WRITTEN BY: MICHELLE SLIEFF | PHOTOGRAPHED BY: AMANDA PROUDFIT
PHOTOSHOOT LOCATION: EICHLER HOME BY BRYAN ROSS | PILLOWS PROVIDED BY: ARNGE DESIGN
The Experts: Henry Jara & Lesa Jara, Owners of Casara Modern
Designer Inspirations: Florence Knoll, Milo Baughman, Paul McCobb and John Keal
Scholars and museums worldwide view Mid-Century modern as a significant design movement that took place from 1933-1965. Mid-Century architecture maintained the goal of bringing the outdoors indoors in America’s post-war suburbs. The homes feature open spaces with large glass windows and outdoor patio spaces in the middle of the building. Joseph Eichler was instrumental in bringing this Mid-Century modern architecture to California neighborhoods. Eichler homes still exist today, and we invite you to stop in for a tour. Located just off the 55 and Katella, we discovered one of these historic neighborhoods. We took a peek inside and found Casara Modern, who brought us back to a time of simple entertainment, hanging out on the couch and talking with friends.
Henry and Lesa Jara are the owners of Casara Modern, a Mid- Century focused furniture manufacturer. This local family business provides one of the most comfortable couches you will ever sit on that actually looks like a couch and not an oversized pillow. The design features a very clean and straightforward asthetic. I want to say these are the kinds of couches you don’t let your pets on because they are just so rad, but the fabric is removable and easily cleaned, so scratch that.
HENRY and LESA gave us a tour of what it would look like to live in this period. Pillows with bold colors and fun textures accent couches with long, clean lines. With the open space as our backdrop for an inviting conversation, we decided to take a seat.
Q: How did your love for furniture start?
Henry Jara: It started with some inspiration through friends that had a gorgeous Mid-Century house, outfitted with Mid- Century furniture that looked sharp. At the time, we didn’t know much about Mid-Century—that was about 15 years ago, where it all started. We were immediately drawn to the lines of the furniture and the lines of the house—it all went together seamlessly. It took us back to a period that was more ‘kick-back and relax.’ My daughter Alexandra began collecting retro furniture and Mid-Century furniture that I helped her buy. I would go surfing in the morning and hit up garage sales on the way there or the way back and help her build her collection. After about a year of doing that, my daughter decided that she wanted to sell at Long Beach Veterans Stadium Flea Market. Within the first 30 minutes of arriving, our products were selling like you wouldn’t believe. That was my first spark where I realized that I could turn this love of furniture into a business.
Q: Were you aware at the time of how popular the demand was for Mid-Century furniture?
HJ: No, I wasn’t aware.
Lesa Jara: I think it was really just beginning to take off at that time. You could also purchase the furniture at extremely affordable prices. Today, it’s becoming harder to get, and you have to search to find these pieces. The lack of product availability is what drove us to start making reproductions of the furniture.
Q: Are you surprised the demand has lasted this long and do you think it will continue?
HJ: I’m not surprised because I think there are a lot of people like me who get inspired by the furniture, the style and the decor in the house. The younger crowd seems to be more artistic, and they’re jumping on the bandwagon with a strong eye for design.
LJ: We look at our furniture as art. Even though the demand has lasted, our clientele has changed slightly since the beginning. At first it was young couples looking to fill a loft space and over time it has transitioned into people in the entertainment industry.
Q: I think it’s really neat that Casara Modern is a family run business. It’s a different dynamic when compared to a corporate environment. How is it working with family?
LJ: (laughs) It’s not easy, but it works. That’s another thing that brought us into this business. Prior to this, we spent 20 years in corporate America. We moved on from that world, took a hobby and turned it into a business that would support us, and it has been a bonus. It’s not easy, but we all have something to bring to the table. Our kids also help us out which is great. We keep each other in check as far as the business goes and if you were to describe it, really you could say that I’m the analyzer and Henry is an artist. I take care of the marketing, look at the numbers and do that end of it, and Henry is more of the builder behind the product. We complement each other and bring a dynamic duo to the table. A husband and wife team can be tough, but we’ve been married for almost 30 years, and we know each other’s strengths and weaknesses.
Q: Bringing us back to the beginning, what was the first piece of furniture that you built and can you kind of talk us through that process?
HJ: The first piece of furniture I constructed was a classic daybed. I had so many clients that wanted that kind of furniture and trying to find a vintage piece out there was slim to none. They were hard to get and so I decided I was going to make them. Before I started, I did a lot of research because I wanted to do it properly.
Q: What would you say are the differences between actually getting your hands on a vintage piece in comparison to purchasing the reproduction piece that you provide?
HJ: The vintage piece is going to have some wear and tear depending on how they used it in their home. With a new piece, you know you’re getting something that is completely new and made out of solid wood. We use high-density foam in it’s going to last a very long time.
Q: What is your favorite material to work with?
HJ: Wood. I hand pick all of the wood for all my pieces. I visit the lumber yard and find the pieces that attract me. It has to be smooth with not too many knots; some are okay as long as it’s something that I can work with and gives the wood character. Teak and Walnut are my favorite types of wood but if I were to make everything out of those two types, then the prices of the furniture would be much higher. That type of wood is scarce and very costly. For this reason, we’ve chosen Alder, which is in the Birch family and is a hardwood.
LJ: My favorite material is fabric. I like textures and color. Not everyone wants bold colors that I love, so we have to have something for everybody. We tend to look at textures that are reminiscent of the period such as a nice, bright, bold tweed. We also look for fabrics that will hold up against the wear and tear of children and pets. We realize that although our furniture works as art it also has to be livable. All of our cushions are zippered so the fabric can be removed and dry cleaned. We have a lot of people who will also order extra sets of slip covers so they can change the look of their living rooms seasonally.
Q: What’s your favorite tool to work with while you’re building a piece of furniture?
HJ: I would say the table saw. You’re getting a big piece of wood, and you’re turning it into something completely different—this is the start of your project.
Q: How long does the process take to build one of your couches?
HJ: The basic classic daybed could be done in about three days where some of the other sofas that have more wood take longer. Every edge has to be sanded by hand. We hand stain and hand gloss each piece as well. When you work with wood, the weather is also a factor on how long the project will take.
Q: I know you also make more furniture pieces than what’s listed on your website. What types of custom orders have you done in the past?
HJ: We’ve done a custom order for the artist Shag. He showed up at our warehouse one day with a picture and said, “Can you make this for me?” It was a ’50s style table where you could slide a daybed underneath. There were other intricate points to the project as well, so we sat down and talked fabric as we drew up a plan for him. Other people have approached me with custom jobs, and sometimes I won’t take them if they don’t fall into the Mid- Century field. Another custom piece that I made was a king size bed with floating night stands. I’ve also done outdoor furniture that is a whole different process with the glossing. That order takes much longer than our other furniture because of the drying process.
Q: Where can people find your furniture?
HJ: They can find it on our website at www. casaramodern.com, and we also have a showroom in Long Beach at Urban Americana. We are at the Rose Bowl Flea Market at space HH77. You can find us there on the second Sunday of every month. At the Rose Bowl, we also carry vintage pieces that are available for purchase.
Q: How do you suggest people incorporate their Mid-Century buy with other more modern pieces that they might have in their living spaces?
LJ: One or two great pieces of art with one of our couches creates a foundation that you can build off of and incorporate modern pieces seamlessly. At the end of the day, we always suggest that you do what you want with your style and make the living space your own.
Q: Do you think the reproductions will last 100 years just like the originals from back in the day?
HJ: Yes, because we make all of our furniture from solid Alder wood and the joint system that we use to put it together makes it stronger.
LJ: We certainly make everything with that in mind. We believe our furniture is built to last a lifetime. Even with true Mid-Century vintage pieces, a lot of them need to be restored. Either the wood is nicked or the couch needs to be reupholstered or the foam needs to be replaced. Those are all cosmetic and underneath all of that you will still have a solid foundation. We offer maintenance services as well. We can help you replace the foam or purchase new covers. This is something you won’t have to think about for at least 15 years down the line.
Q: What would you say is the most important component to building a solid piece of furniture?
HJ: The most important component is the wood. The thickness and quality are important. From there, the joints keep it strong and stable. The support beams are also another important strength component.
Q: Where do you see your business 10 years from now?
LJ: Well, of course we want to grow, but we do not want to become a conveyor belt system where we have a warehouse filled with 500 sofas lined up. We want to continue to be able to take on custom projects.
HJ: I still want to be able to be creative and come up with new products.
Q: Will it continue to be couches and ottomans primarily, or will you add additional lines?
HJ: We have some new ideas in the works, mostly decor pieces that go along with the sofas, chairs and tables that we already make.
LJ: We want to incorporate local artists and come up with a line that really pushes the element of furniture as art and have artwork on the fabrics. We are in the very early stages of this. We are also thinking about smaller tables that work with the couches.
Q: What designers inspire you?
LJ: As far as upholstered pieces go, we really like the lines of Milo Baughman. We like the simple lines but also the artistic lines. We like Paul McCobb and John Keal’s designs for Brown Saltman. Adrian Pearsall has a great daybed; he is known for big, long couches. Most of them aren’t your typical Danish designers but more of your modern American designers.
Q: Aside from the designers, what else inspires you when you’re coming up with new creative projects?
HJ: I like the vibrant colors from the Mid-Century period. The combination of the fabric and the wood comes together and becomes a piece of art. I also love live edges on wood; it inspires me to work with the material.
LJ: The outdoors inspire me with the limitless textural opportunities that nature has available to us. Our customers also inspire us. It makes us realize that what we make, people appreciate.
17421 Nichols St, Unit A Huntington Beach, CA 92647 714.317.9342 www.casaramodern.com