19 September 2015


Case study house -- the Stahl house in LA--
Could you live in a glass house?

Oh, Lord.  Mid-century Modern.  It was peculiar the first time around (think The Jetsons),  and it hasn't improved in the fifty-plus years since.  I am the first to espouse a "live and let live" attitude, but please, whoever Design Deity you are out there, don't ever try to foist this  trend off on the public again for yet a third iteration forty years down the road.  

MAD MEN came along at just the right time and reinforced the growing fervor.  I get it that it was important -- ONCE. Designers are now saying there is a trend away from it, and once again, it is becoming old hat.  Let's hope so. Fervently.

Gag me!

A derivative of this style has been dogging us for almost ten years now, and thank the good Lord, it looks like PRETTY is finally hitting the main stream again, taking over the road.  (Thank you Mario -- and your followers)  

From the Prince of Chintz, this is what PRETTY looks like to me!

Some of us have never deserted PRETTY while others have flirted with a bastardization of MCM, going for the edgy and the sleek, letting geometry rule, but at the end of the day -- most of MCM in a broad sense is seriously ugly (to me) because it is not homey and cozy or comfortable. PRETTY!  

There are a few notable exceptions.  These pieces have become classics which mix and blend with just about anything you can throw at them.  In fact, a really pretty room can come alive with the juxtaposition of one these pieces thrown into the mix.

These are:

(1) My personal MCM favorite is the Eero Saarinen tulip table
You may remember that I was having a hemorrhage to own this reproduction version last year.
Never got it.
Now it is not available.
The quote below is referring to another source,
not for this particular table.

There is an inherent practicality in the clean, flowing lines of the Rove Concepts Eero Saarinen Tulip Oval Table series. Not only beautiful, the tables feature single stem bases, which allow for greater ease of movement and increased legroom. The dismissal of traditional legs create a remarkably spacious experience. In addition to their practicality, these pieces feature genuine Carrara marble sourced exclusively from Carrara quarries in Italy. This marble is highly valuable due to its durability and beauty, which is why Michelangelo sculpted his masterpiece "David" from it. Highly adaptable to any interior, these tables are especially striking paired with the Saarinen Tulip Chairs. 


This premium Rove Concepts reproduction features:
  • Imported from the Carrara province of Tuscany, the white Carrara marble is considered the best in the world for its natural look and durability
  • Natural grey veining throughout - not solid white (Please see actual pictures above)
  • Solid stone table top is polished smooth and applied with a wax finish
  • Table top shape: OVAL
  • Assembly is required
  • True to the original, the edge is smooth and beveled on the underside
  • The base is made of cast aluminum and undergoes a 5-step powder coating process for a smooth finish that is resistant to chipping
  • Available with a white or black base
This item is not manufactured by or affiliated with the original designer(s) and associated parties.

67 in x 43.25 in x 28.75 in (Width x Depth x Height)
Additional Dimensions
79 in x 47.5 in x 28.75 in - (79" Size, White Cararra Marble Surface, Black Base Options)
79 in x 47.5 in x 28.75 in - (79" Size, White Cararra Marble Surface, White Base Options)


Eero Saarinen

Eero Saarinen

To his detriment or benefit, Finnish American designer Eero Saarinen was famous for his flexible style. He believed that his clients were “co-creators,” which led him to adjust his approach to design according to what they wanted instead of strictly adhering to his aesthetic. Despite the criticism this led to, he remains one of the most well-known designers of the mid-century period. 
Saarinen’s architectural and product design style varied from pared-down, curving silhouettes to cold rationalism. His work was present from bomb disassembly manuals to Time magazine to countless editorials. 
He used his sculpture and architecture training to make some of the most recognizable modern pieces, such as the Tulip Table series. Saarinen was a leader of his time. 

(2)  The next item on my list of tolerables is the iconic Eames chair, the forerunner of the recliner, designed by Charles and Ray Eames.  Ray was the wife of Charles for those who don't know.

There was an important movement called the Bauhaus in Germany from 1919 till 1933.  MCM grew out of that.  If you know me, you know that I have always had a fetish for curvy French furniture, so this ultra-linear stuff leaves me pretty cold.  However, if you know anything about the "artistic discourse", if you want to get all hi-falutin about it, you understand that means that the next big thing is built upon the last big thing.
Would you put this Albini chair in your house?
I think it is butt-ugly, but it is another MCM icon.
Looks like if you don't sit very carefully, you might get hurt!

Eventually we always come back to the first thing -- what we now call the classics.  These pieces were once upon a time the "new thing", too. You know that old saying, "There is nothing new under the sun"? Somebody does actually come up with a new idea from time to time.  That is what is so fascinating about humankind -- just when you think they are all tapped out, you get a surprise.  To wit: the pieces we are talking about here. 

(3)  I also rather like the Bertoia chair, particularly for it's sculptural qualities.


You can go here to read more about the Bauhaus if you like.  If you are not interested in design, you can take a pass, and that is OK, too.  However, if you do go look, you might learn a thing or two you didn't know.

When we moved from our last house over eight years ago, we left Sweet Husband's old student desk which looked exactly like this:  an MCM Kroehler piece where we kept the odd bits and bobs like screws and hinges, etc., down in the basement because it didn't "fit in" with anything upstairs any more.  He had several pieces of this yucky stuff, a matchy-matchy set, in his "guest room" at his apartment when I met him, and I relegated most of it to the Salvation Army when we got married.  (It was his furniture at his family home.  At least it wasn't as tacky as the "Cowboy Bob" furniture of my ex's childhood.)   

The desk somehow survived,  probably because he needed a desk, until we bought him a new one of a more classic design a few years later.   I mean -- after all -- you have to make concessions for love, right?  The buyers of our house said their son, who was eighteen at the time, loved the desk, was absolutely thrilled we were leaving it,  and he was going to use it.  Yay for him.

(4) The Parson's Table is another piece which has become a classic that transcends that MCM label.  

It was developed as a design challenge to students at the Parson's Paris by Jean Michel Frank who were supposed to come up with a form which could look fabulous and be functional regardless of it's finish.  Ikea, West Elm, Crate & Barrel among many others sell gazillions of them still today, and they always work, no matter where you put them.  This photo here illustrates it's use as a coffee table. 

as a console

It's design works just as flawlessly as a dining room table, end table and console table, as well as a desk.  

As a dining table from Crate & Barrel.
I like this steel and marble version.
These look particularly stunning when paired with curvy antique chairs!

From West Elm, this one could be a desk.
It appears to have drawers, but it could work as a dining table in a small space.

When I was a single chick, I used a Drexel tortoiseshell version for a coffee table, though it was meant to be an end table.  Square, about 30", it worked perfectly.  I built one once, a console, when I was in my mid-twenties, the first piece of furniture I ever built.  It was a little wobbly, but I got the proportions right even though I was flying by the seat of my pants.  I might add that I covered it with a wallpaper that was white and metallic gold, the white part being flocked like velvet!

(5)  The Barcelona Chair is the quintessential Miesian piece.  Comfy, clean-lined, fits in with everything.  

To me, the problem arises as with ANY STYLE when someone falls prey to every cliche in the book and uses all these items in one space.  There is a reason that these examples,  plus maybe a couple more that I am not as fond of, have survived for what will soon be a century for some.   They play well with others!

Maybe there is a larger lesson here, but that will be for another day.






  1. I've seen a few pieces that caught my eye. But for the most part, not so much...

  2. I'm still stuck on your sentence about making concessions for love. I have two pieces of furniture I've been toting around in my car the last week, hoping mine will concede they're coming into the house (even though he says he does not like them). For love, of course. One is Asian campaign style, the other French curvy.

  3. As a former student of the New York School of Interior Design, I have embraced every design style one can imagine. While I was working professionally, I had the luxury of spending other's money on the design of their dreams. In my own homes I have played with very contemporary, boho, styles etc, you name it. I have hung tents from the ceiling and filled them with big pillows like an Arab roamer. What have I settled with after years of being a design nomad? I love a mix of Mario, Charles Faudree and English country house. I do hope that pretty comes back. The industrial look leaves me cold and too much gray makes me feel blue. I also know that the design industry stays afloat by constantly making us think that we need to change everything from top to bottom and I jumped off that carousel a while back.

    Big Texas Hugs,
    Susan and Bentley

  4. We had some MCM pieces while growing up...they leave me with a cold feeling...nothing cozy about them! I like pretty and comfy.
    I have had to compromise in the name of love, a few times...

  5. I've finally accepted that cottage style suits me best and makes me feel good. So, no more trendy pieces for me. I want to live out my life in a soft cozy environment and at peace. no hard lines or sharp edges for me.. no intense colors to mess with my nervous system or knock my chakras out of balance:)
    soft - warm- cozy and comforting..
    I'm looking for a cottage to purchase and I have much of what I'll need to fill it. The rest will arrive when its time. I am a very patient Grasshopper:)

  6. I shudder to think of MCM actually being a new design trend but those stark straight ugly lines will probably appeal to many.
    I well remember my mother being thrilled over her sectional sofa. It was black with a metallic thread and sat on pointed legs that ended in brass tips. Behind it was a metal pole lamp with three metal shades that were adjustable.
    I've begun to wonder if "pretty" will ever return in my life time. I do miss it, indeed!

  7. Even as a child, I did not like MCM! You would think a child would not care much either way. I remember my Mom replacing all the beautiful Duncan Phyfe mahogany, and getting all that modern stuff. I think that is why I have much DP, it is home and cozy to me. End tables, buffet, desk etc.

  8. I like a little bit of all the styles, which never works all at the same time. I just wish real wood, non-painted furniture would come back in style. I read something that said young newlyweds don't want anything, "brown." I have a heavy, old dining room set that is too precious to paint, but my husband thinks it looks outdated, so it's in storage. I have no idea what to do with it. For now, I'll just wait it out.

    Mad Men sets looked cool, but they also looked very uncomfortable.

  9. MCM doesn't thrill me, which is why i when i got a bedroom set of a lesser quality of it for $250, 20 years ago, i painted it white. Didn't help a lot, but some. Now I'm "right-sizing" it will have to find another place to live. The Barcelona chair, I'd have with my chintz slipcovers and pink and yellow walls, but will take a pass on the Parson's table. Never have seen the appeal or charm, except as a filler until something curvy comes along.

    I miss most from the past the round front Victorian era china cabinet and the baby grand piano. Next, the DP dining table and the gold chandelier. These things I had in pine paneled LR/DR way out in ranching/farming country. Today i plan to die in my four-poster bed, wherever it is.

    Never a purist, am finally settling down with english and frenchy lines and flowered slipcovers and "feminine" colors......now to just find a house that does NOT have pine paneling (nor the faux version)!!!! My sweetie doesn't care what I have as long as i keep him!

    Do appreciate your sharing your thoughts on these MCM pieces, which are way nicer than any I've seen in my neighborhood. Nice assessment.

  10. I love it when you give us a decorating lesson Ellen, and find it fascinating to learn about the styles, trends etc and what various things are called. I was very into MCM when I first married, and my very traditional and non artistic MIL was horrified when we purchased a sunshine yellow couch with square chrome arms...I went through several very scary phases, Victorian if you can imagine, before I discovered I really prefer an eclectic style, based on things that I love, and things that are COMFORTABLE and inviting. We did have a knock off Eames chair that we recently sold at a garage sale, and I miss it. Thanks for another great lesson~ oh, and I could never live in a glass house, I throw too many stones :)

    1. The sofa sounds quite fun, actually! Eclectic is probably the way for most of us, truth be told. I think people would always have things they love, things that speak to them, and things they are comfortable with around them. Hang the trends! That glass house is fun to look at but the idea of living there gives me the heebie-jeebies!

  11. I'm not a fan of this style but that doesn't mean I can't appreciate it in someone else's house. I have been noticing it a lot more lately. It would look very out of place in my house. I was raised in the 60's and 70's so I think it reminds me of that era and I never thought the décor of that era looked too good.

  12. I can also appreciate this style. If I had many houses to decorate, I would embrace this! Thank you for your sweet visit. My son is relieved to be home again.

  13. The Eames chair calls to me now and then. I think I could get one to work in the master bedroom. I like the form and function of that chair. My bow to sleek modern is the lamp next to the wicker chair in the great room. One reason I like it there is the light it casts on the chair. I don't think I could do MCM. Although it would have a better chance with me than Brady Bunch 70's.

    My eyes my eyes!! The pink chairs remind me of Granny's 50's furniture. There was a "divan" to match. I remember the fabric was particularly scratchy. Mother had furniture somewhat like this in the early 60's.

  14. Hi Most Scribbling One! Well, I just don't know what I think of this style. I know it's not my style. My daughter and her family live in a 1958 mid century modern home. It's not bizarre though. I remember a lot of this stuff when I was a little girl. My mother didn't like this stuff either but some of my friends had some of this in their homes. Oh, and all of the doctors offices had so many of things uncomfortable chairs. I remember sitting back in them and then had such a hard time trying to get out of them! :) Hope you're doing well and thanks for popping in to see me.
    Be a sweetie,
    Shelia ;)

  15. I confess that I do like many aspects of MCM. I guess it's because I loved the Jetsons and Disney's Tomorrowland, Dorris Day's The Glass Bottom Boat.

    However, living in it is a horse of a different color. Mario Buatta knows pretty for sure. I love his designs.

    But I also love Barcelona chairs....so pretty.

    I think good design transcends time, and you've included a few great exceptions IMHO.

    Love this post!


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