Retro Modern offers a mix of refurbished and handmade goods with a Mid-century twist
by Ayn-Monique Klahre | photography by Eamon Queeney
On a busy stretch of Dawson Street, just off the the northwest corner of Nash Square, is the peppy storefront for Retro Modern Furnishings. It fits right in to the rest of the the building—the marigold-and-cobalt Hue apartments—and inside you’ll find a mix of goods: refurbished vintage finds, local accessories and upholstered pieces with a bent towards Mid-century modern style.
The brand kicked off five years ago, when founder Kelly Wohlgenant decided to turn a passion for refurbishing furniture into a full-time job. Wohlgenant has a background in industrial design, but had been working as a social scientist and policy analyst for many years. “I really missed design work, and fortunately my husband had a stable job. So we had a conversation about it and I started doing this full-time.”
The company started small: Wohlgenant would scour thrift stores and flea markets for Mid-century pieces, then rehab them herself at home. She’d sell her wares on Etsy and in pop-up markets, and over time, more and more people were asking for a storefront to browse her goods. She began with a tiny studio on Saint Mary’s Street, then applied to a grant program for downtown retail shops three years ago, which allowed her to open up the store. Now, she has two employees and a nearby warehouse, home to her woodworking shop and even more vintage pieces.
Inside the Retro Modern store, you’ll find a mix of old and new, with an eye towards supporting other local makers. “Most of our stuff is handmade, and we strive to consider where everything’s coming from,” says Wohlgenant. That being said, she’s aware that “design enthusiasts have all different budgets,” so she tries to keep things affordable. Her clientele is a diverse mix, from college grads to nostalgic baby boomers furnishing their homes for downsized downtown living. “Many people remember growing up with this style and want to go back to it,” she says, noting that North Carolina has the third-largest concentration of Mid-century Modern architecture in the United States.
Retro Modern showcases a mix of pieces from local artists on its walls and participates in First Fridays. Recently, Wohlgenant started designing her own pieces: a low TV stand with an acrylic front (“You can actually use a remote!”), a table with hairpins legs that come in a slew of colors, shelves supported by cut-leather straps and a slim, slatted bench. Each piece is completely customizable, and still fits into the Mid-century aesthetic that launched her business even as she does more of her own construction. “The plan is to keep designing different pieces. I have about a hundred things in my head!”
300 W. Hargett St., Suite 24; Open 12-6 p.m. on Monday, Thursday and Friday; 11 a.m. – 6 p.m. Saturday and 1-5 p.m. Sunday; Visit retromodernfurnishings.com for more information.