Mid-Century decor brings the past to the future

September 23, 2006|by ROSE BENNET GILBERT / Copley News Service


Copley News Service

Q: We've got this cute little apartment that the landlord says is OK to paint or wallpaper or whatever we want. I love things from the '50s, and hope to start a collection. Meanwhile, we want to do a fun makeover that's not too expensive. Where to start?

A: Start at the beginning, with the shell of your room, the walls, floors and ceiling. You're in luck here: it seems that a lot of 21st century designers are also nostalgic for the 20th century.

For example, you'll find nods to Mid-Century Modern in hot shops such as Jonathan Adler's ( and Todd Oldham by La-Z-Boy ( Look under "Collections.") Young and hip, both of these designers are rethinking what was once old and stodgy, reviving colors and patterns that conjure thoughts of icon like sock hops and poodle skirts.


By the way, both Adler and Oldham have written books about their design philosophies. Adler's title tells all: "My Prescription for Anti-Depressive Living." Oldham's book is called "Hand Made Modern." And while you're researching your favorite time period, have a look at a book by a real veteran, Vladimir Kagan ("The Complete Kagan").

One of the true originators of Mid-Century Modern, Kagan's sinuous, virtually airborne sofas and sleek, organic tables are back - and hot. The '50s originals are collectors' items, and Kagan is still creating new designs for companies like American Leather (

Yes, if you didn't live through them the first time, the '50s can be amusing, comforting, even. And also affordable, since authentic artifacts can still be unearthed at yard sales, junk stores and all over eBay.

But don't wait until you can afford furniture and other fun '50s stuff. It's also possible to evoke the era immediately. For example, the room we show here is happily retro from the walls out, thanks to a new line of wallpapers and fabrics that mines period images and colors ("Urban Attitude" by Waverly; What's old: those stylized, overscaled flowers; what's new, the sophisticated colorways they come in, like pewter and onyx.

Also new: the ease with which you really can install the pre-pasted, washable and strippable wallpapers available today. Designed to be totally kind to amateurs, they're a far cry from what your grandfather may have struggled with back in the good old days of the 1950s.

Q: I am very interested in applying the principles of feng shui to my home. The idea of running water really appeals to me. Would it look funny if I put a regular garden fountain in the entry hall?

A: Not necessarily. Much depends on the style you chose and how well the fountain melds with your other furnishings. As long as the radius of the splash is containable, you should be able to use almost any outdoor fountain indoors. Just add an attractive catch basin, maybe filled with sand or handsome stones, and plug her in.

Check out some of the unusual fountains offered by companies like Stone Forest ( of Sante Fe, N.M. Their designs include curved metal waterfalls and natural stones roughly hewn into simple organic shapes like plinths and spheres.

You're hardly alone in loving living with the sound of running water. The eco-fervent designer Clodagh - years ago one of the first design pros to have a feng shui geomancer on her staff - almost always insists on including fountains in her installations, especially at the spas for which she's well known. In her own New York office, water gurgles from many sources, including a table she designed that comes with a running water channel right down its center.

Rose Bennett Gilbert is the co-author of "Hampton Style" and associate editor of Country Decorating Ideas. Please send your questions to her at Copley News Service, P.O. Box 120190, San Diego, CA 92112-0190, or online at

Copley News Service

The Herald-Mail Articles