Shop Small Spotlight: Modernica

Modernica | Photo by Shannon Cottrell


This article is sponsored by American Express. Please remember to Shop Small this holiday season.

The fiberglass shell chair. Now a common sight worldwide in hipster coffee shops and living rooms, the shapely chair with a wireframe base was originally manufactured in Compton, in 1949. First an icon of mid-century modern design, and now, a symbol of success for Los Angeles-based Modernica.

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Case Study fiberglass chairs at Modernica | Photo by Shannon Cottrell

Brothers Jay and Frank Novak manufacture the chair, using the original machines and formulas in 36 candy-like colors. Beginning with their “butterfly table” in 1986, they almost single-handedly brought back the lost art of high end mid-century furniture manufacturing and planted the seeds for the ensuing popularity.

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Case Study ceramics at Modernica | Photo by Shannon Cottrell

Today, their Vernon design campus holds the secrets to not only the fiberglass chairs, but custom bookshelves, bent-wood bed frames, benches and sublime ceramics. The latest versions of their best sellers can be found via the Modernica showroom on Beverly Boulevard in L.A., including new textiles and fresh artist collaborations.

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Case Study Daybed and plate at Modernica | Photo by Shannon Cottrell

“Modern was a trend that hadn’t started yet. It was a novelty,” explains Frank while telling the story of how his brother, Jay named the company in 1987. “Now, the world is looking beyond modern, as the definition of the word is 'of this time.' The daybed design is 66 years old! It’s our responsibility to make them exciting again. Design should entertain.”

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Glass display at Modernica | Photo by Shannon Cottrell

Before there was a Modernica, Frank Novak was an art director for films, most notably working for director Roger Corman. An avid collector, Frank built and sold furniture on the weekends. Growing up in Omaha in a house built by a Neutra associate architect, he developed an eye for modern California design long before he moved here more than 30 years ago. The Modernica Prop House, which loans period pieces and ephemera out to movies and television, still fuels his passions for collecting.

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Case Study Arm Shell Rocker at Modernica | Photo by Shannon Cottrell

“I believe that if you follow your passion, it will lead you to something you’re good at. Here in Los Angeles, when you come up with a new business model, people will say, ‘that’s cool’,” says Frank about starting his business. “Not, ‘that’s not how you do it.’ L.A. tends to accept new ideas.”

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Modernica | Photo by Shannon Cottrell

One of the ways the Novak brothers keep “modern” contemporary is with unique artist collaborations. With groundbreaking activations like Retna’s beautiful hieroglyphs painted on a book case, Cleon Peterson’s warriors battling on a daybed textile, and tattoo phenom Dr. Woo’s spine x-ray embedded in a chair, Modernica has found a fun way to make the classics relevant to a new audience.

“Break with tradition,” Frank advises entrepreneurs. “Make something great at a price that makes sense and keep it fun.”


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Learn more and enroll in this offer at With the addition of more than 90,000 Los Angeles-area locations to the American Express network over the past two years*, Card Members now have more places than ever before to Shop Small in Los Angeles.

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