was a welder prior to creating pieces for the store full time, has given the space an additional unique feel with his modern industrial style, fashioned from a variety of materials including raw wood, steel and iron. Each piece he produces is significantly different from another and varies in the amount of time it takes to complete, but he aims to do two to three large pieces a week.

“Josh will have a piece of salvage or mill-end lumber, and he’ll say, ‘That’s a really cool piece of wood, I’m going to do something with that.” And my response always is, ‘Of course you are,’ ” says Kielar with a laugh.

“We have a generous interpretation of modern. Modern is a point of view or a state of mind. It gives you a lot of flexibility and creativity. With some of the pieces we have, some people say, ‘You’re cheating.’ But modern is fluid and forward-thinking. It’s not a thing that’s stuck in time. If it [is], it’s not modern, it’s a period piece,” Kielar says.

Both owners will tell you one of the biggest challenges in running MidModMen+friends is that there is usually a lot more that goes on behind the scenes than meets the public’s eye. “One of the challenges of the business is that the work is never done. There’s always another piece to find and restore, and in our case, hundreds of square feet of projects waiting for attention. But so long as people keep putting a dent in our supply, we’ll keep on replenishing it,” Mehus says.

Kielar explains that what MidModMen+friends does is different from a lot of other vintage stores because the pieces are completely restored and functional; this niche generates strong customer loyalty. Typical customers are in their early 30s or older, who have a home they want to furnish or refurnish, and really invest in the items they want to enjoy for a long time.

John and Betty Olson of Saint Paul first stumbled upon MidModMen+friends while searching online for furniture stores to redecorate their home built in 1953. Wanting to refurnish their home according to its original style, they checked out the unique shop and now can’t part from MidModMen+friends. They’ve frequented the shop for over a year.

“What I liked immediately was the quality of all the merchandise. Everything is like new, it’s authentic, it’s original. They helped us find the dining room table to go with the chairs we bought from them, and they found the perfect table to match, so that’s going over and above, I think, what you might find another furniture store would do,” John says.

“It really is an experience to go there. We get to talk to them and hear the story of every piece,” Betty says. “How they got it, what they did to it, and the history of the designer."

Kielar and Mehus gladly welcome browsers looking for inspiration for their homes. They enjoy providing help and advice to customers seeking a vintage and modern design resource.

“It’s just an area that we like to work in because it’s not that common in this market. It’s where we find a really strong customer niche and a lot of customer loyalty,” Kielar says.

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MidModMen + friends 2401 University Ave. W.; 612.234.1201

STORE HOURS

Thursday through Sunday

11 a.m. to 5 p.m.

Appointments available