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Mid-Century Modern Design

9.6.14

ear the beginning of my novel, Profile, Arden Chase mentions that he lives in a Mid-Century Modern house of stucco and stone. Not much more is said about it, but it’s a favorite style of mine, so I figured I’d write a bit about it here.

This is my blog. I can do what I want.

The term ‘Mid-Century Modern’ was first used as early as the mid-fifties. Since then, the style has been covered by broader terms such as ‘retro,’ but Mid-Century Modern, to me anyway, conjures a very specific image. A particularly nostalgic image of my childhood.

In the sixties, I spent a lot of time at my grandparents’ house in California. I distinctly remember their kitchen table with a grey patterned laminate top, a chrome surround and legs, and with matching chairs of chrome and grey vinyl. Grey and pastel pink tile on the walls. Quaint little knick-knacks from a simpler time.

Yes, everyone talked about the good old days back then, too, but compared to now, and especially as a child, it was a much simpler time.

Mid-Century Modern refers to a style that began in a time of conflicting and contradictory feelings. After the end of World War II, there was a looking forward with bright optimism. We had come out of it, perhaps not unscathed, but with a new appreciation of the power at our disposal. It seemed that there was nothing that science couldn’t do for us. ‘Atomic’ and ‘space-age’ became the new buzzwords.

But that optimism came with a darker counterpart. Fear became a part of everyday life, fear of unspeakable death and destruction at the hands of our faraway enemy who possessed the same technologies that we had. ‘Duck and cover’ drills became something that every student became familiar with.

The Mid-Century Modern style that grew out of that time period tried to focus on the positive. Bright and pastel colors became the norm. Futuristic architecture juxtaposed with curvy, organic-shaped furniture. Bright chrome and colorful plastic was used in everything from jukeboxes in Atomic Cafes to kitchen appliances.

Repeated geometric patterns in muted tones and so-called ‘conversational’ prints became common in fabrics, wallpaper and other decorative items. Often, the images were fun, jaunty, optimistic, sometimes bold and graphic. Much of the furniture, such as that designed by Arne Jacobsen and Charles and Ray Eames, was sensuously curved, designed more for the look than for comfort, though some of it was actually more comfortable than it looked.

Light-colored woods and nubby fabrics were used in stereo consoles and TV cabinets. IKEA and Scandinavian Design, founded in 1943 and 1955 respectively, are still known for the style of furniture that began gaining in popularity back then.

Mid-Century Modern architecture varied in style, from repeated and curved lines of such buildings as the Washington Dulles International Airport main terminal and the Watergate Hotel, to the boxy, geometric, Arts and Crafts look of Frank Lloyd Wright’s Fallingwater and the Weltzheimer Johnson House. While little is said about it in the story, the Wright architecture is what I pictured when writing about Arden’s house.

And no, it doesn’t really matter as far as the story goes, but as I said at the top of this page, it matters to me.

I hope you’ve enjoyed this little history lesson. I know I have. Now if you’ll excuse me, I’m going to put on some Dave Brubeck, mix up a dry martini and relax in my underground bomb shelter suite.