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Midcentury modern gets a reboot

Jodi Helmer
Correspondent
  • http://media.charlotteobserver.com/smedia/2014/07/21/10/47/4Mb0r.Em.138.jpeg|316
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  • http://media.charlotteobserver.com/smedia/2014/07/17/13/26/1iWsSc.Em.138.jpeg|316
    CHRIS EDWARDS -
    In this Foxcrofy neighborhood living room, clean lines and neutral colors offer a backdrop for midcentury modern elements, including a streamlined sofa and ornate mirror.
  • http://media.charlotteobserver.com/smedia/2014/07/17/13/25/xCyTA.Em.138.jpeg|316
    - WEST ELM
    The sleek lines and bronze hardware give this media console a retro vibe. Its scaled-down size makes it a good choice for a small space. The bonus is that it offers storage space.
  • http://media.charlotteobserver.com/smedia/2014/07/17/13/26/1vaLEm.Em.138.jpeg|316
    - DESIGN WITHIN REACH
    Danish designer Verner Patton created this luxe throw with graphic elements reminiscent of a bygone era.
  • http://media.charlotteobserver.com/smedia/2014/07/17/13/26/165gq3.Em.138.jpeg|473
    - CHRIS EDWARDS
    Interior designer Barrie Benson mixed a traditional chair and modern ottomans with a sleek console table and brass accessories to bring midcentury modern charm to a living room.

More Information

  • Make it modern

    • To keep a room from looking like it belongs in the 1950s, give midcentury furniture a modern update with new fabrics or add vintage touches to new pieces.

    • Regardless of which era furniture evokes, make sure the scale is similar to other pieces in the room. Take a measuring tape when you go shopping to size up midcentury modern finds.

    • There is an element of kitsch to midcentury modern design. Embrace it. Look for an offbeat light fixture or an avocado lamp reminiscent of your childhood rec room.



There are many reasons that TV’s “Mad Men” series has won our attention. One of them is its unflinching respect for midcentury modern design, which some say could become as popular as the hit television show.

It’s easy to appreciate the scaled-down size and the hard-working, multitasking character of goods from this era, says Barrie Benson, interior designer and founder of Barrie Benson Interior Design. In smaller living spaces such as lofts and apartments, pieces that do double duty – maybe a sleek console that holds a television and offers storage – are clever design solutions.

Even though egg chairs, helix chandeliers and boucle fabrics evoke a retro vibe, the clean lines, natural finishes and neutral colors that made their debut in the 1950s and 60s are still practical and appealing today.

“Midcentury modern pieces are simple, functional and well-designed,” Benson says.

New interest in this decades-old spin on design has pushed retailers to come up with furniture, lighting and accessories that recapture the era’s style.

In addition to offering shoppers a range of choices, Benson says, these new pieces are often more affordable than original furnishings from midcentury modern masters such as Edward Wormley, George Nelson and Charles Eames.

Now some manufacturers are adapting the retro pieces for the generous square footage in many modern homes, straying from tradition by bulking up the scale of midcentury modern-inspired pieces.

You can also find midcentury modern pieces at flea markets, estate sales and shops specializing in vintage furnishings – and often score great deals on original designs. Benson recommends Midcentury Salvage and Slate Interiors for their selection of midcentury modern finds. Incorporating vintage pieces into your home is also an eco-friendly choice.

While original and reproduction pieces are as readily available as they were when “The Brady Bunch” TV show was in production, incorporating midcentury modern furniture and accessories can be tricky.

“You have to juxtapose midcentury pieces with pieces you already have and update the fabrics,” advises Benson. “Otherwise it’s going to look like it never left that era.”

From the 1950s through the 1970s, it was common for sofas and chairs to be covered in neutral boucle fabrics or colorful “atomic” graphics. That won’t work today. Benson says Modern Fabrics in SouthEnd specializes in discounted fabrics that can offer a updated twist on midcentury designs. Owners James and Ewa Powell have noticed an uptick in the number of shoppers who want a fresh look for a special piece.

“A lot of our fabrics have a midcentury vibe but the colors and designs have been updated so they look fresh,” says Ewa Powell.

It’s just as important to balance a room by giving 1950s flair to new furniture and accessories. Consider adding retro colors such as mustard and avocado to cushions on a sleek sofa with tufted details. Hang a brass fixture over a teak dining table to get a midcentury modern feel in your home.

Just remember that one of the most important considerations for mixing vintage and modern design elements is ensuring pieces have similar proportions, Benson says.

Of course, no measurement trumps the gut feeling that a piece of furniture or an accessory belongs in your home.

“If a piece is well made and you love it, you can make it work,” Benson says.

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The Charlotte Observer welcomes your comments on news of the day. The more voices engaged in conversation, the better for us all, but do keep it civil. Please refrain from profanity, obscenity, spam, name-calling or attacking others for their views.

Have a news tip? You can send it to a local news editor; email local@charlotteobserver.com to send us your tip - or - consider joining the Public Insight Network and become a source for The Charlotte Observer.

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