Mid-century decor on a budget, Part 3

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Today we conclude our three-part overview of getting in on all this spiffy mid-century modern design while avoiding the outlandish pricing of high-profile designer pieces. Part 1 addressed smaller decor pieces, and Part 2 discussed used furniture.

Depending on the selection in your area, you may find great deals on mid-century furniture, such as that pictured above, at vintage home decor stores or antique malls. But what if a used piece just doesn’t meet your particular needs, for whatever reason?

Go for quality

Before we begin looking for new furniture, one thing to keep in mind is that we should look for good value, not just dirt-cheap prices. Those on a shoestring budget may be tempted to get the cheapest item they can find simply because it’s cheap. It’s easy to go for a higher quantity of cheaper pieces, especially if you are looking to end up with a greater variety of items in a shorter time.  However, while a $250 love seat at the messy fly-by-night furniture mart on the corner may be tempting, it’s probably going to break in short order, so you definitely want to consider the longevity of the materials first. Having to wait and save up a little more to get a single piece of more durable furniture, maybe in the $600-$900 range, will be much more worth it in the long run.

While real leather is great, retro-style or original vintage pieces in full-grain leather may not be readily available at affordable prices. Vinyl is almost certainly going to crack at some point. It can be fixed with a repair kit, but the seams may still be visible. Depending on your preferences, that may not bother you, and could even add to a “lived-in” look.

Bonded leather is basically made of shredded scraps of leather held together with a plastic-y polyurethane adhesive. It is to real leather what particle board is to real wood. Depending on how much abuse your furniture takes, the bonded leather material may end up worn down all the way to the backing fabric in just a few years. Not only is that hideous, but trying to repair it may be more trouble than it’s worth. If it’s going to end up looking like fabric anyway, it might be better to just get a fabric-upholstered sofa in the first place!

Sources for new retro furniture

There are a few furniture companies out there that continue the original mid-century modernist tradition of more affordable stylish design aimed at Jane and Joe Public. The pricing on some of the better-quality items may be considered “mid-range,” for example, somewhere in the $600s to the $1,300s or so for a sofa, depending on what you find. This is still significantly less than what you would pay for, say, brand new Herman Miller products.

While it may seem cliché, Ikea’s mid-century Scandinavian heritage is very apparent in certain items. For those who are particular about a specific period look, Ikea’s more retro-looking stuff might fit in better with a 1960s “mod” look than a more “atomic” 1950s setting. For example, take a gander at the “Landskrona” sofa: Click here.

Ikea’s “Lovbacken” side table is very affordable at only $59.99 and is closely based on one of their original designs from the 1950s: Click here. They have sometimes reissued other designs from those years, so keep an eye out for some spiffy retro stuff.

Crate & Barrel has a wide selection of furniture that could fit with a mid-century aesthetic. While much of it is at a more premium cost, you can find some attractive items among their offerings that are available at a more mid-range price. This isn’t too shabby for $800, right?

If you are in the northwest, Moe’s Home Collection, based in Seattle, WA and Vancouver, BC, has some very stylish pieces. Some could be described as more ornamented “Hollywood Regency,” while others are more typical mid-century modern. Their “Madison” sofa can be found for less than $800 at retail:  Click here.

Here are just a couple stores on the West Coast that feature new furniture in retro-modernist design (check web sites for hours and contact info):

Seattle

Kasala Furniture: https://www.kasala.com

Check out their outlet location located here:

1948 Occidental Ave S

Seattle, WA 98134

Los Angeles:

The Hunt Vintage Home Furnishings: https://thehuntvintage.com

Their “Mid century style custom day bed sofa” goes for $925 and is available in a variety of colors.

5317 York Blvd

Los Angeles, CA 90042

 

Thank you for joining Living MCM on this three-part overview of mid-century modern decor and furniture on a budget. Hopefully this gives you a good starting point, as well as ideas of the types of sources to search for locally in your area.

Now that the obligatory discussions of interior decor are over with, we will turn our attention to some other aspects of mid-century living. First of all, how does a mid-century modern person stay in shape? Stay tuned!

 

Mid-century decor on a budget, Part 2

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The great selection at Lounge Lizard, in Portland, OR.
Photo provided by Lounge Lizard Vintage Furniture and used with permission. Visit www.pdxloungelizard.com

In Part 1 of this three-part series, we discussed sourcing smaller decor to create a vintage mid-century atmosphere in your pad. Good modern design originally was not meant to be the elitist, almost unattainable thing that it seems to have become nowadays. So don’t be afraid that going for cheaper items makes you some kind of philistine. Today, we move up to the “flagship” items of home decor: your furniture.

If you search for the prestigious standard-bearers of mid-century modernism, such as authentic Herman Miller products or vintage Scandinavian pieces, you may choke on the prices, which easily run into the thousands of dollars each. Does this mean you have to give up on your dream of a mid-century home? Not at all!

Buy used, buy lower-profile

Even at the height of the mid-century era, some national brands were more affordable than others, and there were also lesser known local furniture producers that made pieces designed to emulate the popular style of the higher-profile items from Danish or American designers. The construction might not be quite as solid, and they might be made of lesser quality materials; for example, finished in laminate instead of being made completely of solid wood. But if they’ve lasted sixty years, they’re obviously durable. You can often find vintage pieces of this type at very reasonable prices. But where?

For one, Craigslist (I still don’t know whether it’s supposed to be capitalized or not) is a veritable treasure trove. Through a Craigslist ad, I was able to obtain a walnut-stained “surfboard” side table which was an American imitation of a Danish teak design, for only about $80, as opposed to upwards of $900 for a Danish original. Only I can tell the difference!

Try search terms like “mid-century” or “mid-century modern,” or specific decades of furniture such as “1950s” and “1960s.” Private sellers don’t have all the markups of retail operations, and oftentimes they are trying to get rid of something quickly, either to make room for something else or because they are moving and can’t take all their stuff with them. You may wish to expand your search to surrounding towns to find a greater variety of items. Prices may be even lower in smaller towns where this kind of retro modern design aesthetic hasn’t quite caught on in recent years. You may also want to see what’s available for local pickup on eBay.

Another great idea is to check local antique stores or shops that specialize in vintage furniture. Larger antique malls will often have a dealer space or two that specialize in items from the mid-century period. You can find something with great vintage character, for example, a sofa in the hundreds of dollars, or a dresser under $200, instead of having to shell out thousands of greenbacks. If you are located in my region, the West Coast, you may wish to head to one of the following destinations. Check out their websites for hours, contact info, etc. These are just a few suggestions to get started. Careful online searches will undoubtedly reveal even more great sources in your locale.

Seattle:

Pacific Galleries Antique Mall: http://www.pacgal.com/malls/seattle_AntiqueMall

241 South Lander Street, Seattle, WA 98134

Make sure you look in every corner of this antique mall, as mid-century furniture is found in more than one dealer space. Some of it is more high-profile designer stuff, and some of it is at the everyday affordable level.

Portland:

Lounge Lizard: http://www.pdxloungelizard.com

Original location: 1310 SE Hawthorne Blvd, Portland, OR 97214

Expanded store: 1426 SE Hawthorne Blvd, Portland, OR 97214

I have personally been to both of Lounge Lizard’s locations on many occasions. They never disappoint! The photo above gives an idea of their diverse selection. In addition to vintage furniture and decor, they produce their own reproduction 1950s-style lamp shades, which are conveniently available for purchase through their website, in case you are located elsewhere.

Sacramento:

Midway Antique Mall: http://midwayantiquemall.com

5130 Madison Avenue, Sacramento, CA 95841

Their display areas feel like you walked into one of the sets of Mad Men. Check out the singing Dean Martin doll. (if it hasn’t been sold yet!)

Sometimes, even after all that searching and antiquing, you may find that, for the particular piece of furniture you are in the market for, the used or vintage items that you find in your area just have a little too much wear and tear for your taste, and you’d rather not go to all the trouble of restoring and refinishing. What can you do in that case? Stay tuned for Part 3, later this week!

Mid-century decor on a budget, Part 1

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Left: Oval Shade lamp by Design Classics Lighting.
Right: A George Nelson knockoff clock purchased on eBay.

Mid-century modern! It’s sleek, it’s stylish, it’s retro, and it’s all the rage. A few MCM pieces such as a sofa, a credenza, a lamp, or a clock can give your place just the distinctive “space-age bachelor pad” character that you were looking for.

But it can also get prohibitively and dishearteningly expensive, especially if you are looking at the higher-profile items such as vintage Danish pieces or those from the well-known American designers. This is quite unfortunate, and I would dare say that such elitist pricing is also contrary to the original spirit of mid-century modernism. Part of the appeal of modernist design was that stylish and functional items could be put together fairly quickly and easily, sometimes using lower-cost materials such as plywood and laminate surfacing, and were therefore widely accessible to the general public at affordable prices.

So what are some alternatives to shelling out $4,000-9,000 for a designer sofa or $500 for a wall clock? Let’s start this three-part series with smaller decor items, and work our way up to furniture later on in Parts 2 and 3.

Vintage or vintage-inspired small decor

Sometimes smaller pieces of decor such as wall art, lighting, or functional everyday accessories like curtains and towels are enough to create a vintage atmosphere. Since this type of interior design aesthetic has made a comeback in recent years, it’s fairly easy to find such items in retro/modernist-inspired designs, even in places where you may not have expected to find chic decor. Believe it or not, a few of the product lines sold at Target are quite retro or “mod” looking.

Perhaps you would like to give a retro touch to your plants. Is $200 for a vintage planter a bit much for you? You may find something useful at the places you normally shop at. For example, the succulent in a cylindrical modernist pot pictured below cost only $10 at Whole Foods. While it may not have the striking appearance of a “bullet” style planter, a couple of these will certainly give your place a bit of that good old Palm Springs “desert modernism” feel.

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A succulent in a modernist pot, from Whole Foods

You can find some interesting vintage pieces by perusing thrift stores, antique malls, and vintage specialty shops in your area, and of course searching on eBay. Paintings, prints, and various bric-a-brac such as small sculptures or vases can augment your pad’s stylish retro quality. Kitchen appliances and cookware such as blenders and fondue pots add a nice touch to your food prep and dining areas. You might also think a little outside the box by steering away from conventional artwork for your walls; instead, decorate with old postcards, record album covers, and vintage advertising. You can often find such items dirt-cheap, and it’s also easy to get inexpensive frames in neutral, streamlined designs that go well with a mid-century-inspired room.

Also be on the lookout for cheaper alternatives to higher-profile designer pieces that you may have seen. George Nelson bubble lamps run into the several hundreds of dollars. So instead, look up the “Contemporary Floor Lamp with Oval Shade” by Design Classics Lighting (pictured up top), available for a very reasonable $70, as opposed to $450 for an actual Nelson floor lamp.

While some readers may scoff at the idea of outright knockoffs, I would argue that they are a valid option, especially if you are on a budget. Searching on Google or eBay will reveal clocks very similar to George Nelson designs (an example is pictured up top). The level of craftsmanship won’t be the same, but the designer-“inspired” products can be had at only $60, instead of $400 to $1,300 for an actual designer piece. Similarly, an authentic Herman Miller Eames “Hang it All” wall hanger costs about $200. But if you search on Amazon for something Eames-“inspired” instead of going for an official branded piece, you can find something very similar in the range of only $35 to $65. Believe me, your guests will never know the difference between copies and originals. And you may be surprised how many complements you get!

Smaller items can make a big difference in creating the vintage atmosphere you want, but the prominent standout in any room is the furniture. So what are some more affordable options? Stay tuned for Part 2!