The Mod Squad: Local resources for mid-century modern fans

Sunday, February 21, 2010

Although the term "mid-century modern" wasn't coined until 1983 by writer Cara Greenberg, the architectural and interior design aesthetic evolved from the international and Bauhaus building styles of the 1920s. In "Mid-Century Modern: Furniture of the 1950s," Greenberg pegs the era from 1933 to 1965, although others apply the term to objects designed well into the 1970s.

By the end of World War II, millions of veterans, aided by the GI Bill, went for modern rather than traditional houses; today many of those still look new and exciting.

So do the organic or geometric furnishings and accessories from the period. If original, real-deal pieces from antiques and specialty shops don't work for your space (or budget), do not despair. Design Within Reach makes licensed copies of some iconic pieces, while Ikea and BoConcept offer lower-cost alternatives that evoke the mid-century look. And there's no telling what you'll find at thrift shops, flea markets and yard sales, as well on Craigslist and eBay. Full disclosure: Being a collector myself, I have done business with several dealers listed below.

*** | Before you can restore or decorate a house, you need a house. Three years ago, Michael Shapiro created this Web site to gather info to help him find the perfect mid-century modern manse. Two years ago, he got a real estate license and now handles MCM properties exclusively. He posts his own listings and also those of rival agents whose properties he deems worthy. The site has links to local MCM shops, buildings and neighborhoods in Washington, Maryland, Virginia and around the country. He also lists local designers and architects, and posts stories from all over the nation. Surf this site, and you'll get a nice glimpse of last century's hearth-and-home zeitgeist. Call Shapiro at 301-503-6171.

Daniel Donnelly Modern Design Studio | Only about a quarter of the business he founded in 1986 is vintage these days. Donnelly sells new, iconic pieces from Herman Miller, but he'll also modify or reupholster any MCM designer sofa or chair you want. Ask about "the cheap room." 520 N. Fayette St., Alexandria. 703-549-4672.

Home Anthology | Rob Degenhard and Nini Sarmiento have filled 5,000 square feet with American and European furnishings from the '50s through the '70s. Think Eames, Wegner, Panton, Nakashima, and think seating, lighting, storage, art and rugs. 91-95 Mellor Ave., Catonsville. 410-744-0042.

Millennium Decorative Arts | Three MCM dealers share 1,000 square feet on the cusp of Adams Morgan; since 1992, the space has been known for vintage furnishings, art, lighting and "the occasional oddball piece," says current co-owner Richard Chartier. 1528 U Street NW. 202-483-1218.

Metro Interiors | This small shop of carefully curated early-to-mid-20th-century furniture, lighting, art and objects belongs to Bruce Nichols. He's the guy who paid $65 for a pair of what proved to be Isamu Noguchi metal prototype tables, then sold one at auction for $132,000. Now that's an eye. 2603 P St. NW. 202-333-4663.

Modernicus | Owner Robert Chapman set up shop last year selling what he calls "investment-grade to funky cool" furniture, accessories and art. He also offers design and fabrication services. Should you need to stage a house or host a "Mad Men" martini-fest, you can even rent the inventory. 8101 Richmond Hwy. Alexandria 703-887-0895. | This virtual store offers furnishings, art, lighting and small objects. Step 1: Eyeball the online merch, made between 1940 and 1970. Step 2: Call Washingtonians Robin Rose (202-251-5073) or Brandon Webster (202-213-9768) to arrange to see it. And sit in it. Or read by it.

-- Annie Groer

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