“They somehow convinced me to quit my job and start Forage.”
That’s what Rebekah Cook tells me as she sets her coffee mug down on the white table top, in the corner of the store.
We’re sitting in Forage Modern Workshop on a Friday morning. It’s sunny out, around 72 degrees and the rays are shining through the front window. My back is facing it and I lean back in my chair after taking a sip of my coffee, offered by Rebekah. It’s in a yellow mug, 70s looking, and the coffee inside of it is likely from the adjacent Dogwood Coffee shop on the other end of the store. I’m not certain if it is though, I forgot to ask.
Rebekah is the Director of Operations here and she has been for five years. Before Forage, she was working at the YMCA, starting in college, folding towels until finally moving into a role where she did special projects and helped redesign their website.
Five years ago is when she was asked by a friend of hers to tag along for a house showing. Rebekah had a knack for asking the right questions and her friend knew that. She’d be an asset when questioning the real estate agent about the place.
That day, the real estate agent just happened to be a man by the name of Mike Smith. Rebekah filled her role perfectly as the friendly yet assertive, confidant. Asking questions to make sure the house was rock solid, her style got the attention of Mike.
“Mike is also actually bandmates with my husband’s friend,” Rebekah says. “He was in my periphery but I didn’t really know him.”
Having made too large an impression to ignore, Mike got a hold of Rebekah’s husband and asked for her number. Her husband wondering why, Mike responded, “I feel like I need to hire her. I have this idea and I feel like I want her to do it.”
It had only been a couple days after the house showing.
So Rebekah was convinced to leave the YMCA and start with Mike and other owner, James Brown, on Forage Modern Workshop.
But what exactly was Forage supposed to be?
“It started from a Venn diagram idea,” Rebekah says laughing. “Mike and James were sitting around one day, they had this building, so they decided to open up a furniture shop and call it Forage Modern Workshop. Initially, it started as an 80s steampunk idea. To take 80s punk furniture and repurpose it but that idea didn’t stick around very long.”
What started taking shape for Forage came from the duo’s love for local architecture like the works of Ralph Rapson. Mike and James loved that he made furniture, a lesser known fact about him, and “they realized that there is a really big furniture community in the Twin Cities but nobody is talking about it,” says Rebekah.
Mike and James started meeting with some of the local artisans.
“But that wasn’t the only point,” Rebekah mentions. “We wanted to curate good design from vintage to new, from local to worldwide, to really create a hub of things that we love. So we decided to curate what we thought was Midwest Modern.”
Defining a term is no easy task, surely, but it’s what Forage aimed to do with Midwest Modern. “I think we were trying to do something different and we had no idea what we were doing.”
At first, it seemed like repurposing vintage pieces was the way to go. “But then we thought, ‘there are a lot of people in town who are doing this really well. We should let them do that. And there are actually not a lot of people who are carrying all these amazing designs from all over the world, so we should do that.’”
Design and intuition was what was going to set Forage apart.
Rebekah has never given herself a ton of credit when it comes to being design focused. As she looks out of the corner of her eye, she gives a quick laugh and says, “I just know when something looks bad. That’s my strong point.” She constantly is edifying her team. Choosing people not for their experience in design but more for their individuality and interest in producing a brand unique to them. “I mostly like trying to make order out of chaos,” she explains.
I look around the floor of Forage. It all makes sense. No two things look alike. Some of it looks vintage, some of it clearly modern and some of it a combination of both. But it all looks like it should be there. It fits.
“So how does the store get arranged?” I ask, trying to sound like I know what I’m talking about.
“It’s all a feeling,” she says. “I think it all does go together. It’s mostly because we don’t know what we’re doing but we’re trying to be different than most design stores. We want to be approachable. We want high design to not feel sterile. A lot of that is taking this beautiful handmade piece and putting it next to an incense holder in the shape of a shoe. Giving it that whimsy and not taking it too seriously and I think by doing that and having all of these beautiful pieces, they all do fit together.”
Forage, however, is so unique in it’s presentation that often people walk in and say “What is this?”
“It keeps it interesting,” she says.
But bridging the gap between the community of people who might not yet understand what design can be and what they currently know is where Forage fits wonderfully.
“I really feel we’re a catalyst for the design community in the Twin Cities to start talking about it again and bringing people together. I’m really proud of that and I think I’m still figuring out what that means.”
“Is that the biggest challenge?” I ask her.
“The hardest thing is having a small business and doing it yourself,” she replies. “It’s really hard to start something on your own but it’s also super rewarding. We don’t have big investors. We’re not trust fund kids. This is our project and actually, everyday, we are just trying to keep it going and I think that’s the hardest part because sometimes it’s very lonely work but that’s what makes it rewarding. When I let myself think about it, I’m so proud of what we’ve done.”
She looks beyond me when she says it, to the inventory over my shoulder and presumably further. What the future holds for Forage is uncertain but they’ve proven, just because you might say you don’t know what you’re doing, doesn’t mean you’re not doing something great.