Mid-Century Continues
By Karen Parr-Moody

Another season of  “Mad Men” has hit the TVs and is bringing the 1960s back into our living rooms. And along with this popular AMC series are the Mid-century Modern sets that continue to inspire vintage seekers.

A new set to debut on the show, which is set in the swinging ad agency culture of New York City, is the apartment of Don Draper and his new bride, Megan. It is a landscape of clean lines and honey-colored woods. The neutral hues simply beg for pops of color here and there, which was a big trend of that era. Earth tones and natural materials were often punctuated by bright tones, such as orange, magenta and turquoise. Colors would have shown up in pedant lamps, throw pillows, tabletop items, dinnerware and drinkware.

The photo, above right, shows a set of colorful Franciscan Ware dinner plates in tones of yellow, salmon, pale aqua and turquoise (16 plates, $48; Booth B-2015). In many Mid-century Modern kitchens, Franciscan’s dinnerware – then considered futuristic – was seen on the dinette table. At that time plastic melamine was just entering the dinnerware market, with sales increasing by the mid 1950s. Franciscan met the challenge and debuted informal, plastic melamine lines of dinnerware beginning in 1958 with a line called Family China. The company was not alone in this sort of popular dinnerware: LuRay, Mallo-Belle, Iroquois (with Russel Wright), Boonton Ware and others made pastel plastic plates during this era.

Lighting fixtures – particularly pendant lamps  – were a defining feature of Mid-century Modern style. A pair such as the ones in the photo, above left, were made to be pieces of art that would light up a room (pair, $150; Booth B-318). This pair has a glamorous, slightly organic look; each pendant is a mix of clear and frosted glass, allowing for both filtered and bright light to seep out.  

Fans of the TV show The Jetsons can look back at the cartoon images and see a pendant lamp hanging in their living room that looks like a planet surrounded by a set of circles, like Saturn with double rings. In a similar fashion, the pendant lamps in the photo, right, adhere to this Mid-century Modern aesthetic (pair, $495; Booth B-101). Often described as "space age," shades of the era were bright and colorful and colorful and often came in geometric shapes, such as spheres or triangles. The playful and bright colors and designs were inspired by the works of Andy Warhol and Mark Rothko.

The Mid-century Modern look was influenced by the minimalist style of Scandinavian design and few designs conveyed more of a sleek and simple style than the iconic Parsons table, such as the white one in the photo, left ($298; Booth B-101). The origins of the Parsons table are misty. The most likely version, according to The New York Times, is that the French decorator Jean-Michel Frank, while lecturing at the university in the 1930s, tasked students with designing a table that was so streamlined that it would look wonderful whether done in gold leaf, split straw, parchment, mica or painted burlap, or simply left unvarnished.

It has never been established which student designed the Parsons table. What is known is that a handyman janitor built the original table, which was initially called the T-square table. And what we all know today is that it has remained wildly popular; the tables were mass-produced in 1963 by two leading furniture companies, Mount Airy and Directional.

The 1950s ice bucket in the photo, right, is a flashback to the atomic age ($35; Booth B-318). Made by Mirro, this ice bucket is known as a "tripod and bullet" model. It is made of aluminum, copper-colored chrome and Bakelite and it is also insulated. It would certainly find a home alongside the many cocktail accoutrements that were part and parcel of the Mid-century Modern era.

Luckily, the rise of "Mad Men" has revitalized the Mid-century Modern style that complements many of today's furnishings. For those keen to incorporate such items into their decor, a quick spin around GasLamp will bring the period to life. And watching "Mad Men" isn't a bad idea; it will give anyone the vision to make this retro look happen today.

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