Mid-Century Basics

Apartment Therapy has a good primer for anyone just getting started with mid-century design. They get into some of the foundations of the movement as well as a few of the major designers of the time.

Here's an excerpt:
The mid-century modernists laid a foundation with the lofty ideals of their predecessors, and in the years following World War II, what they built upon it was revolutionary.

This era's American designers had at their disposal a dizzying array of new materials and processes that had been developed during wartime. Resins, plastics, fiberglass, metal alloys and laminates allowed for unprecedented innovation, as well as mass production.

Architects opened up floor plans and installed walls of glass. Spaces encouraged a seamless transition of indoor and outdoor living, especially in the West. Though the wealthy could commission spectacular custom dwellings, developers created tract homes based on the same principles.

There was a sense of social responsibility to it all. Mid-century designers genuinely thought that they were improving life through comfortable furniture, forward-thinking architecture and careful civic planning. For the first time, they were putting design within reach of the middle-class American family.

Done: Replace Bedroom Ceiling Fan

The ceiling fan in our master bedroom had two major problems:
1) You couldn't have both the light and the fan on at the same time
2) The fan only worked on the lowest setting

And if you want to count ugly as a third problem, it was also ugly. Here's what the new one looks like:
Both the light and fan work as they should and can be on at the same time. Hopefully this will lead to less stubbed toes on the end of the bed frame.

Authentic Mid-Century Landscaping with GRACE

I've been piecing together how I want the front of our house to look. I searched through authentic mid-century exterior paint colors, and finally picked a gray and blue. I ordered our Westhaven Crestview Door and it's waiting with some other materials that I hope to get installed soon. I've picked out a mid-century mailbox, a mid-century door knob and I'm deciding on our mid-century address numbers.

The last piece of the puzzle before I start putting everything into action is figuring out what the planters and plants will look like. So I went in search of some authentic mid-century landscaping. There are limited, but great, resources: Mainly, Eichler for Sale's post on Eichler-style landscaping and Mid2Mod's post on landscaping for mid-century homes.

With those mid-century landscaping resources in hand, I want adapt things so that they'll work for my mid-century house in Austin. And that means a few things:
  1. No water hogs - I'm in Austin and you need to be conscious about your plant selections or you're going to run up your water bill trying to keep plants alive that will probably die on the first hot summer day.
  2. Not much maintenance - I'm just not a yard guy (especially on those 100 degree days).
  3. Look good with my ranch house - Colors, height and style of plants will all matter when I'm making my choices.
So I came up with a little acronym that will help me remember the tenants of mid-century landscaping while I'm walking through the nursery: GRACE

Geometry - Plants should work with the geometry of the house. Hardscapes should be clean, straight and geometrical.
Repeat - Repetition of both plants and hardscapes.
Adaptive - Native, adaptive and water-wise plants that will stay evergreen throughout the year.
Carry - Be sure to carry hardscapes, plants and designs from the front yard into the back yard.
Everything - Have a mixture of materials, textures and colors.

Maybe it will help you remember to key pieces of authentic mid-century landscaping as well.

Mid-Century Austin Find: Majestic Fireplace

I've been debating adding an outdoor fireplace to our carport patio. In the end I don't think it'd get enough use, but the right fireplace would look pretty slick out there.

While I'm hemming and hawing you might want to snatch up this harvest gold mid-century, wood-burning, free-standing fireplace.

More Mid-Century Pendant Lights

Moe Light's Honeycomb design, or someone seriously ripping off the Moe Light Honeycomb design, makes an appearance in this mid-century pendant light ad (bottom right). Beyond standard emerald-blue and tangerine-gold coloring, there's a cranberry-pink option.

The ad reads:
Unique blending of Empire castings with honey-comb cylinder in rich emerald-blue. Opal glass inner liner diffuses light evenly through honeycomb pattern. Antique brass finish on castings, chain and canopy. Length 26" to 54.5". Diameter 6.25".

Mid-Century Pendant Lights

My obsession with multi-colored pendant lights has passed, mainly because a pendant light won't work in the area we need a new light.

But that doesn't mean I won't share pics of gorgeous mid-century pendant lights when I run across them. For example, these Prescolite Holiday pendants.

The ad reads:
A gay and colorful grouping of pendant forms designed and executed in hand-blown combinations of colored glass as well as exquisite satin opal glass. Metal shades come in striking baked enamel finishes set off with lustrous brass accents. All shades are suspended by white plastic cords, and are designed for mounting on 3.75" or 4" outlet boxes. Teak spreaders are of pure Bangkok Teak with a hand-rubbed satin cabinet finish. You can create multiple combinations of forms and colors and stagger the heights to form focal points of interest for any interior.

Reader Question: Hairpin Leg Foot Stool

A reader has a question about a recent purchase at the Restore.
I've been reading your blog for a few months now (and thoroughly enjoying it). My husband and I live in Bryan/College Station, we make treks to Austin whenever we can. Unfortunatley there's not much mid-century to be found in our area (at least not yet), although I do stumble on an occassional piece. Today at the Habitat ReStore I found two of these hairpin leg foot stools.

Once I got them home I removed the newer fabric and found the original cushions still underneath. Too bad they were pretty beat up. I imagine I'll have them recovered, or just repurpose the legs (a bench, perhaps). I'd love your thoughts! I'm still trying to develop an eye for good MCM pieces. I don't know anything about these, and couldn't find much online. Was $10 each a deal?

Christine and Joey
I love my Restore, but never have I found anything so amazing at it.

Christine and Joey, that is to say: You found a diamond in the Restore. If nothing else, for the hairpin legs alone. Reproduction foot stool hairpin legs can cost $15-$25 each, even cheap hairpin style legs will cost more than $2.50 a piece, so four (probably) vintage hairpin legs for $10 is an amazing deal.

On top of that, you have two functioning stools, with original fabric. And if that blue fabric is the original fabric, please keep one of the stools intact, even if it's a bit beat up - it's so pretty.

You might still be developing your eye, your instincts are good. Nice buy.

For People Who Don't Like Mid-Century Ranch Houses

There's a group of people out there, and apparently it's a large group, that doesn't like mid-century, ranch-style homes. I'm not sure who these people are, but my guess is they don't read this blog. But if they did, I'd point them to an article about Reconsidering the Ranch House. And if you do love mid-century ranch homes, there's some great history and info to be found. Such as:
For Cliff May, the Californian designer credited with designing the first ranch house in the 1930s, the ranch house was developed to serve three basic tenets:

Livability: Open floor plans created an informal and seamless flow between rooms. attached garages that integrate the car into modern life. For May, the ranch house offered "friendliness... informality, and gaiety.” With cross ventilation, sliding glass doors, large windows, private semi-enclosed patios and exterior corridors, the early ranch was all about "sunshine and informal outdoor living" that “connect you to the day, to the time of day and the weather of the day.” The post-and-beam construction and open floor plan allowed for a lot of light. For the first time, kitchens were opened up to an ever-shrinking dining area. Family and recreational areas were paramount, as was storage space.

Flexibility: Multi-purpose rooms could be adapted as children aged and the family's needs changed. The ranch's simple, unadorned style could accommodate all manner of styles and decor. The layout also mean that homeowners could also easily tack on additions. And the homes tended to be forward-thinking when it came to the latest in home appliances and technology.
Unpretentious Character: Simple antechambers replaced the formal foyer; unimposing exteriors were typically devoid of traditional flourishes like gables and dormers. These were homes in which families could grow and host informal parties and BBQs.

Unpretentious Character: Simple antechambers replaced the formal foyer; unimposing exteriors were typically devoid of traditional flourishes like gables and dormers. These were homes in which families could grow and host informal parties and BBQs.

I'm not really sure how you could dislike any of those things.

Reproduction Mid-Century Bathroom Hardware

I'll be honest, I did not know that Rejuvenation had a blog. But they do, and they recently mentioned their new line of reporduction mid-century bathroom hardware, which is a nice complement to their line of reproduction mid-century door knobs and backplates.

From Rejuvenation's post about their new mid-century bathroom hardware:
This July, we are introducing a new line of bath hardware. The main components of this line — the square backplates and support arms — are modeled after the Hall-Mack Aristochrome bath series. This was a very popular and well-crafted line that saw many style variations over the decades. To the best of our knowledge, this style was introduced in the late 1950s and produced for several years. The dished square shape of the backplate had already been established as a mainstream motif of mid-century hardware in cabinet pulls and fancy door plates (a little foreshadowing here - check back in August). We decided to add a second shape: a star backplate. Our star is loosely translated from a bath product of the 50s and 60s. Since the starburst is the de facto emblem of the era, we thought we would be missing something important by not having that in our bath hardware line).

Airplane Pillow for Travel Nursery

How cute would this airplane pillow be sitting on a rocker in a travel-themed nursery? Well, you can pick one up at Little Korboose.

You can also find onesies and prints with the same image, as well as robots, owls, bikes and other cuteness.

Austin Arthouse Modern Architecture

For those of you not in Austin (or those of you in Austin who don't get downtown much), the Arthouse museum, Austin's oldest arts organization, went through a big modern remodel. Check out a slideshow of the contemporary redo, which has some mid-century design influence in it.

From the Arthouse page:
The new Arthouse is an expansion of the existing contemporary art space, reworked to maintain many of the original architectural qualities of the building as it has evolved over the past 100 years. The new design employs inventive elements that combine function with aesthetics, and features tactical additions that intensify the building’s layered history. The new design is a vital urban presence for contemporary architecture and art in the heart of downtown Austin.

Mid-Century Luggage Tags

Need some inspiration for a mid-century travel-themed nursery? The Art of the Luggage Label photostream on flickr is the perfect place to start.

They have a mid-century luggage tag collection.
Globes, starbursts, and san-serif type all are typical of design and advertising in the 1950s, '60s and '70s. Many of the labels in this set have dynamic compositions and bright color schemes.

And '50s Swiss luggage tag collection.
A new graphic design style emerged in Switzerland in the 1950s that would become the predominant graphic style in the world by the 1970s. Because of its strong reliance on typographic elements, the new style became known as the International Typographic Style. Label designs from this period use a mathematical grid to provide an overall orderly and unified structure; sans serif typefaces (especially Helvetica, introduced in 1957) and a clean precise illustration style. The overall impression is simple and rational, tightly structured and harmonious. Label designs signed by L.M. Kohler are some of the best examples of the '50s Swiss Style.

Map for Your Travel-Themed Nursery

ohdeedoh has a nice collection of maps that would be perfect for an travel nursery.

For the map in our travel-themed nursery (image above), my graphic designer wife created the simplified version of the world map and we used a digital projector to display it on the wall. We then just painted inside the lines and voila, a room-sized map painted on the wall.

Daytripping in Austin, TX

The Daytripper finally did an episode about Austin. South Austin to be specific.

For those of you not in the KLRU (aka Austin's PBS) viewing area, The Daytripper is a show about Chet Garner, a guy who takes day trips all around Texas. You can check out all the episodes here to get a pretty good idea of what to explore in the Lone Star state.

Pioneers of American Industrial Design Stamps

Finally, there are some forever stamps that I look forward to using: The Pioneers of American Industrial Design stamps.
Derry Noyes, an Art Director for the USPS, selected the group of objects to appear on the collection of stamps.

From the USPS press release:
The 12 designers who are honored on individual stamps include Peter Müller-Munk, Frederick Hurten Rhead, Raymond Loewy, Donald Deskey, Walter Dorwin Teague, Henry Dreyfuss, Norman Bel Geddes, Dave Chapman, Greta von Nessen, Eliot Noyes, Russel Wright and Gilbert Rohde.

“Encompassing everything from furniture and electric kitchen appliances to corporate office buildings and passenger trains, the work of these designers defined the look of modern America, and in doing, revolutionized the way we live and work,” said Dean Granholm, Postal Service vice president of Delivery and Post Office Operations.

Industrial design emerged as a profession in the United Sates in the 1920s, but really took off during the Great Depression. Faced with decreasing sales, manufacturers turned to industrial designers to give their products a modern look that would appeal to consumers. Characterized by horizontal lines and rounded shapes, the new, streamlined looks differed completely from the decorative extravagance of the 1920s. The designs evoked a sense of speed and efficiency and projected the image of progress and affluence the public desired.

Consumer interest in modern design continued to increase after World War II, when machines allowed corporations to mass produce vacuums, hair dryers, toasters and other consumer goods at low cost. Industrial designers helped lower costs further by exploiting inexpensive new materials like plastic, vinyl, chrome, aluminum and plywood, which responded well to advances in manufacturing such as the use of molds and stamping. Affordable prices and growing prosperity nationwide helped drive popular demand.

Even as streamlining gave way to new looks in the 1960s, the groundbreaking work of industrial designers continued to transform the look of homes and offices across the country. Today, industrial design remains an integral component of American manufacturing and business, as well as daily life.
Mid2Mod has more info on the individual designers being honored.

Mid-Century Inspired Wedding

Everyone loves a summer wedding. The beautiful bride, the dashing groom and the dancing into the night. One way to make things even a little more special? Add the elegance of mid-century furniture and the timelessness of mid-century design.

Which is exactly what this mid-century inspired wedding did.
Stealing inspiration from the architecture and decor of the 1950’s, this mid-century modern design combines clean lines and warm tones to create an urban, edgy style with all of the traditional trimmings. A color palette of burnt orange, olive green, black and white is a bold and unexpected choice for this pool-side, afternoon event. ... The martini bar utilizes a 1950′s stereo cabinet, where guests will find ‘how-to’ instructions designed by Rock Paper Scissors to help them shake up the perfect signature martinis.

Mid-Century Modern iPhone Calendar

I'm a bit of a sucker for making modern technology feature mid-century design. For example, the retro flip clock screensaver.

Now there's a mid-century modern iPhone calendar, Agenda. It reminds me a lot of the Sendig calendar, which is a good thing.

Austin, TX Neighborhoods

For those readers not from Austin, TRIBEZA is a local lifestyle mag. Every month they have a theme and this month's theme is Austin neighborhoods. You can read the entire section on neighborhoods in Austin here and the piece about Crestview (a mid-century Austin neighborhood) here.

I don't know all the neighborhoods in the article as well as I'd like to, but those I do know seem to be represented accurately.

Mid-Century Austin Find: Vintage Stereo, Modern Coffee Table and More

A few outstanding Austin craigslist finds popped up over the holiday weekend.

This vintage stereo cabinet for only $60.

This mid-century modern coffee table for $50.

And these mid-century side tables, the pair for $55.

Reproduction Mid-Century Door Knobs and Backplates

Dana from Mid2Mod and I were discussing in the comments of another mid-century door knob post why no one made reproduction mid-century backplates. Well, it looks like someone finally wised up and saw there was a market for mid-century backplates in the modern world, and that someone is Rejuvenation.

With two stars, two squares and a circle backplate and door knob set to choose from, you can create some of the most famous mid-century style doors out there, including the Mad Men office door knob.

From the Rejuvenation site:
Many mid-century modern doors were flat-paneled and plain. Character came from interesting handles, backplates and doorbells: stars, squares, circles of silver, gold or brass. Our Mid-Century Modern Collection perfectly captures that refined, yet fun, essence.
Rejuvenation isn't the only company making reproduction mid-century door knobs, but they are the first that I've seen to bring back the star look, with the Atlas and Titan entry set.

Staging a Mid-Century Home

I talk about mid-century homes and modern house designs on this blog, but I try not to talk too much about real estate. If I started listing mid-century homes for sale in Austin there's a chance this blog would become more about real estate than mid-century living and design.

That being said, check out this real estate blog post. As the poster of this fantastically silly listing pointed out:
Maybe the real estate agent had been watching too many episodes of Mad Men when she listed this cool mid-century modern house in Georgia because the staging seems to have been inspired by Don and Betty Draper.
The really silly part is that having staged people in the photos takes away from a pretty spectacular house.