Really ties the room together. Vintage hand-woven Pakistani rug from Boomerang.
There was a great Far Side cartoon that had some mobsters moving furniture around, one of them directing in an artistic fashion, and the ring leader remarking sternly to a frightened resident: “Next time, we’ll rearrange more than your furniture.”
One of my favorite elements of mid-century modern furniture and design is the lightness and inherent flexibility of pieces. For me, this is what made Eames’ LCM so interesting – there was almost nothing there and it could be moved easily. Imagine the kind of chairs it was meant to replace – large upholstered pieces that likely stayed in place for decades. Just looking at Shulman photos, I get the impression that the furniture was moved around and placed “just so” along with the plants he brought for the shoots. I went over to my friend Keith’s place recently and was floored at the new lay-out. A little change can go a long way!
There was a curatorial element to 50s middlebrow modernism. The homeowner could assemble and exhibit the house and the furnishings in different configurations at different times, depending on the situation. And still today, its part of the fun.
So for our living room, it been something of a journey getting to a place where things are “set.” The room is 17×14, with glass doors to the terrace on one side, opposite a room divider in mahogany veneer. When we first moved in, the sofa sat in the middle of the room, dividing a conversation area from a dining area. One of the key ideas is that we would often fold our McCobb drop-leaf dining table, push it off to the side, and make a space for the children to play.
Our Danish wall unit held our only white wall in the room, and then we put it in the library and picked up a Paul McCobb Planner storage unit, and things began to make more sense. Moving the sofa to face the windows seemed better, and two Bertoia diamond chairs created a conversation area, but you can still see through the chairs out to the terrace.
So, we have things how we like them. Which means, I think, a configuration ready for change.
As a child, objects in the house stand out most in my historical and material imagination. My parents were in their early 20s during the 1970s, and very cool. On a shoestring budget, they put together a home filled mostly with love, but also hippie-modern pieces that became objects of some fascination: a leopard carved into a gourd, spinning on a metal rod atop a teakwood block; a heavily-textured wall tapestry hanging above the fire place; the metal knobs on my father’s Pioneer hi-fi.
So, now its time to think about the objects that will be a part of my own children’s imagination. This is the fun part of building a house into a home – looking for things that make the space interesting, and ultimately – ours.
I went over to Ron’s place (of Objects USA) to look over a few things that that I was considering on our dwindling decorating budget. I found a vintage Paolo Soleri bell for our front porch and an unsigned sculpture in clay and wood from the late 1950s (see above). I eyed all the other things by notable San Diego and Bay Area artists with the future in mind. That will have to wait.
Elsewhere, we picked up an inexpensive 1950s abstract oil-on-canvas by Andrew Athan Tagaris, a Los Angeles painter who was involved with the California Art Club in the 50s and worked with a palette knife. We quite like it. Its holding the wall above the dining table until we can find something perhaps larger. But piece by piece, the house comes together with these small things. The children seem to be enjoying it.
About a year ago, we agreed with the sellers on a price for our first house, a 1958 custom post and beam mid-century modern in complete original form, purchased from the Trust of the commissioning clients. We were delighted and anxious about owning our first place (after all those years watching and waiting and generally confounded at the housing market), but we also began to feel stewardship for the original vision of architect, J. F. Bernard. Our soon-to-be next-door neighbors are the daughter and son-in-law of the original owners, and their children (who are our age) grew up playing at grandpa and grandma’s. We were attracted to the story of these two progressive intellectuals raising their daughters in the house and, a generation later, inspiring their grandchildren within the walls and in the garden. A year later, our house-hunting fretting, anxiety, and lofty hopes seem rather silly as we’ve settled into daily life with our children in the house. But we still feel responsibility to the possibilities that were outlined in a meeting of the academics and the architects in 1957.
As a first post, its worth spending some words on the nature of this blog, which I hope to put in the “About” page when I get around to it. I intend to do a few things here, with posts predictably patchy:
First, I’d like to explore in words and images the aesthetic and intellectual nature of mid-century modernism, especially as created, commissioned, and consumed by middle-class folks. I’m interested here in the middlebrow as a structure of feeling – as a generative, productive place.
Second, this blog serves to document various stories and projects around the house, serving as something as an archive of furnishings re-arranged, landscape plans, to-do lists, and interviews. Seeing that we’re trying to keep things as they are, and not take out walls or build a second story, this may not be terribly exciting. But I suspect that lots of other folks are in the same boat as us.
Third, I’d like to use it to write a historical piece for the Journal of San Diego History titled “Academics and Architects: Building the Middlebrow Modern House in San Diego County” or something like that. We’ll see about that one, as my own research usually asks for my full-time attention.
(Photo: scan of an original drawing by J.F. Bernard, 1957).