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Friday, June 17, 2016

Mid-Century Modern Interiors

A Mid-Century Modern interior. I had to laugh when I saw this. It's such
an accurate depiction of the style as its kitschy worst. Turquoise and brown? And get a load of those lampshades!
In my continuing discourse on domestic interior styles, I last posted a tutorial on the Art Deco style interiors of the early 20th-century. In continuing, you might ask, what came after Art Deco? Well, as a matter of fact, WW II came after Art Deco, and as wars are prone to do, this one changed about everything having to do with art, not the least of which were tastes as to interior design. Our G.I.s came home from the war accustomed to G. I. simplicity. The simpler it was, the better it worked, not to mention the fact that it was cheaper to produce and easier to clean without all the fancy stuff they'd been accustomed to before the war. Of course, following the war, interior design (decorating it was called then) was far down most people's the list of priorities, well below housing, finding a job, going to school, and diapers.
Mid-Century Modern persisted from the early 1950s well up
through much of the 1970s, so some of the examples above
have evolved more than others, representing taste in the
1960s and beyond. Some reflect the work of design professionals
while others are very much amateur decorating endeavors.
Thus what we've come to call Mid-Century Modern interiors didn't have much of an impact until the 1950s when living rooms all over the country suddenly gained a new piece of furniture--television sets. The first ones looked like little round radar screens mounted in old Art Deco console radio cabinets. Eventually though, as screens grew larger and more rectangular, and manufacturers sought to cut prices, they grew simpler and more modern in style. It wasn't long before furniture designers, noticed the trend and followed suit. The mid-century modern style blossomed.

The Cleaver 1950s family values included June Cleaver in high heels and earrings every day. Notice that the two guest rooms on the second floor of the Cleaver home have no access to even a shared bathroom.
Television also allowed us to peek into the make-believe homes of make-believe families not too unlike our own. During the 1950s families such as that of Ozzie and Harriet Nelson and Beaver Cleaver presented simple solutions to simple situations. However, the 1960s brought us the blended family of Mike and Carol Brady. The interiors of the Nelsons and the Cleavers reflected only a modest, black and white updating in style and lifestyle, while the Brady Bunch and their modern, stylish, cantilevered staircase, sturdy enough to stand the combined weight of three adults and six kids, was anything but traditional. Remember, Mike Brady was a state-of-the-art architect, and since Alice took care of all the household chores, Carol Brady apparently had little else to do but dabble in the latest interior design trends.

The Brady home, inside and out, was pure California Modern in style,
though the kids' sleeping quarters must have been a bit cozy.
It's hard to say how much television and our peeking into idealized family life (the "sit-com") may have influenced interior design, not to mentioned the so-called "American Dream." Television during that time was such a new medium, sociologist and marketing researchers hadn't yet gotten around to measuring its impact upon our tastes as to interior design. They were more interested in its impact on our taste in TV-dinners and Chef Boyardee pizzas. Families began to consume both in front of their glowing screens and in so doing, invented yet another new type of furniture--the tray-table. Dining rooms and kitchens began to blend into living rooms, demanding furniture upholstered in vinyl for easy clean-up after sloppy eaters.

Furniture forms followed functions. Comfort trumped decoration.
Kitchens and Dining rooms changed, merging into one. Often times formal dining rooms simply disappeared. Kitchens became sleek and beautiful with color flexing it's muscular presence as never before. First came running water, then refrigerators, electric ranges, and eventually dishwashers, microwaves, garbage disposals, trash compactors, food processors and...yes, TVs. Art Deco curves gave way to Cubist, Bauhaus, rectilinear appliances. Manufactured metal cabinets were replaced by custom made wooden cabinetry. Often such woodworking reflected styles from the past, but just as often simplicity and cost/benefit ratios came into play. Just when kitchens became pleasant places to play chef, robotic appliances and processed meals left them deserted much of the time as the two-income family took hold. June Cleaver and Carol Brady were replaced by working mothers--Roseanne Conner, Clair Huxtable, and Elyse Keaton.


Color run amuck, porcelain, chrome, and plastic
--beauty and convenience at an affordable price.
The dining room became the dining "area" during the 1960s as baby boomers began building their ranch style dream homes in the sprawling suburbs of America. If there was a dining room, often both architects, and interior designers were torn between thinking of it as part of the kitchen or an adjunct to the living room--or both. In any case, in all but the most elegant new homes of the era, it ceased being an independent entity. If a separate dining room existed at all, often it was reserved only for large family gathers during the holiday seasons. Television eventually made separate dining rooms the most wasted space in the house.

Not much to see here, people, move on...
If the dining room was undergoing an identity crisis during the mid-century era, another room had a similar problem--the den. Or the "rumpus room" as it was sometimes called during the 50s, followed by "recreation" room and later the "family" room. Today it might well be called the "media" room. If there was a problem attaching an appropriate name to a room whose purpose was constantly evolving at the time, it was nothing compared to the perplexing problem designers faced in deciding how to "handle" the décor. Some, as seen below, chose soft drinks. Others went for a rich, sophisticated look, while others chose function over form, making it into an office, hobby center, or work room. The TV, stereo, couch, and recliner were musts, but beyond that, there were few rules. Pool tables were a nice touch but extremely space consuming, something of an elephant in the middle of the room when not in use. Desks and poker tables proliferated as did "wet" bars and hi-fi sets. Eventually we've come to settle on the term "family room" as the most appropriate blueprint term for a room having such diverse uses.

The den/rumpus room/rec room/office/family room,
a reflection of the family itself.
Upstairs, the bedrooms were the last to change with the advent of the Mid-century modern style. Unless the occupants routinely entertained "guests" in their boudoir, there was little need to go for trendy. As in most other rooms in the mid-century home, color (sometimes godawful combinations) took on new importance to the point a "guest" might easily decide the gender of the interior designer. It was then, and still remains today, very much the realm of the amateur designer, the most personal space in the home. The main thing that has changed is the size of the beds. Two "singles" became a joke. The "double," graduated to queens and ultimately kings.

Notice the passing of the footboard in favor of what
came to be known as the "Hollywood" bed.
And finally, the homely, super-functional water closet, better known by its more popular euphemism, the bathroom, took on a distinctive look of its own during the mid-century modern era. Showers gradually replaced or augmented bathtubs. Lavatories (sinks) grew legs then discarded them in favor of cabinetry. Pale shades of pink, blue, green, gray, even black came and went, replaced by "bone" or simply pure white. Carpet in the bathroom? Yep. That too came and went as more practical heads prevailed. Shower curtains were replaced by sliding chrome and opaque glass (often more steamy than opaque). Anything that didn't move got a layer of ceramic tile or polished marble. The size of the room grew from minuscular (they didn't call it a water closet for nothing), to palatial with bathing facilities designed to accommodate...but wait...that's a trait of the next design era--the Postmodern. See ya later, I need a shower at the moment.

Hot pinks and moss greens together...UGH.
The Lane living room--Postmodern with
lingering traces of the Mid-century.

Is that June Cleaver or Carol Brady
retrieving leftovers to feed her family?


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