Chris Mobley opened his midcentury modern design store, Just Modern, in 2011 in Palm Springs. He currently serves as the Board Chairman of Modernism Week Palm Springs. Most recently, he collaborated on the book, “The Desert Modernists: The Architects Who Envisioned Midcentury Modern Palm Springs.”
Kate Buckley: Chris, what led you to open your store, Just Modern—specializing in unique, midcentury modern inspired home accessories, art furniture and decor—in Palm Springs?
Chris Mobley: My partner and I bought our home in Palm Springs in 2010 and immediately went on the search for art, decor, furniture and accessories. In particular, we were searching for a bright orange ceramic planter for our living room. After a couple of weeks and several trips to stores throughout the Coachella Valley, we found a vintage Gainey Ceramic’s planter that was perfect. We decided to visit the Gainey Ceramic’s factory in Laverne, California to see what other products that had available. After meeting and speaking with the owner, we came up with the idea of selling Gainey products online and created Just Modern. The online store quickly gained momentum and we started bringing on other product lines. Five months later, we opened our store in the Uptown Design District. It has been such an amazing and rewarding experience. Who knew the search for an orange planter would result in a new retail career?
What was your career before going into retail?
Before opening Just Modern, I was the Deputy Executive Director for Community Corporation of Santa Monica, a group which specializes in urban planning and affordable housing. In that role, I work closely with City government and officials, architects, investors and contractors to obtain property to develop and/or rehab apartment buildings specifically for low income wage earners. Additionally, I sat on the Board of Directors for Downtown Santa Monica Inc, another nonprofit that oversees the management, maintenance and planning for the downtown area.
What sets your store apart from other Mid-Century Modern inspired stores in Palm Springs? What would you say is your sensibility?
Just Modern strives to find new artists and designers that are looking to break into retail, especially if they are inspired by the Mid-Century Modern period. Our vendor relationships are like extended family members. We work closely with each person and collaborate on ideas together and come up with new and interesting product. This collaborative effort assures that our customer’s shopping experience is unique and different than other retail stores. You won’t find most of what we have anywhere else.
I would have to say that my sensibility would be, “If it is something I would purchase for my own home, then it’s the right product for the store.” My home looks pretty much like Just Modern…lots of bright colors.
How did you come to serve as Board Chairman of Palm Springs Modernism Week?
I started working with Modernism Week as a volunteer in 2011 and assisted in developing the first Prefab Showcase in 2012. Later that year, I was ask to join the Board of Directors, which was really exciting. In 2013, the former Chairman decided to step down after several years and I was voted in by the Board as his replacement. Serving as Chairman is a true honor and a very rewarding experience.
I hear you had a record-breaking year this year. Congratulations! To what do you attribute this year’s success? What was different from last year?
We did and thank you! Our attendance increased by 30% in 2015 and it took us all a little by surprise. For our 10th Year Celebration, we increased the number of Architectural Bus Tours, doubled our Neighborhood and Signature Home Tours, and added new events in Rancho Mirage, Palm Desert and Indian Wells. In addition, the popularity of all things Mid-Century Modern and Palm Springs has definitely given us a boost.
What’s in store for Modernism Week 2016?
Our Board, Staff, Contractors and Partner Organizations work throughout the year to come up with new and creative ideas for events. While we will continue to have our Bus Tours, Home Tours, Neighborhood Tours, Films, Lectures and Parties, we work hard to make sure our returning attendees have a different experience every year. In 2016, you will see more programming throughout the Coachella Valley. There’s so much to see and do outside of Palm Springs.
Tell me about the book on which you recently collaborated, “The Desert Modernists: The Architects Who Envisioned Midcentury Modern Palm Springs.” How did this project come about?
“The Desert Modernists” book is review of 12 architects who created a remarkable collection of homes and commercial buildings that make Palm Springs a midcentury modern lover’s dream. The collaboration came out of a single desire and passion to share the stories of the architects that made this town what it is today.
How did you make the decision to narrow it down to just 12 architects? What were your criteria?
Good question. We focused on the architects who have been celebrated over the years during Modernism Week, and by our founding partners. We asked several modernism aficionados and those most familiar with the architects to help us come up with the list. It was much easier than we thought it was going to be—almost everyone came up with the same names. While I am sure there are more we could have added, 12 seemed like the right number for a book this size.
What do you love most about Palm Springs?
In no particular order: the people, the weather, the history, the architecture, the mountains, the culture, and the food. There is no other place in the world like Palm Springs!