The design revolution continues to spin
Is it any wonder that the musical revolt against Andy Williams and Lawrence Welk spawned Elvis Presley and The Beatles? Should we be surprised that beehive hairdos in the 50s stirred us to let our hair down or that high-backed, buttoned up sofas were transformed into low slung, open sitting areas that were built to party on? (Do we even need to discuss those brassieres that made breasts look like rocket ships?)
It is apropos, then, that there is a resurgence of those simple, straight forward contemporary designs after the overindulgence of the last decade. The trend toward contemporary architecture and kitchen design isn’t the only place that this return to form is evident. The appeal of collecting mid-century modern furniture and accessories has also been rekindled. F Housetrends magazine visited with prominent enthusiasts of this era in Ohio to get a glimpse into a decorating style that can add some avant-garde color and an eclectic bent to any home. When you meet these collectors, you’ll find they have an unbridled enthusiasm that can be at first startling and then oddly infectious. Mid-century modern has that kind of effect on many people, most of whom never saw the approaching obsession.
It only takes a spark
Joe Valenti, owner of Flower Child, two mid-century modern stores located in Columbus and Cleveland, says most collectors start with “one point of inspiration that ignites the passion.” He feels that the “form follows function” dogma and mid-century modern’s ability to complement many different styles of décor also fuels its popularity. Valenti believes, “The sleek lines, vibrant color and uniqueness of the products allow it to work with modern, industrial and even arts and crafts décor.”
The catalogue of mid-century modern is a bit daunting because of its scope—nearly every category of home products manufactured from the late 50s to the early 70s contained items that would be considered to be from this genre. Some of the most beloved categories of the oeuvre include furniture, art, lighting, rugs and barware. There are also a myriad of decorative items like vases, bowls, time pieces and kitchen accessories that have a devoted following.
One of the staples of most mid-century modern homes is decorative glassware. The Ohio River Glass Companies in West Virginia housed many of the prominent glass companies in America. Blenko, Rainbow, Higgins, and Fenton were major suppliers of this colorful art glass that is highly collectible today. As a rule, with art glass collectors, bigger means more collectible because fewer pieces were made. The bright orange, greens, blues and yellows create a palette with a wide range of shapes and styles that allow many new collectors to have fun with design on an open shelf, end table or mantle.
The furniture of the era is open, clean low slung and angular. Because the era was steeped deeply in cocktail parties and entertaining at home, most of the sofas and sectionals are open on one end to invite conversation. (And most of the fabrics were built to allow a splash of gin without staining.) The furniture was also designed to sit in the middle of an open floor plan, allowing it to look as good from the back as from the front…much like the plunging backs of the party dresses of the day. Some of the furniture manufacturers that are highly collectible are Herman Miller, Paul McCobb, Heywood Wakefield and Knoll. Many of the classic lines of furniture are once again being produced using the original designs.
A philosophy of life
For some, the collection of mid-century modern has even dictated their lifestyle.
Joy and Bruce Rice live in the Rush Creek area of Columbus which was entirely developed with mid-century modern architecture in the late 1950s and 60s. Those homes are being rediscovered today by collectors along with all of the mid-century products those homes housed in the day. The Rush Creek Village neighborhood has recently gained recognition as one of America’s National Historical Places. All 49 homes in it were designed by Ted Van Fossen and built by Martha and Richard Wakefield. Most of the houses featured open floor plans with built-in lights and furniture, and were typically around 2,000 square feet on three levels.
It is entertaining to watch how animated the collectors get when talk turns to their specific object of collecting desires. Joy Rice believes the lure of collecting mid-century modern is a combination of the thrill of the hunt, the memories that some objects represent, and the satisfaction in creating your own unique personal décor. Her affection for Ohio and California pottery from the period “borders on an addiction,” she says. Rice also likes the idea of recycling, reclaiming and appreciating found items. “They have a design and style that is unique and nearly all of the items from the period were built to last,” says Rice.
Co-owner of Clintonville’s Boomerang Room, Karen Greene Dilgard, shares a similar philosophy. “The choice is clear to me,” she says. “Invest in quality, mid-century pieces or waste good money on new furnishings, most lasting only a few years at best. I choose to recycle the classic and iconic pieces that have stood the test of time.”
Find your own flair
Stu Nizny lives among his collection. His home is a mélange of vintage stereo equipment, rock concert tee shirts, blue suede platform shoes, fringed leather jackets, colorful kitchenware, art glass vases and dozens of ornate hanging swag lights. It also acts as a warehouse for his business, Pixel 19 Vintage in Cincinnati.
Decorating with mid-century modern is a bit of an art in itself. Nizny offers some tips on putting it all together. “Try things…go beyond the tepid box and be experimental. It will take trial and error to get the exact look you want,” Nizny suggests. “Your space should feel like your sanctuary.”
Valenti believes it is easier to “create corners of modern beauty” as a starting point and grow your collection from there. He also believes that good interior design uses groupings of three, five or seven objects and that it’s essential to always use the same color palette three times in each room.
The eye of the beholder
There is a bit of an art to collecting mid-century modern pieces. Valenti laughs recalling that when he first began collecting it twenty-five years ago his friends would say, “If it’s ugly, Joe owns it.”
But if you stand back and really observe what mid-century modern design is, there is a conclusion that can be drawn. The designers of the day had the courage to step away from tradition and accepted standards of design to create new and dramatically different work. Their courage broke barriers and set the design world on a new course. They are designs that still inspire today and are setting the tone for a new century. Now let’s see, where did I put my jet pack?
Great places to start hunting for mid-century modern pieces
Blenko Glass Collectors
Boomerang Room (Columbus)
Daddy Katz Kustom Kulture (Dayton)
Flower Child (Columbus)
Heart of Ohio Antique Center (Springfield)
Heritage Square Antique Mall (Columbus)
Pixel 19 Vintage Clothing/Modern (Cincinnati)