The Ultimate in Sustainable Living: ModNomad Studio
To photograph our new, soon-to-be-released products, we spent the day at the beautiful ModNomad Studio, a thoughtful live/work studio inspired by good design and just really good people. It’s about collaborating with and supporting artists, and gathering to launch ideas and hear from all sides, and it’s a lovely place to spend the day. We sat down to interview Jen Nix, a modern nomad and owner of this gathering space, dedicated to offering a safe haven for creativity, inspiration and healing in our distracted and divided country.
1. How do you describe who you are and what you do?
Jen: I’m a writer and producer, working at the intersection of media, social artistry and activism. I’m a former producer for NPR’s “On the Media” and staff writer for Variety, and over the years I’ve written for many national media outlets and blogs. I’ve also been a fellow at both centrist and progressive political think tanks and advocacy groups in Washington, DC and San Francisco, and edited and published some best-selling political books. Most recently, a film that I helped to produce and did most of the interviews for, Robert Bly: A Thousand Years of Joy, received an Emmy. Working on the Bly film was life-changing for me, as Bly’s farmhouse in Minnesota, and how he collaborated with and provided sanctuary for other artists and activists there, was the inspiration for what we are now doing at ModNomad Studio.
I conceived of this art and activism collective as a way to better synthesize my work and foster collaboration between artists, designers and activists, and to promote intergenerational learning through offering free and subsidized residencies in live/work studios to artists and activists of all ages to come heal, create and relate. My husband and co-Founder, Steve Leonard, is an energy industry consultant and is looking at ways to take us off-grid. He and I consider this 1880s cottage to be both canvas and incubator, and in these chaotic and confusing times, we think providing a gathering place and sanctuary for creative and unconventional thinking is the best way we can contribute to our community and work toward new cultural and governance ideas that value people and planet, and then profit.
2. We know you have lived many many places! How does where you live now support your mission and lifestyle?
Jen: Yes! We both grew up in the Midwest and our work and adventures gave us the opportunity to live in six U.S. states, and to witness life in 22 countries on four other continents. Along the way we started identifying as modern nomads, and it seemed fitting to organize this collective under the banner of ModNomad Studio as most of our fellow ModNomads have also traveled widely and picked up wisdom and ideas from around the U.S. and abroad.
Obviously the Bay Area in general is fertile ground for new thinking, and getting to share this property and provide a gathering space feels like we are honoring Sausalito’s rich artistic and activist history. Our intention to fix up this neglected cottage led to meeting wonderful artists, crafts people and designers. We’ve learned so much, including that this place is an exercise in patience and gratitude and accepting “the beauty in things imperfect, impermanent and incomplete,” as Leonard Koren writes in Wabi-Sabi: Further Thoughts. This cottage provided the inspiration for the GoGo Kitchen (as seen in Remodelista) and the articulation of a lifestyle and aesthetic rooted in salvage design and seeking balance. We love bringing beauty and purpose back to old and discarded materials. So, the place in which we now live and work is informed by and integrated with our values, as well as ModNomad’s mission to instigate for the common good.
3. What keeps you up at night?
Jen: Having worked in the media and politics spheres, I worry most about America’s ability to solve our many and complex national challenges. Our too-narrow political discourse feels like it only polarizes us and stymies the American imagination of what is really possible. As poet and activist Audre Lorde said, “Divide and conquer must become define and empower.”
4. What was the last event you hosted or people you housed that spoke to and furthered your mission?
Jen: We just had a Cuban jazz musician (his family runs the Havana Jazz Festival) here on a 3-week artist-residency, and a Cognitive Potluck Salon, where we asked attendees to bring an idea and a dish to pass. As a result, a young artist-in-residence here, Samantha Shackelford, and I ended up working with a talented young woman who was running for city council. We also have house concerts here about once a month with a local singer-songwriter duo, Something About Fireflies. To come up with new ideas and solutions, we’ll need to bring people together and have some fun while we’re at it. When people come for events here, they also get to check out the work of various artists we feature, sort of pop-up gallery style. It’s a constant exercise in improvisation around here.
5. Does the environment and the impacts it is facing today factor into how you live or what you do at ModNomad?
Jen: Absolutely! We designed the original GoGo Kitchen, which lives here at ModNomad in our Sanctuary Shack guest suite, to include a greywater system that waters our garden. And the philosophy and aesthetic with which we approach this entire project is rooted in salvage design, to create far less waste than in typical remodels. Our next project will be calling on the talents and knowledge of a young permaculture landscaper who is our next resident artist/activist, as we want to live in balance with the wildlife around here rather than fence ourselves off.
6. We did a U-Konserve photo shoot for our catalog in your amazing and eclectic live/work studio. There are so many treasures there! Which is your most prized possession?
Jen: It’s a tie! One is a sculptural table made by woodsmith Tripp Carpenter, a design nod to one of his father’s pieces. Arthur Espenet Carpenter was a legendary Marin craftsman and celebrated figure in the post-war California craft and American studio furniture movements. His pieces are in the collections of SFMOMA, the Smithsonian and other museums and in 1966 his unique round house and lifestyle were featured in Life Magazine. Today, Tripp creates his own designs at his father’s former Bolinas studio, Espenet Furniture. Examples of his studio furniture can be seen here in Marin at Farmshop, at the Marin Country Mart, through a collaboration with Commune Design.
And the second is a vintage Dill Pickle Club poster from 1918. The Dill Pickle Club is another inspiration for ModNomad, as it was a gathering place–a speakeasy, cabaret, theater, club–in Chicago where authors, artists, journalists, activists, hobos, poets and others could mix it up. There was a lot of crossover with the Greenwich Village crowd at the time, with Sherwood Anderson, Emma Goldman, Jack Reed, Upton Sinclair, Carl Sandburg, Lucy Parsons and William Carlos Williams among the regulars. Founder Jack Jones called it a club for people with ideas and questions, where folks could “learn about about art, literature, drama, music, science, social or political economy or any other problems confronting or bothering the human race. We had one idea in mind: There should be some center where any idea or work would be given a respectful hearing and brought before the public.” I suppose that’s a tradition we hope to carry on here at ModNomad Studio.
7. What is your vision for ModNomad in five years?
Jen: Our goal is to continue to grow our practice of collaboration with mission-based non-profits, like the GoGo Kitchen project we have underway with the Brooklyn Borough President’s office and three Brooklyn-based non-profits. We are currently seeking collaborations with San Francisco-based non-profits.
We’re also hopeful that what we’re doing here can inspire others to do something similar in their homes and communities. We need to organize ourselves in new ways and start being more supportive and collaborative as citizens. We can look at what we do in our own homes and with our families, friends and neighbors and work out from there–which is why I’m such a fan of U-Konserve’s wonderful mission and products.
People and planet need us to call this nation to a higher destiny. To get there, we’ll need to draw on our talents, knowledge, passions and connections to instigate ideas, products and projects in service of fostering greater understanding and a more just society, and to protecting this planet we all call home.
Five years from now, I hope ModNomad Studio will still be seeking new and better ways to instigate for the common good.