Wednesday, January 22, 2014

Mixing Modern and Traditional Furniture and Furnishings (1948)

Good morning!

Guess what I did when I got home from work yesterday? Kicked off m'shoes, picked up my Surface with my Barbara Stanwyck book on it, poured a glass of wine, and basked in the off white glow of my living room! Thanks for all your kind comments about Monday's painting adventure-- my legs and arms are still a little achy from the sustained effort, but I am yet enjoying the benefits of my dad's and my hard work! :)

Speaking of rooms I like, though, I was flipping through a 1948 bound volume of House Beautiful (whoo WHEE are there some beautiful houses in there), when I came across a spread about which I just had to break the good news. Please look upon the following panels as I work up some musical accompaniment. ((clears throat)) Could you beeee, the most beautiful roooms, in the wooooorld....

I sincerely can't get over the happy, busy vibrations humming off the pages of these rooms. The article, titled "What's All This Feuding Between 'Period' and 'Modern'?", offers the peacemaking suggestion that one needn't chose between the two schools of interior design, but embrace a middle ground of integrating old into new and new into old. From the opening paragraph:
Take a long, level look at the rooms you see on these eight pages. They reduce to absurdity, where we think it belongs, the notion that furnishing a home is a grim choice between stark Modern and cluttered Traditional. They prove that you can go two ways at once, cleaving to the warm familiarity of the old, enjoying the clean beauty of the new.
Staff writer Laura Tanner is sticking up for the new wave of modern furniture flooding post-war American homes in the late forties', positing that you don't necessarily have to have a to-the-minute up-to-date house in order to have up-to-date-furnishing, and that this moon man style furniture WILL complement the things you already have. Drexel's "Precedent" line, designed by Edward Wormley, and bright pinks and acidic greens dominate the modern angle of the styled rooms. In the above photograph, those plastic laced Precedent chairs blend in fine with shaggy carpeting, floral print, and mother's china displayed on the box shelving. "Because its design is basically good," Tanner says of the Wormley pieces, "it mixes with everything."

This bedroom is in the same house as the dining room we were just talking about, and see how there are all-modern furnitue pieces and mostly antique accessories-- the clock on the wall and the two lamps are both decades older than the Precedent furniture. I am in love with the Neapolitan scheme of the stripes on the bed, matching the stripes on the chair, harmonizing with the crazy barkcloth curtains... All this color should drive me up the wall, but instead, it just feels like a cheerful, harmonized room. That I want to live in. Did I mention the bedside tables have recessed shelves that pull out so you can get to books/magazines more easily? They do.

I think because we're so used to things being all mixed up, interior decorating wise, in the 21st century that none of these seem even vaguely out-there to me. A well put together house nowadays  may have a weather beaten farmhouse table in the kitchen, a fifties' atomic age sofa in the living room, 1920's china in a 1960's hutch and a huge "EAT AT AL'S" vintage neon sign in the den. Nary a single eyelash would be batted at that multi-decade conglomeration, but in the more conservative forties', it might have raised a homemaker's blood pressure to think about how to integrate grandmamma's silver tea service with George Nelson's wild mid century end tables. Above, essentially the brown pieces are Precedent (floral chairs, coffee table, console near fireplace), and all the other pieces are traditional (checked print Victorian setee on the left, red arm chair, lamp, fireplace, painting, etc). I am personally impressed with how the curtains, lampshade, and modern chair upholstery all match, as well as how these two Precedent arm chairs are pushed close together to serve as an almost loveseat. Good thinking, House Beautiful; good thinking.

Oooh, this might be the best one! Same living room, with curtains opened and closed (for a day-to-night look):

Could I be more in love? Pinch me, I'm dreaming. From the article:
Don't try to give this room a style name. It's just a comfortable mixture of pleasing new furniture and old bibelots, looking fresh yet familiar at the same time. Sofa is a line-up of sectional chairs. Lamp table, which creates a corner, can nest under the table at the left of the picture. And note that this furniture could fit into any kind of room. Bookcase might be a china cupboard; chairs could go anywhere.
I am the last person you are needing to convince to buy late forties' MCM furniture. The side chair in the living room is a Conant Ball chair designed by Russel Wright in the late forties'-- I snagged it off Craigslist for $20 and every time I see it, it's like looking at a little piece of art you also happen to be able to sit in. With this in mind, it's funny the almost beseeching tone of the article-- give this furniture a chance! You don't have to be George Jetson to have futuristic furniture in the house! Again, a modern reader wouldn't have to have their arm twisted, their leg pulled, or any other extremity man handled...wouldn't you run not walk to a reasonable sale of this kind of interior decor? Even more so than you would say a bonafide antique Queen Anne or Heppelwhite-style furnishings. The modernity of these pieces is just as fresh as it was in 1948-- isn't that something to think about!

There are a few black and white photos that are more convincing of the "old things go with new things, too" argument, but they're way less eyecandy, eyecatching than the color inserts. Here's one with a Victorian fireplace in New York, combined with those gorgeous chairs and some antiques upon the mantelpiece.

And here's your super traditional Early American dining room, but not entirely. Along with your Hitchcock chair, painted-tile fireplace, and photo of great-great-grandfather Whozit on the wall, you have a thoroughly modern dining room set, complete with the-biggest-set-of-candlesticks-I-may-have-ever-seen. Wow! I'm sorry, I'm honestly too distracted by the brass candlesticks to go on at any length about the furniture. But you get the idea.

Well! What do you think? Does it make you want to run out and buy some mid century living room suite IMMEDIATELY? Are you more drawn in by the clean, modern lines of MCM or the stately, sometimes baroque feeling of 19th or 18th century pieces? If you could furnish your dream house, what would the ratio of new-to-old be? In my case, it would be something like 2% new, 98% old, but I, too, would mix a lot of decades in together to get everything that I want. Which of these rooms is your favorite? Let's talk!

That's all for today, but I'll catch you back here Thursday morn with more vintage interiors (I'm on a tear, I can't stop myself!). Have a great Wednesday, keep crawling towards the weekend, and I'll see you then! Take care.


  1. Enjoyed this post, while I believe there needs to be a basic unifying concept-either color or even a shape, mixing style and periods is what makes life interesting. Too much matching is boring, not enough becomes overwhelming. Finding "just right" is the key, along with enjoying the hunt for the treasures that make the room.

    1. Thank you! I agree, there's always a "happy middle" for each extreme of the designing scale! One of the things I loved so much about the set design on early episodes of Mad Men was how in, for example, Peggy's mother's apartment, there were things from every other decade she must have lived there up until the present Kennedy era.You wouldn't just TOSS everything out as new decade dawned, but gradually replace things and keep others you loved! I try to strike that balance of having all different decades, but a cohesion of colors and textures and things that-look-like-what-I-like. I can't put my finger on it, but it feels like I always know it when I see it! :D

  2. I have an assortment of used furniture and so enjoyed the photos. Adore the chairs with wood arms and if I saw any if a thrift store they would be mine for sure. Dh was really careless with my desk from this era, it fell off the trailer and broke into bits........along with my heart.

    1. Oh, I am so sad about your desk! WHHHHY. I ruined a couch trying to clean it once and it haunts me TO THIS DAY. I love this late forties' design aesthetic for sure, it's getting to be my favorite-- bring on the modern lines and the pinks and lime greens and barkcloth, I'm ready for 'em!

  3. Awesome!!! We grew up in a house with an "eclectic" design scheme (a result of hand-me-downs, discount stores, and side-of-the-road finds); I love mix-and-match! It always surprises people when I explain that the mid-to-late 40's isn't favorite era for interior design - rationing was over, optimism was high, modernism was entering the mainstream, and traditionalism was still prevalent. Thanks for sharing this article!!!

    1. No problem, Mr. Tiny! Me too! I love, love, LOVE say 1947-1948 in clothes and home furnishing, oh my GOD...these are like my dream rooms. Put me in the middle in a long mustard yellow gown and a bright, bejeweled print turban with a big bow on it and I'd be in heaven. I think your description was right on target-- that mix of modernism and optimism is what's so infectious about the "fun" of the designs!

  4. I am all for mixing things up. My décor style goal is that someday, everything I look at in my home-I love. I am slowly getting there-my husband doesn't care one way or the other, as long as he has his recliner.

    I do love the MCM, but I also appreciate the older stuff. Oh, I lucked into a stack of House Beautiful from the 50's and 60's-I was digging in boxes at a garage sale, and almost fell over when I saw them. I tried to be very nonchalant "how much for these?" all the while doing an internal dance of joy! Got them all for a song, and I LOVE them!

  5. wow, incredible! And even more impressive in colour - in b/w it would look completely different. For my taste it is a bit too much, I like your living room better ;-)
    j e f

  6. PS: but I would totally wear the curtains as dresses! What a great novelty print ;-))



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