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The Mid-century mix

The Mid-century mix 

By FELICITY STONE, Special to The Sun         February 24, 2012


 




Peter Wilds relaxes in his new design studio on Powell Street in Gastown. Among his mid-century offerings is a white Swan chair, a style originally designed by Arne Jacobson in 1958.

Photograph by: Mark van Manen , Vancouver Sun

 

Whether it’s because of Mad Men or simply the natural cycle of changing tastes, midcentury modern design — architecture, furniture and accessories that date from 1935 to 1965 — is back in fashion.

For many years, Vancouver’s main source of mid-century furniture was Metropolitan Home, owned by Dana Coburn and Mary Watson since 1990. With increased demand has come increased supply, which Coburn, who began collecting in the 1980s, applauds: “We’ve got more competition now, so it makes it more healthy.”

Jennifer Brash, who opened Fullhouse Modern in 2006, sees two types of customer. “Both audiences are using it for statement pieces, but one is revisiting it and the other is discovering it,” she says.

Older customers in their mid to late 50s are adding to or upgrading their collection. “They’re rediscovering it and appreciating the hardwoods and the beautiful graining which you can’t really get from some of the furniture that’s made today,” she says. They might have modern furniture like a new sectional sofa and are looking for accent pieces to warm up the space: maybe a sideboard to use as media centre with a flatscreen TV above it. The other group, in their late 30s or early 40s, want to bring character to an ubermodern space with a piece that has some provenance and craftsmanship.

But what if you are starting with décor that’s more Downton Abbey — is there room for mid-century modern pieces?Designer Peter Wilds, who after six and a half years with The Cross has just opened his own design studio and show room in Gastown, says any room needs an element of something unexpected, like a modern piece of furniture in a traditional space. His studio at 51 Powell Street is a perfect example. The 700-square-foot interior with lofty ceilings, brick walls, wainscotting and library-motif wallpaper is arranged like a living and dining room with a mix of classic furniture — an enormous French armoire used as a room divider, a wing chair covered in black and white Designers Guild fabric, a linen-covered bench and white leather tufted sofa designed by Wilds, Victorian dining chairs painted white with black and white pinstripe denim upholstery — punctuated with midcentury pieces: an Arne Jacobsen Swan chair and a steel-wire Platner chair.

Chairs are a symbol of any period because of their form and fabric, and mid-century chairs are iconic, explains Jennifer Brash. When clients with traditional furniture — say, a British-style sofa and a wingback chair — want to shake it up and make the décor a little bit more contemporary, Wilds suggests adding a modern sculptural chair to the mix.

Matt Vanderwerff, who designs for Dekora as well as private clients, remarks, “I’m amazed how often I come across the Egg chair, where it’s used in a traditional setting as a one-off piece in a corner. It becomes a little more organic and playful an interior. What the mid-century pieces do to a classic environment is lighten it up a bit so it doesn’t make it so serious.” And the Egg chair, designed in 1958 by Arne Jacobsen, works well because its shape and proportions are similar to a traditional wing chair.

Both Vanderwerff and Wilds recommend the Saarinen tulip table as another mid-century piece that fits a traditional interior. “It’s one of those sculptural pieces that mixes in and blends in stunningly with almost anything,” says Wilds. It can be round or oval and comes in various sizes and materials, though marble is his go-to choice.“Doing the mix of things is probably one of the more challenging approaches to interior decorating,” says Wilds. “If the scale is off, if the chair is, say, too small in relation to the other pieces that are in the room, whether the other pieces are traditional or historical, then it ends up standing out like a sore thumb.”

One way to tie eclectic styles together is with colour. The safest route is to go with a neutral palette, says Vanderwerff, using whites and light colours along with linen fabrics. “It’s very much that Gustavian look, that Swedish traditional kind of limed-oak look, that’s being paired up with a lot of midcentury modern.”

The materials are part of what keeps the idea of midcentury modern alive, says Wilds. “I think now there’s a real swing back to using warm materials and mixing different wood tones together, again putting unexpected elements together.”Dana Coburn says, “You could have an old maple table and team it up with some modernist teak chairs. It’s all about the colour and the form and is it the same sort of curves. We’ve seen people with a French provincial table mixed up with vintage fibreglass Eames chairs. It’s having that fun with that blend.”

“Clients want interesting, neat pieces that have a story,” says Peter Wilds. “That’s why places like Met Home are so essential to me, because they’re bringing in pieces that have a history to them and are the real deal.”

Peter Wilds’ in his new design studio at 51 Powell street in Vancouver's Gastown.
Photograph by:
Mark van Manen, Vancouver Sun