July 11, 2007

Mod Mom Furniture Applies Lessons Of Digital Video Revolution To Kids Furniture

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Time was when, if you wanted to make a me-too version of whatever TV show is popular right now, you needed a massive studio infrastructure staffed with hundreds of people, including a suiteful of development execs who'd pay their Hasty Pudding buddies six figures to punch up your script, make it sound more, you know, Entourage-y.

Then like five years ago, the digital video revolution hit, and any monkey with a handheld camera and the dimmest slacker from Brown could whip up a reality show, Just throw some storylines at a bunch of wannabe actors stuck in a house in 29 Palms for ten days. Edit that together on your Mac--BAM. Like printin' money.

Now with the YouTube and such, all you need is a webcam and a teenage niece, and you can create your own LonelyGrrl-esque drama and upload it before your brother even gets to the back nine.

It's these valuable lessons--along with some poignant childhood memories of her dad woodworking in the garage back in Defiance, Ohio [really?! we can totally use that!]--that inspired Los Angeles mom-slash-"ex-TV network exec" Kiersten Hathcock to launch Mod Mom Furniture out of her own presumably larger garage workshop.

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Mod Mom makes kids furniture "for families looking to go mod at an affordable price." Brilliant! Why line the pockets of the bums at Not Neutral by paying $250 for a Toy Caddy? It's only got two wheels! A Mod Mom Push Cart's got four, and it's only $175. [Actually, are those casters under there? It has eight!]

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And how do those corporate fat cats at Argington think they can get away with charging $420 for a lopsided Fuji Toy Box with only ONE cubby? The Mod Mom Mod Box comes complete--with TWO--and it's just $375.

Mod Mom's been mentioned on half a dozen design and parenting blogs, but no one's called her out on this knock-offery? Look here, people, I'm all for affordable minimalism, making your own damn furniture, even knocking off brilliant design by others. I made a crib-sized copy of a Donald Judd daybed for crying out loud. But that's only because Judd didn't make cribs, and because his furniture sells for $70,000 and up, a decidedly different market. Also, I acknowledge my sources, it's the whole point, actually.

There's a world of difference between that and hiring some amigos in a 7-11 parking lot to rip off existing products by independent designers, which you then sell to a bunch of Northridge cheapskates looking to save fifty bucks.

Since the dawn of the modernist era, there's been a whole freakin' universe of amazing kids designs that's gone out of production--or that never even made it in. Why not bring back play furniture inspired by Bauhaus pioneer Alma Buscher? Or the awesome, modular playset by Stephan Gip, Fun On Wheels? Or hello, Nomadic Furniture anyone?

I guess it's the difference between TV and movies: TV takes whatever's hot at the moment and replicates it to death. But the movies breathe new life into old classics. Like Bewitched: The Movie and The Brady Bunch Movie. Uh..

Don't even get me started on the Lego Table [sic]: Mod Mom Furniture [modmomfurniture.com]

Update post here: Please, Someone, Knock Off This Kid's Furniture

18 Comments

Well said, Greg. Both about formulaic TV and the knock-off furniture!

Preach!

I saw them on another blog and was thinking the same thing, she also uses the same soft close/ no pinch hardware that makes the Argington so awesome! It's an off the shelf part but nobody else I know of has used it to that effect.

It's kinda like Modernica respecting the George Nelson lamps but then knocking off every other mid-century design icon in the canon. If there were only an RIAA like organization for we designers....

[I generally agree, though Modernica's a tricky case, if only because companies like Herman Miller so egregiously dropped the ball on their own history. In the Eames chair case in particular, HM mucked things up further by reintroducing an "authorized" version that's a totally different material from the "original." -ed.]

Nice one.

mod*mom (with an asterisk) should drop a cease and desist on modmom's ass.

I wonder what modmom and Buga-Boo could come up with if they put their heads together?

[check www.Dis-Ney.com for details. -ed.]

I've been ignoring them - waiting for them to go away.

For the record, I've never seen a toybox WITHOUT that soft-close hinge.

[i have, but you're right, it's definitely more common than just Argington. There's a lot that's not new in kid design--the Max in the Box chair Thomas Maitz acts like he designed was published in "Nomadic Furniture 2" 30 years ago, for example--but Argington's a known quantity with a near-identical design. And Not Neutral got all its initial press for their design of Universal's day care center--which included the Caddy. Modmom's kid could have attended that daycare for all we know. -ed.]

Hey I looked on her site and saw the OFFI Bench Box on casters. Exact.
Shame on you modmom! If you are so good with the saw do some designs of your own instead of knocking off others!

[that can't be the Offi Bench Box. The Bench Box is $499 and has a cushion. The MM Bench has no cushion and is $225. Totally different. -ed.]

While I certainly can't condone the knock-offery, people like Argington should be asking themselves how a mom making stuff in her freaking garage is able to undercut their prices. It's not like she's having the stuff made in China. She's a mom. In a garage. If you can't beat that with economies of scale and mass production, either your margins are too high, or you don't know what you're doing. The best protection against knockoffs is competitive pricing.

[but she makes a point of cutting out "the middleman," i.e., the retail and distribution, so there's the entire wholesale-retail margin to play with. Unless she's planning to sell just five of them on etsy and three at some craft fair in Pasadena, she'll find she has more than just materials and labor costs. And if she's planning on solving the inefficiencies of the retail furniture industry, she'll need more than a few knockoff furniture designs and a belt sander. -ed.]

Yeah, I did consider the lack of another level of markup, but still. She's probably buying materials at Home Depot. And I imagine an "ex-TV exec" requires a pretty high effective hourly labor rate. So unless her "garage workshop" is actually 10,000ft and full of CNC routers and undocumented workers, one really ought to be able to soundly beat her cost.

wow.....pretty vicious attack people, and for that I say "shame on" all of you!

First of all let me tell you, I myself am an industrial designer, a graduate of the Rhode Island School of Design in industrial design....and part of the design team for the original XBOX controller--among dozens of other design projects and jobs during my career (just to validate myself here amongst you all). In addition to being an industrial designer and a children's product designer, I am also a friend of the hideous monster you portray modmom as!

I feel I would be remiss if I did not post something in her defense here. First of I would just like to verify for the record... everything she claims to be on her website is true. She is IN FACT from Ohio, and contrary to your beliefs she really DOES build all of this stuff by herself in her garage. I've been there, and there is not a single amigo, or a 7-11 (or it's parking lot) anywhere in sight. Her table saw does however, sit directly beside her laundry machines, in case your interested.

Now, I see you have all jumped all over her for building some pieces that are similar to some existing stuff out there....however, I find it interesting that not a single one of you have mentioned her original pieces like the mid-century toybox, or the Lego table (which I am afraid to "get you started on"--but yes, I WILL go there!--please feel free to show me another one like it out there) Also, I find it intersting that not a single one of you have noted that although Argington, and Offi have created really beautiful pieces worthy of re-creation... are they truly "original"?? Looking through 1950's furniture design I can find some pretty simliar, if not "exact" pieces and styling, to what they are doing now!

Although I can understand your dismay with her "knock-offery" styling, I think you may be coming down a little hard on her... I mean after all if Argington or Offi are threatened by her prescence don't you think they would slap her with a C&D order?? And really at the end of the day what's the point of getting yourselves bent out of shape about her exisitence I mean she's just one woman making some furniture and selling her pieces to a handful of customers and stores, can't a hard working girl just get a break? sheesh people, call off the dogs.

To think that just two years ago, I was secretly building a Tiki bar for my husband’s surprise 34th birthday and look at me now! Since unlocking my pension toward carpentry, I have been able to lose myself in a new hobby and identity that takes me beyond the label of a “stay-at-home” or a “working mom” to a creative outlet connected to the immediate award of raising my children (now 4 and 8). It is through the unlocking of my passion and sharing of my personal story to other mothers in my own small circle that I learned of other mothers who felt the same way and had found their “secret” identity in doing things like designing baby clothes or blankets on their dining room table, or in their garage while their children are napping or at school. What was even more amazing to learn was that through the magic of the internet and the virtual storefront, you could easily imagine these products cranking out of small factories with a dozen or so employees. When in fact these products and designs stem from an organic creative process fed directly by their own kids-- and "moms who know".
It was this inspiration, and insistence from other mothers, that led me to launch ModMom Furniture.com three months ago. Since the time of launch, I have been amazed at the support of on-line communities that have taken my work from being a local word-of-mouth hobby that pays for itself, to a small business that serves an underserved audience, and actually contributes and pays some of our family’s bills. I love the fact that my growing children now join me in the garage “workshop” and help create furniture that suits their size and needs while also serving our rental home's storage needs. The low cost I KEA solutions, nor the high end (and high priced) design houses you mentioned could really fill our needs. There definitely seems to be a place for my furniture and price point otherwise the attention toward my virtual “storefront” would not be so overwhelmingly positive. I am flattered by all the attention and discussion, but more so marvel at the amount of positive accolades a “mother who does this in her garage” receives between trips to the zoo, preschool, and playdates.

Thank you for your perspective. I found the article’s comparison of my storefront with the direction of the new digital media to be particularly interesting and dead-on. It does seem as though any “monkey” today can get national attention by doing something on his/her video cam, post it, and have it draw more views than the evening news. But, isn’t that the beauty of this new media world we live? Today, anyone’s voice can be heard, including yours, and if you can find a way to serve an underserved with that voice then you too have potential to become “sticky” in our culture.
I would like to think I’m serving a “voice,” maybe not yours but a strong and loud one particularly made of mothers (but not unwelcome to fathers). Maybe there is a television show in there?

Thanks for the idea,
Kiersten

Kiersten, thanks for being brave enough to weigh in, but I think you ducked the main issue: Do you feel you are being overly-reliant on the designs of others? As a designer (and mother) myself, I think it's a very valid question.

Thanks for stopping by, Kiersten. I've got no beef with your "mom with a table saw" angle. I would like to think we're working toward a world where "mom routing a table edge" is no more remarkable than "dad changing a diaper," but in the mean time, whatever works. Good luck with the revolution.

I happen to be one of those newly empowered digital video monkeys you noticed, but how many lawyers do you think would call if I try to shop around my homemade pilot, with Chewbacca and Jack Ryan starring in A Very Special Episode of Scrubs?

You have a couple of really promising looking pieces, and I'm all for you building a great little business. But you are also ripping other designers off, and undercutting their prices by barely the cost of a night at the movies. It's really unethical, and you sound either in denial about it, or totally amoral about it; either way, it's wrong.

I noticed the site is for 'new dads.' Have you nothing better to do as a new dad than to criticise enterprise? A good job Henry Ford ignored the likes of you. I am an old Dad. If you want your crap furniture to collapse on your child, buy at the large store. God bless America!

[If you'd noticed jack else about the site, you'd know that it's also about independent design and independent, even DIY production, too. Precisely because the crap at that large store is made with lead paint in China. Also, thanks for global warming and the budget deficit, old dad. -ed.]

Well, this definitely peeked my interest when I saw such pretentiously negative feedback from viewers of the Mod Mom Furniture website. This, of course, drove me to investigate the furniture website myself in order to form my own opinion. Guess what? I think the furniture is fantastic! So much so that I ordered the Sammy Toy Box and the Lauren Play Table. I think it is going to look smashing in my baby girl’s play area. What a great buy compared to other children’s furniture out there. AND supporting a fellow stay-at-home mom?! Brilliant!

As for shaming someone that has modified an idea or design that is already out there … well, it’s not much different having the choice to buy store brand "Toasted O's" over the name brand "Cheerios" at the grocery store, folks. Please get over yourselves with the ethics.

Thanks to this article and the not-so-friendly banter, a very supportive (and hefty, I might add) sale on modmomfurniture.com was made today!

There’s a lesson to be learned here … ALL press is good press! Thanks to you, modmomfurniture.com will thrive. Well done, everyone!

[two pathetically uninformed, ideologically identical comments on an otherwise dormant post in the space of an hour? I smell a feeble, Google-damage-controlling astroturf campaign. Fess up now, don't make me track you down in the site logs... -ed.]

I can't believe she's still at it.

I stumbled across mod mom when I was trying to get an idea of dimensions to build my daughter's toy box. As far as stolen design, it is a rectangle with a lid to put toys in right? The thing that attracted me to her stuff was that she has added inlay to her stuff rather than just plain old white boxes. The lift out lids that look like leaves, I do not think I have seen that anywhere else. If you check out her site she buys her plywood at Phillips Plywood here in Los Angeles. All her stuff is environment and kid friendly and the manufacture of her stuff does not incur the pollution involved in shipping furniture designed here and built in China by freighter.

As a dad that stays at home with his 18 month old daughter I applaud her for finding a way to spend more time with her kids and still make some money on the side. At the same time providing other kids with quality products that they will probably keep for a lifetime unlike that cheap Chinese toybox that will be in pieces in 10 years.

Keep up the good work modmom, I borrowed the dimensions for my toy box from your site I probably owe you a coffee or something.

I always try to remember that it is my job to make my daughter in to an adult, it is her job to remind me the magic and wonder of being a child.

[for the most part, the designs modmom sells now are not the same as the ones she ripped off, so good for her for finally making a business off of her own ideas. the extent of her knockoffery does not need to be rehashed now, in 2008, when it's all clearly laid out ad nauseam in the posts and comments from 2007. -ed.]

This is one of the angriest sites about parenting that I have ever seen. BTW sorry for dragging up and old post, didn't check the dates.

[you mistake my impatience with modmom's knockoffery and her evasive and dishonest reaction to getting called on it, as well aas her and her sock puppets' personal attacks and insults for either anger OR parenting. I stand by my criticism of modmom and her various deceptive surrogates. She made her Google bed, now she can lie in it. I long ago decided to stop initiating any coverage of modmom and her activities. But I won't sit by and let unfounded slams at me or my site go unanswered. You want to put your woodworking friend's shenanigans back on the front page of this site just when she's finally getting some positive attention for some original work, that's your call. -ed.]

Whoa, whoa, I have no idea who she is. I was merely commenting that after reading some of the posts on this blog there seems to be a lot of anger here.

[sorry, I accidentally deleted your re-post where you said you were sorry to ever have wandered onto this site. If you can cite anything else more specific than "some of the posts," I can maybe have an inkling of what your passive aggressive LA slam is about. -ed.]

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