Special to The Washington Post
Given the style’s popularity these days, decorating a home in mid-century modern design isn’t too difficult. The real question is, how far are you willing to go?
Maybe you’ll go as far as Linda Hesh and her husband, Eric Margry, who live in Alexandria’s Hollin Hills neighborhood. Their home is one of eight featured in the new book Atomic Ranch: Midcentury Interiors by the editors of Atomic Ranch magazine, which focuses on residential mid-century style.
The couple, both artists, have furnished their abode with a mix of period furniture and contemporary pieces. They’ve got an undulating Vladimir Kagan -esque couch, and a wood-framed Heywood Wakefield armchair in its original upholstery. But another chair that appears to be vintage came from Ikea, as did the glass cabinets against the wall in the main living area.
Hesh said that her neighbors have been some of the best sources for mid-century furniture. Hollin Hills’ architect, Charles Goodman, recommended that residents use furniture by Charles and Ray Eames in their homes, “and a lot of people still have it,” she said. It’s just a matter of watching for upcoming estate and yard sales.
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But Hesh and Margry have limited their decorating efforts to furniture. Their kitchen, for example, is clad in Ikea cabinets.
Other devotees of the style go much further.
“We’re trying to hold true to original materials,” said Gunnar Thomasson, who lives in Carderock Springs, near Bethesda. He and his wife Christine are gradually “backdating” their house, replacing the home’s modern lights, doorknobs, and kitchen cabinets with more authentic versions.
Thomasson has also found his neighbors—via a neighborhood listserv—to be a great resource. “We’d send out a note saying ‘We’re looking for this kind of light, does anyone have one?’” he explained, describing the hanging globe lights that were part of brand-new Carderock homes. “And people are getting rid of them, so they’re more than happy to give them to us.”
Other items, like enameled metal sinks, he’s found through sites like Ebay and Craigslist.
Thomasson and his wife aren’t alone. Refitting a postwar house in its full mid-century glory has become a popular pastime; just check out the blog Retro Renovation,, which serves as a hub for thousands of homeowners seeking renovation advice—and accolades—for their “mid-century modest” homes.
Beware, though: the time investment can be significant. Thomasson recently spent four hours chiseling away at another homeowner’s bathroom wall in order to retrieve original tiles for his house, for example.
And finding a sympathetic workman can be tricky. “We had a couple of plumbers come in for some problems we had with a bathroom faucet. They said, ‘Just go down to Home Depot” and get another one, said Thomasson. Finally, the couple found a plumber who was willing to work with the original materials. He said, “These faucets have lasted 50 years; they just don’t make them like this anymore.”
Related: Washington’s Mid-century modern neighborhoods, part 1
Amanda Abrams is a freelance writer and one of four judges in The Washington Post’s ‘Mad Men’ Look Contest.