The Past Is Present Again

How to embrace the resurgence of midcentury modern design

BY RICK ROMANO

The modern home has made a comeback of sorts — more than 60 years past its heyday in the 1950s.

Design authorities nationwide have recently touted the popularity of midcentury modern design and architecture, and closer to home, local experts echo the resurgence.

Here three industry pros — architect Justin Racinowski, owner of Justin Racinowski Arch-itecture; Sharon Celek Kevil, director of sales and product development at design-build firm Scátháin; and Russ Waters, a designer with Wisconsin Kitchen Mart — offer their ideas for those who want to follow the trend.

Racinowski says midcentury modern design, like its postmodern and contemporary cousins, has similarly calming characteristics.

“One of the major things I love about midcentury modern design is that it gets rid of all the clutter and ornamentation,” Racinowski says. The style, he adds, was a responsive backlash to the Industrial Revolution’s handmade overdesign.

Kevil likes how midcentury blends with other styles, such as Scandinavian design. “There’s an emphasis on clean lines, glass and natural light,” she says. “Concrete, cinderblock, brick, stone, glass, wood — it’s really about letting (the) materials be themselves.”

Waters says that classic feel for kitchens means curve elements — be it walls, cabinetry or countertops. “Simple, sleek lines are emphasized,” he says. “You won’t see corbels or brackets. Lighting is recessed without pendants.”

Racinowski says to also pay attention to the exterior. For those who live in or are contemplating buying a midcentury modern home — especially a ranch-style home — consider a metal roof that has lasting power, and create an interior-exterior extension of materials, adding a natural wood, stone or concrete wall.

A major rule, all three of our experts note, is to not force modern elements into a decidedly different style home. Accents of the style work well, even if it’s just to pay homage to this fascinating era of design and architecture.

“Don’t take it too seriously,” Racinowski says. “Don’t be afraid to be funky. This lends itself to a contemporary lifestyle, so don’t be afraid to make those changes to the lifestyle you already have.”

10 Ways to Introduce Midcentury Modern Elements:

1. Include furniture with retro lines from Scandinavian design manufacturers — or explore resale shops and online sources.

2. Look for versatile side tables topped in wood or marble.

3. Consider furnishing textures like wool and leather as well as sleek, contoured wood.

4. Include brightly hued pillows and throws (heavy on the layers!) and wall art. For wall art colors, stick to turquoise, yellow and red.

5. Create an accent wall with a bright retro color, stained or painted plywood, brick veneer or stacked stone.

6. Dress up a fireplace wall or hearth with stacked stone.

7. Where possible, expand windows to bring in more light, further emphasizing the space and furnishings.

8. Use chrome fixtures and hardware in bathrooms and kitchens.

9. Keep 21st-century kitchen technology, but mix in today’s improved versions of Formica counters and vinyl floors.

10. Declutter your environment by paring down framed pictures and tchotchkes that populate tables, shelves and other areas. The idea is to have the eye purely focus on each space.

 

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