Mad over ‘Mad Men’-era mid-century modern interiors


A vintage Caesar Lacca bar cart circa 1959 adorned with vintage cocktail pieces including Kensington ware cocktail shaker, ice bucket, and nut bowl. Kensington Ware was manufactured by The Alcoa Company beginning in 1934. It was designed by Lurelle Guild (1898-1986) who was an industrial designer and is best known for his streamlined Electrolux vacuum cleaner. All items can be purchased at www.boulevardps.com (Vern Yip/FOR THE WASHINGTON POST)
March 29, 2012

Suddenly, it’s time again for cocktail culture, dapper suits and impossibly well-edited interiors to enter back into your life. Of course, I’m talking about the fifth season of AMC’s prime-time drama “Mad Men,” which has largely been responsible for familiarizing a new generation with the mid-century modern aesthetic and its associated characteristics of “less is more,” clean lines and carefully considered materials.

For the unfamiliar, mid-century modern design really took hold in the early 1950s and extended into the early 1960s, when the country was largely dominated by an increasingly progressive culture and a growing appreciation of forward-thinking architecture and design that was a confluence of form and function. Although the look eventually fell out of favor, the characteristically streamlined, organic profiles that are so easy to live with stuck with many design enthusiasts.

In almost every part of the country, you can find hard-core loyalists who deliberately sought out genuine, mid-century modern homes to fill with pedigreed pieces. This style certainly has its supporters, and the enduring and timeless quality that many designs from this period possess certify as to why. But there are a large number of folks, including myself, who love the look but don’t want to live in mid-century modern museums. Lucky for us, we no longer live in an era when everything in your home (and certainly everything in a room) has to be one style.

The trick to folding in a piece seamlessly into your decidedly not-mid-century modern decor is to find a common link or language. Most furniture from this period is carefully considered and lacking in excess adornment, so there’s generally not a lot of concern about it being too much. If you’re looking to introduce a cabinet or table, assess the dominant wood and metal tones in your existing pieces and seek out similar tones in a new piece. If you’re looking to introduce an upholstered mid-century sofa or chair, stay within the general color language of what you’ve established.

Nothing has to be an exact match. In fact, it’s probably going to make your room more sophisticated and sharper if you have slight variety. The trick is to stay within general color families of woods, metals and upholstery so that your finished room looks intentional. Creating that common language among your pieces allows you the luxury to introduce new pieces with varying lines and styles.

So now that you know what qualities to look for in a mid-century modern piece that will allow it to work beautifully in your home, how do you locate one?

If you’re not too hung up on claiming your own piece of genuine mid-century history, you can turn to national home decor retailers, where inspired pieces are increasingly easy to find. Borrowing from the overall aesthetic of clean lines with organic nuances (without literally copying existing items), new pieces can oftentimes be more comfortable, affordable and easier to mix with your existing decor.

In large part fueled by the popularity of “Mad Men,” the trend is so huge that Banana Republic has launched a collection of clothing inspired by the show’s characters.

Among the decor offerings from the big stores, some of my favorites include Restoration Hardware’s Copenhagen denim chair (with similar lines to the Arne Jacobsen Egg Chair), the Oveido chaise lounge in vintage cigar leather, and the Sputnik filament chandelier.

At Crate & Barrel, I’m pretty fond of the Petrie leather sofa, Cavett leather chair, Bel-Air Oval coffee table and Clybourn desk. These hybrid designs, inspired by (but not loyal to) the aesthetic of the period, mix in a contemporary scale to address how we are built today, making them easier to integrate and perhaps more comfortable.

Whether you purchase a vintage piece or a contemporary piece inspired by one, a single item of mid-century modern decor lends serious swagger to any space. And if you’re like me, a little can go a long way. After all, many of us love watching “Mad Men,” but we don’t want the lives of the characters on the show — just a bit of the uber-cool home decor style that makes their mid-century modern digs so fascinating.

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