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Define Design: Mid-Century Modern in Austin (Part One)

11 Jun

mid-century-furniture-chartGoogle mid-century modern furniture and you’re likely to find pages and pages of results.  If you’re at all in to interior design, the trend is hard to miss, and it’s especially the rage in Austin (see another chart at the end). But Mad Men aside–is it the chicken or the egg?–we’ve wondered why MCM has had such a resurgence in the last several years. So we found some experts around town and got their thoughts.

The simplest answer came from Jean Heath, proprietress of Uptown Modern and a mid-century modern maven.  “It’s time” she said.  Meaning, styles have cycles, and mid-century modern’s time has come.  Just like Happy Days in the ’70’s and the dreadful (though thankfully brief) resurgence of stirrup pants, things just come back around.  Many of us who are in the furniture-buying stage of our lives had grandparents with ’50s and ’60s furniture, and it’s natural to feel nostalgic for that time.  Amy of Remixologie had a similar perspective, “I think people are simplifying their lives. For many its is a reminder of a less complicated lifestyle. Less is more.”

The Jetson's

The ultimate mid-century modern living room, complete with robot.

The less is more is a hallmark of the broader Modern movement, begun in the ’20s as a backlash to Victorian excess (see more history on the Modern movement in our post on the Modern Home Tour).  But as the decades progressed, it became less of a political statement and more mainstream. Over coffee with Emily Belyea of Crestview Doors (also champions of mid-century style) we postulated that the prosperity and renewed focus on home life in the ’50s allowed many people for the first time to discard the hand-me-down furniture of their parents and grandparents and start fresh.  There was also a general feeling of relief and wellbeing after the war, and this probably let to the lighter colors and lighthearted designs. Major events like the moon landing seeped in to our everyday lives as well, leading to fun, “spacey” themes, and of course, the Jetsons.

So what are the hallmarks of mid-century modern furniture design, both vintage and new?


Barcelona chair

Iconic Barcelona chair (image courtesy of MoMA).

Back to the “backlash”,the original modern designers sought to be functional in all things, escehwing doo-daddery.  So MCM furniture is usually very clean-lined and functional.  Early modern furniture could sometimes be seen as stark, but as it gained acceptance by the middle class it necessarily became a bit softer and more comfortable. Also, for some reason, low backs were very popular.   Not sure exactly why, but most pieces from the day (and their current successors) are low-slung.

Natural Materials

Teak inlaid table

Inlays were also popular.

While plastic was having quite a heyday during this time, the current interest in MCM often focuses on the gorgeous wood pieces.  In the ’50s birch and maple were especially popular, trending toward teak and walnut (with some rosewood and mahogany) in the ’60 and ’70s. The best pieces are a celebration of the natural wood grain; lightly finished with not a lot of shine or deep stain.  Fabrics were meant to be durable, synthetic or boiled wool.  Nowdays we usually celebrate the aesthetic with modern materials, and probably a bit more pattern than was common back then.


Uptown Modern teal sectional sofa

Epitome of mid century modern.

In the 50’s and 60’s, much of the original upholstery was in neutral colors; black, white or brown, for practicality’s sake.  But color was added in accessories In the ’70s things started to brighten up, leading to the orange and gold many of us may remember.  Today, these colors are often tweaked to look a bit more contemporary, turquoise is becoming a deeper teal, mint is more emerald-y and harvest gold becoming more of a mustard.

So, now you’re intrigued.  But how to go about hipping up your place without making it look like a movie set?  Stay tuned for Part Two, in which our experts give you some tips and local resources.  In the meantime, check out the Market for some MCM finds!

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Pro-Tip Tuesday: Where to Hang Your Curtains

4 Jun

Hanging curtains can be scary, and not just because of the risk of toppling off the ladder enveloped in fabric. Draperies can make a huge difference in the appearance of a room, but to get the most out of your efforts you need to hang them in the right place.

Where to hang curtains

Pro Tip

Heather Harkovich of Heather Scott Home and Design gave us some good guidelines. Apparently, many of us are kind of miserly when it comes to draperies, hanging them too close to the window, hampering the view and making your windows look small and inconsequential. To avoid this tragic mistake, follow Heather’s advice:

  • The curtain rod should be hung at least 6″ above the top of the window, preferably 12″
  • Same with the width, the rods should extend 6-12″ beyond the molding
  • Place your brackets far enough out that the curtains clear the molding

See more details and suggestions on Heather’s blog.  Now get hanging!  And don’t forget to ask someone to hold the ladder.

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Red Chair Market connects buyers and sellers of quality, unique furniture in Austin, TX and the surrounding metro area.  Keep up with us as we expand to other Texas cities soon! 

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Pro-Tip Tuesday – Live Life on the Edge

24 Apr
Mix it up a little!  this outfit could use some edge.

Mix it up a little! this outfit could use some bling.

So we all know mixing things up a bit adds some depth and prevents your decor from looking like it was purchased en masse from the “Estate” collection at JCP. But sometimes that’s easier said than done.  After all, Garanimals invented matching for a reason;  it’s easy.  But how far should you go?

This week’s Pro Tip was inspired by a conversation with Mari Johnson, founder and owner of Back Home Furniture and Back Home with a Twist.  We had wonderful chat last week and we’re sharing one of her many thoughts that hit a note with us.

Pro Tip

Pick at least one thing that’s edgy, that can spark conversation.  When asked if it’s possible to go to far with the edgy, Mari said serenely “If you love it, you can’t go to far”.  Based on that we’ll add a corollary: push yourself a bit, but don’t buy anything you don’t love otherwise .

Round Top Antiques Festival hoof lamp

Please don’t buy this just because it’s edgy.

Bad Edgy: (walk in to a store, immediately find a clerk) “Hello, I need something edgy for my home, what’s the edgiest thing you’ve got?  That? Well, I suppose it is edgy, or, something….but, I’ll take it.” (shoulders slump, trudge out of store)

Good Edgy: (walk in to a store, immediately gravitate to one piece) “Wow, look at that!  That’s so cool!  I don’t know if it would “go” in my house though, it doesn’t really match the rest of my style.  Oh heck, I love it. I’ll take it!” (skip out of store)

Back Home Furniture Rustic Table

Good edgy, like this from Back Home Furniture.

So the point is–take a chance on that crazy piece that calls to you…and have fun! At least you’ll have a good conversation starter at your next party.


See more Pro Tips; and be sure to connect with us so you don’t miss anything!

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Sneak Peek: Southern Living Showcase Home Austin (Lago Vista)

6 Feb
Fireplace in the living room.  Taller than my house.

Fireplace in the living room. Taller than my house.

We were lucky enough to be invited by interior designer Heather Harkovich out to Lago Vista (when are they going to build a bridge?) to get a super-secret sneak peek of the Southern Living Showcase Home. Heather was selected to do all the design work in the house–which is a huge honor–and she had the chance to show her efforts off to a few select luminaries.  You know me, a Select Luminary.

Wow.  It was easy to assume that the house would be a traditional Hill Country Tuscan, but this house belied all the stereotypes. It’s a bit hard to describe, but the interiors feel like a marriage of beach and barn, if the beach was in the Hamptons and the barn was in the French countryside.

The interior was done in mostly shades of white, with accents of beachy blues. The furnishings were beautiful, but I was completely smitten by the materials used throughout the house.  Whitewashed horizontal-planked walls in the living room, incredible marble tilework in the kitchen and baths, navy grasscloth in the study (swoon).

Here are pics of a few details you might miss if you don’t look carefully:

Guest bath shower ceiling

The shower ceiling in the guest bath. Both Mr. Handsome and I blurted out “how the heck to they get that up there?”

Living room interior windows

Interior windows reminiscent of a barn…although not many barns have chandeliers.

Marble mosaic in kitchen

The “entertaining” kitchen. The backsplash is marble mosaic tile. Gah.

Guest bed light fixture

This unique light in the upstairs guest bedroom made beautiful patterns on the ceiling.

Here are a few other things we noticed but forgot to get photos of:

  • An electric staircase to the attic, just push a button and it slides down!  No more jumping for that dumb string that’s always just a little too short.
  • An herb garden at the entrance to the house (on the left side). You can’t have your basil too close!
  • The lamps on the buffet in the main room are corbels bought in Round Top and wired by Austin’s Re-Works Works.
  • The “entertaining kitchen” concept.  I’ve noticed this in several high-end houses lately;  builders and designers are finally accepting that everyone is going to end up in the kitchen at a party.  So there is a super-sparkly one that is in the main traffic flow and has lots of counter space for serving, and there is a second catering/family kitchen for prepping and storage.

(You can read more about the design process here on Heather’s blog).

So, of course you want to go.  The official Tour opens this Saturday and runs through the 24th.

Southern Living Showcase Home

Tickets and Information

And of course you also want to go to the new Heather Scott Home and Design Store!  Here are a sampling of some of the wonderful things they have from the Market.   Now go get inspired!

green striped rug

Green striped rug

greywashed wicker cabinet

Greywashed wicker cabinet

Leather and chrome nesting tables

Leather and chrome nesting tables

Aubergine is the New Black (Or: Color Trends for 2013)

27 Nov

Aubergine sounds better than eggplant.

Apparently so is lavender and neon green, or so say the experts at Sherwin-Williams.

I had coffee today with a friend whom I met the way that many 40-somethings meet new friends – soccer.  I am totally not a soccer (step) mom, but we did make the kids do it for a few seasons and I met Noelle on the sidelines.  Anyway, Noelle owns the design firm True Interiors, and she recently went to a La-di-da luncheon put on by the paint people who shared the color trends for 2013.

Predicting color trends is fascinating to me, and at some point we may have to dive deeper in to the sociology of it.  But for today I thought I’d share the four palettes and Noelle’s and my insightful comments.

Midnight Mystery (or as we called it: Modern Gothic)

MIdnight Mystery

Explore your dark side.

Dark, moody colors, gothic-y Victorian aesthetic, industrial touches like exposed workings.  Think Robert Downey Junior’s Sherlock Holmes (swoon) or the recent Batman.  Apparently it’s also inspired by Steampunk, which I had to look up.

Vintage Moxie (Noelle says think “Austin Powers”)

Vintage Moxie

Retro fun.

Mid-century pastels like lavender, mint and aqua.  Much softer and more feminine than the Midnight Mystery palette, but not wimpy.  Some of you guys might have trouble with this one, but I think you could put Darkroom, Independent Gold and Radiant Lilac together and have a slammin’ bachelor pad.

High Voltage (or super-saturated neons)

High Voltage

Not for the faint of heart.

Bam!  No pansy colors here.  Well actually pansies are kind of bright really, but you know what I mean.  Electric Lime, Exuberant Pink, Calypso.  Noelle mentioned that she’d found this super-cool electroluminescent wire that she wanted to use in her son’s room to spell out his name.  It would be perfect for this color scheme. It is also great for “raves” according to the website.  You know you’re planning one.

Honed Vitality (this season’s “nature” palette; more sunset than forest)

Honed Vitality

Calm and relaxing.

I’m sure the Sherwin-Williams people would tell me I’m wrong, but this reminds me of the southwestern phase we went through in the ’80s  (when I say “we” I mean “some people”, of course I was quite young in the ’80’s). Sandy, rusty, warm colors with pops of sky blue.  Meant to be quiet and restful to help us calm down from our busy lives.

Apparently Green is Not the New Black

All pretty interesting, but here’s my problem; where’s the green?  Sure, each one has some nod to green, but it’s really just a very slight inclination of the head, the sort of acknowledgement you’d give to a blackjack dealer if you wanted more cards and you were terribly cool.  Green is my favorite color, and none of these do it for me.  Give me some emerald, sage, avocado or forest, please.  Even a teal would do.  It looks like I will have to stay behind the curve for one more year.

So tell us, what’s your favorite?

P.S. Here are a couple of fun projects from Noelle.  The headboard is made from old shutters salvaged for $16 at the Habitat Re-Store; the wall design is made from large upholstery tacks.  Brilliant!

True Interiors Examples

Great, inexpensive ideas.

P.S.S. Since this post is about color, I’d just like to say that we should all start spelling it the British way: colour.  It is so much better.  But I’ll look pretentious if I’m the only Yank doing it, so I need you all to help me out here.

Indoor Plant Decor: No Parlor Palms Here

5 Oct
Jenny Peterson

Beautiful, smart and funny…no fair.

I had lunch with the wonderful Jenny Peterson today at the Elizabeth Street Cafe (yum! and gorgeous).  Jenny is an Austin garden designer, writer, blogger and friend.  She helped me design my own front garden, although I did all the planting myself (well, OK, that hunky guy that hangs around did a little, but only the heavy stuff).  We had so much fun that I had her back to help me with the back yard.  You can see some pics here.

Jenny and friend Kylee Baumlee are writing a book on indoor plant decor due out in April 2013.  Apparently, indoor gardening is THE new thing.  I have been an indoor gardener for years (you know me, always ahead of the curve), meaning I have had plants in the house and have generally managed to keep them alive. However, apparently just having live plants around doesn’t really count as Indoor Plant Decor.  I tried a terrarium last year that turned out almost as bad as the topiary. The stuff she’s showing in the book is true design.

Book Cover

Available April 2013! Pre-order through Amazon.

She’s got the book divided in to chapters that cover 8 decor styles (including vintage, modern eclectic, ethnic), with amazing examples in each.  For those of you modernists who eschew indoor plants because you think they’re all parlor palms, you are in for a glorious surprise.  There are even some topiaries done beautifully, much to my shame.

Sample from the book

A sample design from the book, from Austin’s own Articulture Designs.


If you’ve had better luck with your indoor plant decor than I have, then think about entering their contest.  Through October 20th, submit your photos of your work to Jenny and Kylee, and up to three winners will have their submissions included in the book!  Think of the prestige, you can finally go back to your high-school reunion with your head held high.

Cheap Trick

6 Sep
Green shag carpet

You know you love it!

I love textiles, especially rugs.  I grew up (as many of us did) in a house with green sculptured carpeting and didn’t appreciate rugs because we didn’t need any. I also didn’t really get wood floors until the day that my mother and I decided to pull up a little corner of my grandmother’s carpet just to see what was underneath.  As we pulled and pulled, more of the beautiful, never-trod-upon floors were uncovered.  The two of us ripped up every square foot of carpet that day.  At the end of the day we were exhausted, covered in dust and quite bewildered as to what to do with all that gross carpet.  But we had some gorgeous floors.

But I digress, this post is about rugs (which often go on wood floors, so there’s the connection).  If you’re like many of us, you can drool all you want over the living-room sized Persians in the stores but they’re either not in the budget or you have no idea how you’d clean something so big and expensive.

Layering, my friends, is the poor-decorator’s cheap trick.  Toss down a simple, inexpensive rug, then layer your smaller little jewel right on top.

Here are a few hints for successful layering:


Round rug

The unique shape would be highlighted by a square under-rug.

Choose a flat-ish rug for the bottom layer; sisal, flat-weave wool or cotton, berber. I suppose a really talented decorator could figure out how to layer with a fluffy rug on the bottom, but I think that is best left to the experts.


Don’t feel you have to stick with just a rectangle on a rectangle.  Put a round on top of a rectangle or square, put a square in a diamond fashion over anything.  Just don’t put a rectangle over a circle.  That would look weird.  Here’s a rug from the Market that would look great over a square sisal.


Make sure your large rug is big enough (or your small rug is small enough) to give plenty of border.  Sizing your small rug one-half to one-third the size of the big rug makes a nice ratio.

A neutral bottom rug is easiest, you can change up your top rug at any time.  Or, try all neutral like this example from

The casbah look

The “casbah” look can be hard to pull off, but it’s cool if you do it right.

The Scattered Look

I’ve seen some get away with this, just throwing a whole bunch of rugs down somewhat haphazardly.  This really only works with orientals, but if you have several (even better if they’re worn) then just layer them around on top of each other.  What the heck, you can always move them!

Here are some more great ideas from Houzz (natch).

Happy layering, and let us know if you try it!