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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!

Be sure to connect with us so you don’t miss out!

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Wordy Wednesday: What is “Live Edge”?

29 May

Reclaimed and rustic elements are THE thing in design today.  Seems your house isn’t complete if you don’t have something rescued from an old barn in Antatolia.  But for those of us just dipping our toe in these antique waters, some of the terms may be kind of confusing.  For example, what is Live Edge?

Definition: Live Edge (or Natural Edge)

Live edge refers to a piece of wood where the edge is left unfinished, sometimes even with the bark on.  Often the wood is reclaimed, but not always.

Here’s an example from Uptown Modern in Austin.

Live edge table at Uptown Modern in Austin

Live edge table at Uptown Modern in Austin

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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9 Cool Things in Fredericksburg – Furniture, Wine and Wildflowers (Part Two)

17 Apr

As you will undoubtedly recall, Mr. Handsome and I took a trip out to Fredericksburg in December to enjoy some R&R and do a little scouting for our loyal followers.  For such a small town, it really is amazing how much great stuff there is to see out there.  If you haven’t been in a while, you’ll find it has definitely evolved –with some funkier stores alongside the traditional ones, more art galleries and a new focus on wine. You had me at “wine”.

Since we’re having a late and impressive wildflower season (according to the Lady Bird Johnson Wildflower Center), it seems the perfect time to share the rest of the highlights from our trip.  Be sure to check out Part One for the first five finds.

Phil Jackson’s Amazing World of Things

Phil Jackson's Amazing World of Things

I want to have a “World of Things” store someday.

I included this mostly because I loved “Amazing World of Things”.  I think the real name of the store is “Phil Jackson’s Granite and Stone Store”, but that’s boring (although I suppose more descriptive).  Combining the promise of both names, there is some amazing granite in this store.  There was one sea-blue granite table that I just wanted to lie on.  Given the multiple children in our house, one of the first things we wondered is what would happen if the table tipped over.  For normal people that would probably be almost impossible, but I bet a 12 year-old boy could do it in about 15 minutes.

Lincoln Street

Lincoln Street Wine Bar FredericksburgA friend of mine got married out in The Burg several years ago, and the night before the wedding most of us ended up at Lincoln Street.  It was one of those magical nights of wine and good friends, and I have a huge soft spot in my heart for that place.  When Mr. Handsome and I went out for our first romantic weekend together, I took him there and now it’s de riguer.  The best time to go is in the winter (or as we say in Texas, “winter”), when you can sit by the big outdoor fireplace with your glass of wine and chocolate truffles.  But the inside is cozy as well, exactly how I think a wine bar should be.  And of course the wine selection is great.

Double R Dry Goods

Double R Dry Goods stoveThis is one of the more traditional old-school Fredericksburg  stores, with lots of Hill Country-style stuff but also plenty of kitchy finds . From boots to taxidermy, you can get your Texana fill here.

Check out this amazing refurbished old stove – they had several. I don’t know where I’d put one or what I’d burn in it, but I want it.  Imagine the weenie roasts you could have with this thing!  You’d have to have a silver-plated stick though.

Galleria 19 Fine Art

galeria_19_fine_art_fredericksburgWe also wandered in to an gallery in the west end, which is becoming the “art” section of town.  We chatted for a while with Jesse, who recently moved the gallery from Mexico (quite a change!).  They chose Fredericksburg because of the growing art and wine community.  The gallery features more international artists than many of the traditional galleries in town, but still has a nod to the P.S. There is an artwalk every first Friday, and the galleries stay open till 8! Let’s hope this catches on; it’s very frustrating to watch the sidewalks roll up at 5 on a Saturday.  I mean, we’re practically elderly but even we can shop till 8.

So. gas up the car and head on out!  Be sure to tell us if you find any more great places, we’d love to hear about them.


Miss Part One?  Read it here.

Round Top Antique Festival: Wow (Or: Things We’ve Learned from our First Visit)

25 Mar

Round Top Antiques Festival hoof lampAfter living in Austin for 16 years I still had yet to visit the Round Top Antique Festival (for those in the know, simply “Round Top”).  Given my furniture obsession of late, it seemed like this was the year to remedy that omission.  I naively thought that I could run out there for a few hours, then write a concise and supremely useful story for our loyal followers about the event. What a noob.

Unaware of my folly, I packed up 10 year-old Mr. Enthusiasm (who has a love of all things weird and old) gassed up the car and headed east. I had looked up some information online and was already a bit overwhelmed, so we decided to start at the Blue Hills Show to visit our friend Chotsie of Reworks.  We had a blast wandering through tents housing at least 100 vendors—finding treasures from a 8-foot-long carved and inlaid chest to an (ahem) unique cloven-hoofed lamp. We lost track of time and had to race home after several hours, managing to not have spent a penny!

Round Top Antiques Reworks booth

Reworks’ gorgeous booth.

Well, my friends, apparently we went to the Louvre and only saw the Mona Lisa. The Blue Hills show, with its 100+ vendors, is actually just a tiny fraction of the full event.  By the first week in April there will be literally thousands of vendors, tents and shops, all spread out in somewhat random fashion between Highways 290 and 71.

It’s amazing and oddly charming that, in this day of overproduced and orchestrated events, Round Top still seems to be somewhat organic.  There isn’t one “official” organizer; it’s evolved over 40-some years to be a loosely-collected set of individual shows.  Some venues charge an entrance fee, some don’t. Some have porters, some don’t.  There are no official hours that I can find.

Seven Things to Know about the Round Top Antique Festival

So even after a visit and lots of research I’m still kind of confused, but definitely intrigued.  Here are a few things we’ve figured out so far:

  • “Shows” begin appearing as soon as March 22nd and continue to pop up over the course of the next three weeks
  • The “official” Round Top Antiques Week is April 2nd through 7th , at that point everyone is there; all the food trailers, big dealers, mimes, etc. (OK, no mimes thankfully).
  • There are five big main shows; the original Big Red Barn and Big Red Barn Tent, the Marburger Farm Antiques Show, the Continental Tent and Carmine Dance Hall.
  • Smaller stores, shows and tents stretch from Carmine to south of La Grange.
  • Most shows feature a wide variety of styles, prices and vintages; some are known slightly more for one thing than another, but it’s generally a happy mix of treasures.
  • A few of the shows charge admission, but only $10 or so.
  • A very comprehensive (although also overwhelming) magazine is produced about the show, available as a PDF or to pick up at most of the venues.  There’s a great pull-out map section that will give you a sense of the scope (flip to page 67).

Round Top Antiques Festival magazine

Tips for Enjoying the Round Top Antique Festival

So we’re definitely going back, just like we’re going back to the Louvre. It’s clearly impossible to become an expert after one short trip; I’m guessing it’s almost impossible to become an expert at all…that’s part of the fun.  But based on our limited experience and the advice of some much more seasoned sellers and shoppers, we’ve got a slightly random collection of tips to help you enjoy your trip:

  • Head out as soon as you can, things get bonkers as the weeks go on.  Maybe even plan on two trips.
  • Don’t get caught in a speed trap on your way out there, there are lots of tiny towns between Austin and Round Top with overprotective police forces.
  • Wear comfy shoes, and ones that can handle some dust.  Many of the floors are gravel or dirt.
  • According to our sources, the Blue Hills area has the best bathrooms and the BBQ from the United Methodist Men is not to be missed.
  • Royers Round Top Cafe has great food and takes online reservations, a visit to the JW Steakhouse is also recommended.
  • While there are no official hours for the free shows, most vendors are open from 9-ish to dusk.
  • There are some fun-sounding evening events, check out page 27 of the magazine. Just be careful with the wine, you may come home with the hoof lamp!
  • This is not always the bargain-hunter’s paradise. While there are deals to be had, most amateurs will probably miss them.  Go for the amazing selection and variety, not necessarily the price.
  • Do not carry a large bag.  You will knock something over, probably something expensive that you would not buy normally.

If you decide to go, let us know what you discover! Maybe we’ll see you out there next week. See Pinterest for some more pics of our trip.

A few more helpful links:

Another calendar with slightly different info

Round Top Folk Art Fair (run by the original founder of the Festival)

The “original” Round Top Antique Fair

Local restaurants

Pro-Tip Tuesday: Identifying Good-Quality Upholstered Pieces

12 Mar
Design With Consignment cheetah chair

Don’t be distracted by the cheetah, check your zippers!

Finding the perfect couch or chair can be tough, especially if you’re on a budget.  So how to tell a quality piece of upholstered furniture?  It turns out that like clothing, the best stuff has pockets and wraps your padding a little bit. This week’s Pro Tip is inspired by Lisa Gaynor, of Design With Consignment.

Pro Tip

There are several telltale signs of good craftsmanship in an upholstered piece, but some are difficult to assess without excessive poking and prodding that may get you banned from the furniture store.  Here are two quick checks to help you find a gem:

  • Zipper pocket Check the zippers on the cushions. Are the tab ends hidden in little pockets?  If so, someone’s taken the extra time to be sure that the zipper tabs don’t chew up your sofa material.
  • Look for a fabric-wrapped foam insert.  This will make the cushion fit more smoothly in the decorative cover and will make it last longer too.

Pro-Tip Tuesday: To Reupholster or Not to Reupholster?

6 Mar
Ambrose upholstery chrome vintage chairs

Totally worth it!

Considering whether or not to reupholster a piece of furniture can fill you with more angst than Hamlet.  It seems like a good idea (we’re all for restoring and reusing after all) but it it can sometimes be more expensive than just buying new, especially with a sofa.  Turns out all that fabric and stuffing can get expensive.  So we turned to Dennis Ambrose, of Ambrose Upholstery, who inspired this week’s Pro Tip.

Pro Tip

When deciding if a piece is worthy of reupholstering, consider a few things.

* Is the frame sturdy?  If there are some wobbles, be sure that a few minutes with a screwdriver can fix it and it’s not a structural problem (cracked or weakened wood).
* Is it classic?  Your new fabric will last 10 or 15 years, will you still want the piece then?
* How big is it?  Good fabric isn’t cheap, expect to pay $15-50 a yard and a typical sofa can require up to 20.
* But most importantly, do you love it?  If you do, it’s probably worth it, especially if it’s a sentimental piece.

If you’ve decided to make the commitment, take it to a good upholsterer like Ambrose Upholstery, or consider trying to do it yourself!  Austin Upholstery Studio and Spruce both offer classes on upholstery so you can turn your grandmother’s chair in to something you can pass on to your own kids.

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

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Fortney Home: The Best Bar Furniture in Austin

13 Feb
Steamer trunk bar

Steamer trunk bar. Very retro.

When I moved to Austin 16 years ago,  I lived downtown and walked everywhere.  There are great houses to gawk at and back then some of them even had actual residents in them.  One of my favorite stops in my wanderings was Fortney Home, that great place next to Z’Tejas on 6th that looks like a sculpture studio exploded out front.

Inside is always like wandering through a museum, if a museum had great stuff you could buy.  It’s packed to the gills, and while it’s hard to pin down the aesthetic too narrowly, I call it Jazz Age. Classy, elegant, a little irreverent with quite a few twists.  This is actually not a surprise, because Brad Fortney owned a record store called JAZZMAN back in Nacogdoches years ago.

Some of my favorite items are the bar-as-furniture pieces.  This one in particular took my fancy, because it looks like a plain old (well, nice) TV cabinet when closed.

Bar cabinet Fortney Home Austin

A happy surprise!

But when you open it; voila!  It’s full of crystal and mirrored wonders! It holds wine glasses, bottles, decanters; everything the modern-day Jay Gatsby needs.  Because that is what I think of when I see this, someone with a Jay Gatsby life, or the ambition of such.

Here’s another one to die for, mid-century with an even more James Bondian secret cabinet.

Mid-century bar Fortney Home Austin

Imagine the oohs and aahs when you open up this baby!

Fortney’s carries what I am sure is the largest inventory in Austin of bar furniture, they have at least 5 or 6 in stock at the store. You can usually see a few on their Storefront at the Market, but head in to the store if you’re serious.   Here are a few more examples:

Fortneys Austin Bar Furniture

Compact and efficient.

Large bar Fortneys Austin

This one’s for the serious only!

Mirrored bar cabinet Fortneys Austin

Difficult to appreciate in a photo because of all the mirrors, so you’ll need to stop by to see it.

Fortneys bar accessories

They also have a great selection of bar accessories, from decanters to cocktail shakers.

But if one of these beauties isn’t in the cards, what about re-purposing one of those old deep TV armoires?  Put some mirrors in, add a few glass racks, maybe some velvet on the shelves (hey, why not?) and voila, you’ve got a bar.  If that still seems daunting, Fortney’s does custom work, so you can have them pimp out your armoire for you.

So wander by, get lost and find something wonderful.  You’re sure to feel cooler just from having walked in.

9 Cool Things in Fredericksburg (Part One: Gift Ideas)

5 Dec
Didn't see any longhorns!


Last weekend was time for a little post-Thanksgiving, pre-Christmas getaway.  Since time was tight, we decided to head out to Fredericksburg and kill two birds with one stone: bird 1) relax, bird 2) research for an eventual Fredericksburg section on the Market. We hadn’t been out in about 6 years, and things have changed quite a bit. For one thing, there are about 1000 wineries out there now.  Well, OK, maybe not 1000, but more than there were before.  And we’re all for that!  This trip we didn’t stop to take a tour, because we had a shopping and rockin’ agenda (to be covered in Part 2), but next time we will.

Since it was a quick overnight we didn’t get very far off the beaten path, but we still managed to be reminded of why The Burg is such a mecca for home goods.  We made a few other discoveries as well, and this week we’re sharing a few that offer unique gift ideas.


Birdcage lamp

Not made from antlers, but that’s OK.

If you think Fredericksburg is all antler art and bluebonnet paintings (of which there are plenty and we’re not complaining) then Red will come as either a welcome surprise or somewhat of a shock.  But this super-cool, vintage-meets-rustic-meets-modern store on Main Street suggests a change in Fredericksburg.  Lots of reclaimed-type and mid-century stuff, plus a great selection of smaller gifty items.

Gift Idea: The nifty 3D cardboard animals.

D’Vine Wine

Divine Wine

First stop, wine!

As we were driving in we noticed all the new vineyards, but also that the vines were pretty young (being wine connoisseurs, we can tell this type of thing, naturally).  So this winery buys grapes from elsewhere, but makes the wine right there.  We did the 6-sip tasting and ended up buying a bottle of the Broken Spoke Red, which we loved.  I don’t see it listed on their website, so maybe it’s available only in the store, but we also loved the sangiovese if you want to try to order something.

Gift Idea: You can actually custom-order wine! Pick the type you want (with their expert guidance), design a label, then come back in a month or two to bottle and label it with the staff. You can bring a friend or two and make it a party.  What a great gift this would be for the oneophile in your life.

Amish Market


Fine furniture and cheese.

I wouldn’t have thought I would have been so smitten with this store, but I was.  I appreciate the simple lines of typical Amish/Mennonite furniture, but it’s not usually my style.  But the stuff they  had in this store was so beautifully crafted, I had to reconsider.  The thing that struck me most was not the quality of the wood (which was exceptional) but the quality of the finish.  It was like satin, which sounds cliche, but it really did feel that soft and smooth.  As someone who has tried do do a little refinishing, I was impressed.

Gift Idea: All sorts of Amish food treats, try the sweet onion cheese.

It’s aGlow

Honeycomb calcite candle

All this glow from a tealight!

I’m a sucker for rocks, the mineral room is always my favorite at the Natural History Museum. So of course this store caught my attention – all they sell are items made from Honeycomb Calcite.  They had an assortment of items, but from my perspective the best use is as a faux candle.  See, I am not sure I approve of battery-operated candles that are all the rage right now, call me Amish.  On the other hand, I am tired of tealights constantly blowing out on my outdoor lanterns and drippy wax on my candleholders.  So these calcite things (really, they’re just cylinders) allow you to use a real tealight, but somehow they amplify the light while also protecting the flame from the wind.  I bought two just to test, but I think I’m going to get a whole bunch of them and use them exclusively from now on.  Plus, no fake vanilla scent.

Gift Idea: The whole store.



You can sort of see the doors in this picture…

I am so in love.  This furniture store-gallery-bistro somewhat defies definition (although I guess I did an OK  job right there) and also is definitely not of the old-Fredericksburg mold.  The first things that stopped me cold on the street were the massive front doors; they were just incredible and I’m so sorry I didn’t get a better picture for you.  Drawn in as if mesmerized, I wandered through the main level trying to look as if I could afford some of the fantastic pieces in the furniture gallery.  I floated down the iron-railed staircase to discover the wine store and bistro, only to be devastated to discover they only served dinner on Mondays (by reservation).  I was so distraught that I didn’t even realize there was a gallery on the upper floor.  Our next trip will definitely include a Monday night.

Gift Idea: Make reservations for the Monday night dinner, then walk a few doors down and stay at Eden’s Gate.

Don’t miss Part Two; in which there is more wine and shopping!