Friday, October 16, 2009

MrMartha's Mid Century Design Primer

MrMartha has been transforming some very uninspired mid century spaces into something he hopes is going to be quite special.
As the new house was quite literally a blank canvas -- wimpy dead white walls with bad paint job, semi neglected tile work, badly chosen replacement light fixtures, and really zero percent creativity evident -- in anything done during the past 30 years.

Just how to bring the space back to a vibrancy, how to show off the mid century bones (and bells and whistles) that attracted MrMartha to the residence in the first place, has required some real thought. MrMartha will share photos of how the new place is coming together soon...but for now, lets focus on general mid century design trends.

The idea of MidCentury design seems to sort of congeal into a lump in most peoples minds (or at least those who think about it), fusing things that were actually popular within a span of about 30 years. The broad term refers to design between the late forties and the mid seventies.

(MrMartha's definition of mid century does not include the styles of Moderne or Art Deco, while they happened in "mid century" in terms of the calendar, they really are separate, stand alone styles.)
The apex of classic mid century design to MrMartha is circa 1962-65 -- but still has to include many, many icons that were designed much earlier, or still to come in the future.

Just like the fashions of 1955 were radically different than those just 10 years later in the late 60s, what was considered shockingly modern decor around 1953 would have seemed comical and frumpy by 1966. Times, trends, fashion, technology, and sophistication all changed radically in that turbulent period, and interior trends reflected it all....and, as with anything involving fashion, it did so in both tasteful, and very tacky ways.

To map out a design plan for a "current take" on the best of mid century, is walking a fine line in some very wide shoes. Things designed only a few years apart can seem very divergent and clashing when displayed together....but objects from the earliest years of mid century design (let's call that Post Moderne) really can co-exist with the height of 60s mod, and everything in between can be combined, if they are selected with care and sensitivity.

For MrMartha's own piece of mind, in trying to assemble the right formula of objects, MrMartha made some arbitrary divisions to determine what the identifiable trends and styles were, within the overall style umbrella of the full era.

Read More to learn more about MrMartha's take on the evolution of the styles, and some great photos of period interiors.

50's Modern: Took traditional furniture forms and stripped off some of their fussiness -- sofas lost arms, design details got simpler, fabrics were nubby tweeds and brightly printed barkcloth. Objects often took their shapes from an organic base, and nontraditional materials like Fiberglass began to find their way into the living space.

The buzz word for the most severe version of this look is "Atomic" decor -- though some call it Kitsch, if the decor focuses on the more outre' aspects of the aesthetic -- or Retro if it combines styles and trends from across all of mid century design.
And, just as Tomorrowland at Disneyland seemed outdated and arcane soon after it was built, so did many aspects of 50s Modern. For an easy timeline of this trend, think about the evolution of the Ricardo's couches during the 'I Love Lucy' series.

(yes, that is Liz Taylor)

60's Modern: This is the classic "Danish Modern" aesthetic. Simple spare and thin forms, design decisions often outweighing considerations of comfort.

Pendent lights in bullet or globe shapes were often seen. Boomerangs, jet wings, and that ultimate "Century 21 Worlds Fair" icon, Seattle's Space Needle, were all inspirations for furniture and objects -- designed for, and representing, the projected speed of life in the Jet Age, as things sped towards a future that was still expected to be just like the Jetsons.
This particular look is illustrated well in the office sets of "MadMen" which capture the whole idea of it with breathtaking correctness.

60's Contemporary: Consider this sort of the filtered down vernacular of "High 60's Modern". that doesn't mean it was bad, but a lot of this look did disintegrate to that lowest common denominator "Levitz" look.
The best examples of this style were quite wonderful...MrMartha likes to refer to this style as "Haute 60's".

For a quick mental snapshot of the style, picture Laura and Rob Petrie's ranch house in New Rochelle, from the original "Dick VanDyke Show". For the upper end luxe version of this look, Betsy and Don Draper's redecorated living room on "Madmen" hits the mid century nail right on it's vintage head.

Hollywood Post-Regency: Ah, now MrMartha is getting a bit arcane. The current rage for the generic decorating term "Hollywood Regency" which originally referred to a 1940s based theme, is at present, so all encompassing in its reach, it may as well be called 'black hat' -- it really be nearly anything (do an ebay search). There was a mid century offshoot of the original purer style. It took higher end designer furniture, often very sculptural, and added that trademark hollywood glitz.

Playing with scale was a hallmark of this vein of midcenturia, large sculptural clocks, gold and metallic details, swag lights that managed to be simultaneously whimsical and grave. This is mid century design gone over the top....either in a very good way.....or in a 'bad accident but I have to stare" way.
An offshoot of this style would be the big trophy homes in Palm Springs by architects like John Lautner with their amazing interiors.

70's Modern: MrMartha, having lived through this era with great disdain, finds it far too painful to discuss. For everything you need to know about 1970's an episode of "That Seventies Show" in syndication ---they nailed it!