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Sep 11, 2018

Hawaii Modern: John Reyno

Hawaii Modern's showroom is humble nook on the ground floor of Honolulu Furniture Company's co-op woodshop in Kaka'ako.

John Reyno, owner and craftsman of Hawaii Modern, has filled the 300-square foot space with mid-century modern tables, chairs, and credenzas that he has painstakingly sourced and refurbished. Dark stained wood juxtaposes brightly colored seat cushions and molded backrests on dainty metal legs conjure nostalgic images of a bygone era in Hawai'i history. In a city that embraces the design aesthetic, Reyno is enjoying his role as one of Honolulu's go-to creatives. Guided by a passion for working with his hands, an eye for quality modern design, and a penchant for collecting unique pieces from the era, Reyno has become Honolulu's premiere mid-20th century modern furniture restorer and reseller.

Talk to us about your artistic evolution from metal work to furniture.

I grew up without a lot—six kids, two-bedroom house, mom, dad, grandpa, and not a very great area in the San Fernando Valley in Los Angeles. Because we didn't have a lot we always had to be creative. I got into the industrial arts program in junior high and high school—plastics, wood, and metal. In high school I gravitated toward metal, got a job as a welder, and had a career in welding for 23 years. I was also into real estate, working on projects, home improvement stuff, and collecting furniture for a house that I owned.

I sold the welding business and moved here in 2007. The transition to wood and furniture was easy because you're fixing things and creating. I happen to be super interested in post-war, mid-20th century furniture. I like the design. I like how it can be so minimalist and so functional. The restoration part of it—you're constantly finding new ways that designers have done things. By fixing something, often times you're dissecting it and putting it back together. You're not creating it, but you see the process of how it is created.

When did you launch Hawaii Modern and commit to furniture restoration?

Officially, in 2012. Originally, I was doing it for fun and I was using Instagram (@Hawaii_Modern) as a vehicle for showcasing what I was doing. I realized that I had a big house with lots of cool pieces, and I was always upgrading my pieces as I found better ones that I wanted to keep, so I'd sell the ones I didn't want.

Why does Hawai'i love mid-century modern design?

They grew up on it. Think about Hawai'i in the 1960s. There was a huge boom. The airlines were bringing relatively cheap flights in, the military bases were here and constantly flying in goods, and people were coming from Europe and all over the world. Also, in Hawai'i, we live in very tight spaces compared to most people on the mainland. The small spaces we live in work very well with smaller scale furniture, which most of the mid-century stuff is. It's built for smaller places. The thing I notice about mid-century furniture is the scale of it. Everything is lower to the ground. What that does for a room is make everything seem taller. A modern home today has nine-foot ceilings and big overstuffed couches. When you have an eight-foot ceiling and smaller furniture, the scale of it is appropriate. The scale of the furniture fits really well in Hawai'i.

With the recent trend of urban renewal in Kaka'ako and Ward Village, it sounds like mid-century modern was ahead of its time.

Urban renewal is all about infill. What's really cool is that you can take a 50-year-old piece of furniture, give it a new life, put it in a space that is being utilized as infill—it's a recycling thing. Plus, you get a ton of style points from it, you have a scale of furniture that fits in these new, smaller places, and it's quality furniture. These new buildings are great spaces and they're very contemporary. Remember, modern and contemporary are two different things. Modern is a time. It was after the embellishments of 19th-century design, when they pulled all that away and made it simple and functional. Contemporary means today. These new condos are contemporary, but are also in a sense modern, so the contemporary spaces with modern influences work well with mid-century modern furniture.

When curating furniture pieces for a home, how does mid-century modern design fit with other design styles?

If you have the juxtaposition of something else, it draws you in. If you have a bunch of furniture from Bali and then you have an Eames chair in the corner, you notice it and wonder what it's about. You're drawn to the thing that is different. That's why the collectors that have been doing this for a long time want the crazy, cool, esoteric thing that nobody else has. It creates a fine point when you have a variation of pieces. Of course there has to be continuity, but it's easy to mix mid-century modern design with other furnishings. I find the people that gravitate toward mid-20th century furniture are creative people that like creative things.

Are you solely into refurbishing furniture, or will you be crafting anything new for Hawaii Modern?

In the near future I will start building a few things that are mid-century inspired, because the biggest challenge is finding the furniture. You can't scale that, not cost effectively anyway here in Hawai'i with shipping. The hard part is keeping a really cool inventory alongside the entry-level collector pieces. It's a tough balance.

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