Going Mod on the Coast

Former materials science engineer turns his passion for mid-century design into a successful furniture dealership and sleek storefront in Virginia Beach

by Betsy DiJulio | Mar 1, 2023

going mod

In 2006, when Jonathan Langman visited NYC to see his aunt Donna Langman, a costume designer on Broadway, and her artist husband, he couldn’t have known that this branch of the family tree would bear the seeds of a passion project that would become his livelihood.

In that fourth-story walk-up apartment with its 2,500 square feet and 30-foot ceilings—once the basketball court of the old school building it inhabited—were furnishings designed by the mid-century modern American icons whose names Langman would eventually come to know as well his own family’s: Paul McCobb, Herman Miller, George Nelson, Eero Saarinen—who immigrated to the U.S. from Finland—and more. The collection struck a creative chord.

Mod-est Beginnings

Coastalmod Owner Jonathan Langman

Coastalmod Owner Jonathan Langman

Fast forward 15 and a half years and one global pandemic and Langman, a Virginia Tech-educated materials science engineer, found the research and writing of rejections for the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office in D.C.—one after another—soul-crushing, “like an ethernet cord around my neck.”

During the height of the pandemic, 12-hour slogs in front of the computer, sometimes five and six days in a row, found him taking “mental breaks to look at pretty objects,” that is, his beloved mid-century modern (MCM) furniture, not to mention contemplating a different future for himself.

In 2008, Langman had moved from D.C. to Virginia Beach, commuting for a couple years until teleworking came online. He spent the rest of his Patent Office career working remotely, all the while collecting mid-mod pieces for himself, establishing an Instagram account in 2010.

In 2012, he bought a mid-century home with three garages and filled it with his treasures, putting what was leftover on Craigslist. A dealer in Raleigh bought it all and flipped it for a 300-400% profit, creating a lightbulb moment for Langman who began “steamrolling,” building an expansive network of dealers and shippers all over the country and selling on a variety of platforms.

Career Mod-ification
In 2022, Therese, Langman’s wife, went back to teaching which provided health insurance for the family of six and an opportunity for Langman to quit his day job. He threw himself into dealing MCM furnishings and decorative objects full-time, a career path which blends his finely-honed research skills with his passion. In September, he opened Coastalmod, a gallery-style showroom in Virginia Beach.

About his brick-and-mortar storefront on Laskin Road near the Oceanfront, in a space shared with Thank You Gallery, Langman says that, though he sells from Japan to Paris, he saw a void in Virginia Beach. Before, he says, potential buyers often had to travel to Richmond to find the quality of mid-mod pieces in which he deals. Now, he reports, clients are visiting his showroom from NYC: “It has been absolutely incredible.”

Built-out himself with a minimalist aesthetic—polished concrete floors, exposed ductwork in the tall ceilings and slat screens—the space helps satisfy Langman’s desire to be face-to-face with customers, sharing his wealth of knowledge about collectible design and vintage furniture. For buyers, knowing the backstory of an investment piece deepens the attachment and supports the price tag.

modern couch

Mod in America
To date, American Classics and American Studio Craft have provided the bookends of Langman’s business. The first two pieces he ever purchased were, in fact, not purchased at all: they were Knoll chairs offered for free on Craigslist in D.C. The first for which money exchanged hands was George Nelson for Herman Miller.

Nowadays, Langman seeks out unique and rare pieces by the likes of Virginia native son, Sam Forrest, or George Nakashima Woodworkers in Pennsylvania. Those not-another-in-the-world finds that may have taken the maker two months to build are what fuel Langman’s fire. If it is a mid-mod piece of functional art, unique in material or design, Langman will be in hot pursuit.

Nothing in Mod-eration
Diligently carving out a niche for himself within the MCM market has simultaneously led this engineer-turned-dealer to high-end, high quality and low production furnishings and decorative objects from sought-after names like American Edward Wormley; Danes Finn Juhl, Børge Mogensen and Hans Wegner; and Italian Gio Ponti.

Whether generic or esoteric, buyers are drawn to the MCM style for layers of reasons, including, according to Langman, that it is more sustainable and more eco-friendly than fast furniture, which is not built to last and “outgases some bad chemicals.” Plus, he feels that buyers favor the sleek, unembellished and timeless aesthetic in these “chaotic times.” Learn more at Coastal-Mod.com.

modern chairs

Betsy DiJulio is a full-time art teacher, artist and curator with side hustles as a freelance writer, including for Coastal Virginia Magazine, and a vegan recipe developer and food stylist and photographer for Tofutti Brands.

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