In a way, the launch of The Modern Republic is a tale of two cities: Philadelphia and New York. Launched in the City of Brotherly Love just over five years ago, the nascent brand created by Kenya Abdul-Hadi and Steven Brown found its footing in Brooklyn, with successful stints at the Brooklyn Flea that made the duo a popular regular vendor. The start of the COVID pandemic brought the pair back to their hometown of Philly, where sales started to skyrocket. Their uber-curated selection of modern pieces, particularly mid-century finds, spoke to a dedicated mix of collectors and design lovers alike who have found favorites at The Modern Republic.
We spoke with Kenya and Steven about their experiences launching the business during COVID, how they go about sourcing mid-century marvels in particular, and which types of pieces speak to them most personally. See what they had to say, and be sure to shop The Modern Republic’s offering on Chairish.
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Tell us a bit about how you launched The Modern Republic. How did you become passionate about modern furniture, and mid-century, in particular?
We started The Modern Republic in Philadelphia over five years ago because we were both passionate about design and home decor. We didn’t receive the type of response here in Philly, so we decided to take our talents to New York, to the Brooklyn Flea. We set up there for a weekend and made such an impact that we became a permanent vendor. Our love of style and design and the design-savvy customer base in Brooklyn was a perfect match. We stayed there for three years until the pandemic started and that’s how we came back to Philadelphia.
[Kenya]: I became passionate about mid-century design through my parents’ love and appreciation of design. I started off in fashion design but had already studied architecture, furniture, photography, and art. The books and magazines that I was always attracted to came from those genres. My parents always emphasized good design from as early as I can remember and it always stuck with me.
[Steve]: I became passionate about mid-century modern over time, going to auctions, stores, online, flea markets, etc.
Of all the modern styles you stock, from mid-century to postmodern to Bauhaus, is there one that’s your favorite? If so, why?
[Kenya]: My favorite style would have to be Bauhas. That movement exemplified great overall style, design, and color, which to me makes their designs timeless. I am also a fan of the Italian Memphis Movement from the 1980’s. That particular style is very attractive to me because of their use of different geographical shapes and colors.
[Steve]: My favorite style is Danish modern. I like their sleek lines and overall design aesthetic. You can always tell the difference between it and American modern, but I’m a fan of all different styles!
Speaking of mid-century, there’s been such a craze for it the past several years… well, decade or two. Why is it important for people to shop the real thing?
We believe it’s important for people to shop real mid-century designs because they have stood the test of time and are still very relevant. Any time something from 50-70 years ago still looks stylish and savvy no matter where you put it is an indication that a beautiful object was developed.
On that same note, how do you manage sourcing, when modern styles are so in demand these days?
We manage to source in this present frenzy of mid-century by continuing to look for good design daily. We go out every day looking for items that can tell The Modern Republic story. We are a lot more selective now than we have been in the past based upon our clientele and store size. People know us based upon our style and design selection, which is heavily based upon color. Our aesthetic kinda dictates what we bring in and what we don’t.
What types of pieces do you see moving right now? What are the patterns in terms of what’s selling at this point?
I would say our strongest category is art. That’s something that has been very consistent. Fortunately, most other stores don’t buy as much art or don’t push that category, so it is usually always an abundant amount for us. Everything else is pretty steady except lighting. Most people buy the sofa, rug, coffee table, art, and pottery, but will leave off when it comes to a lamp. I would say that is our slowest category overall.
What’s the design scene like in Philadelphia these days? Where do you see most of your customers coming from?
The design scene in Philadelphia is a lot more sophisticated now than when we first started. There are several other stores here like Betsu, Jinxed, Modemodern, and Yowie that cater to a more design-savvy consumer. People from out of town will always come by our store and say they are heading to these other spots when they leave. Philadelphia has become a destination for cool items and relevant style.
What’s a dream piece you’d love to own yourself?
There isn’t one particular dream piece that I would like to own. I’m more into a vast variety of styles so I’m satisfied when I see a plethora of things.
Are there any styles or trends you’d like to see disappear in the design world right now?
We aren’t mad at any design trends to the point where I want them to disappear. They all have their place. Our style and preference for what we like is so deeply ingrained that we won’t be influenced by anything that we are not interested in.
Who are some of your favorite makers or designers, in terms of your own inspirations?
Some of our favorite designers are local guys. Robert Ogden of RTO Lighting, Adam Kamens from Amuneal, and Tyler Hays from BDDW. These individuals embody the Philadelphia spirit by being creative and offering innovative design while influencing the way beauty is interpreted worldwide. We have visited all of their showrooms and it has inspired me to create beautiful spaces with all types of objects.
All images by Nicholas Piro