August 2012 Issue
Mid-Century Modern style is back in home decor.
If dusty kitsch is what comes to mind when you think of Mid-Century Modern decor, it’s time to take another look. With shows dealing in Mid-Century vintage drawing ever-growing crowds, to chain stores like Target, IKEA and Crate and Barrel re-creating the style, there’s no denying the design aesthetic is back in a big way.
“I call it the new antique,” says Mark Fisk, owner of Mainly Art, a Cincinnati shop specializing in vintage furniture from the 1930s to 1970s, and a longtime vendor for 20th Century Cincinnati, an annual show selling Mid-Century Modern (or “vintage modern”) wares.
“Today, young people are buying vintage modern,” he says, instead of traditional antiques.
But it’s not just young people.
According to Fisk, the people who are seeking out the look are a mix of young adults looking for heirloom-quality, time-tested furniture, as well as people who grew up with Mid-Century and are rediscovering it. As a result, he sees shoppers ranging in age from 20 to 70.
The Mid-Century Modern design movement encompasses a broad time period — approximately the mid-’30s to early-’70s — depending on the source. But the style is unmistakable: clean lines, white walls, wood furniture and simplicity. The design world was clearly looking for a change from the ornate excess of the early-1900s.
Some stalwarts emerged from the period and have remained classics: the iconic Eames lounge chair and the Tulip chair, for example. But ultimately the look faded away over time. Until now.
There’s no question that the popularity of the AMC television show “Mad Men” has influenced a renewed interest in the style. The drama follows advertising executive Don Draper and the people around him as they navigate life in the 1960s. The critically acclaimed show is lauded as much for its historically accurate interiors (in fact, a few props for the show were purchased from Mainly Art) as it is for its performances.
It’s no coincidence that 20th Century Cincinnati has seen rising attendance in recent years. The show (Feb. 25–26 at the Sharonville Convention Center) features vintage modern clothes, housewares, decorative objects and more, with a focus on furniture and lighting. Items for every budget from thrifty knickknacks to upscale furniture by the era’s signature designers are available. Mid-Century novices can even check out exhibits on the movement. This year will explore Bakelite, an early plastic.
But incorporating the look into your home doesn’t necessarily have to involve sifting through vintage wares for hidden gems, as the Akron home of interior designer Hannah Harbert and her husband Matt shows.
“We wanted to mix more modern furniture, while still following Mid-Century design principles,” she explains of their updated take on the style.
The Harbert’s 1953 house is the epitome of the aesthetic, from its boxy, cedar-sided exterior to its open floor plan and interior furnishings. Ironically, the couple weren’t even familiar with the style when they set out to buy their first home. But after looking at too many nearly identical colonials, they stumbled upon the house and fell in love with it.
Drawn to its clean lines and uniqueness, they placed their bid and hit the books while waiting for the deal to close, absorbing as much about the style as they could. Once in their new home, they set about restoring it to its former glory, documenting the work-in-progress on their blog midcenturymodernize.com
. Thankfully, Matt had experience in construction and the couple had a thirst for do-it-yourself renovation.
So, enthralled with the style, they filled it with a blend of authentic new versions of iconic furniture and contemporary items evoking Modernism. Herman Miller chairs are tucked under a dining table from retailer Design Within Reach and a new Eames rocker rests in the living room next to the home’s original built-in bookshelf.
“We took the same principles [of Mid-Century] and adapted them to a modern taste,” says Matt. The effect is a seamless blend of the fresh and old that is simple yet welcoming.
Their inspired take on Modernism and love of renovation drove them to start Harbert Renovation & Design, helping others to incorporate the look into their homes. But for those looking for a fresh take on Mid-Century like the Harberts, you don’t have to spend a lot or go to a professional since the style is filtering into popular chain stores.
And Hannah thinks it’s a very good thing. “Why should good design be limited to the elite?” she asks.
MAKE MID-CENTURY WORK FOR YOU
Hannah Harbert and Mark Fisk offer some ideas for getting the Mid-Century look.
1. Do your research
— Fisk and Harbert recommend looking at home decor magazines like Elle Decor
, Dwell Magazine
and Atomic Ranch Magazine
for inspiration, as well as the “bible” of the style, Cara Greenburg’s book Mid-Century Modern
2. Paint your walls
— “It lends itself to easier change,” says Harbert of Mid-Century decor’s simplicity. According to Harbert, painting your walls a clean white will allow you to enhance them with pops of color in accessories that can be changed easily and cheaply.
3. Go shopping
— Whether you’re looking for vintage from a show or a specialty shop, an authentic reproduction of a classic or chain store merchandise, look for clean lines, wood and simple silhouettes. But most importantly, says Fisk, “Buy what you like and what appeals to you.”