Mad for Mid-Century
- story and photos by Karen Fineran
What’s old is new again when it comes to furniture. Especially "mid-century modern” furniture, the extremely popular 50s/60s retro trend which is starting to take off in Bay St. Louis.
“Mid-century modern” (MCM) itself is a difficult term to define. It broadly describes architecture, furniture, and graphic design from the middle of the 20th century (roughly 1933 to 1965).
The market for these mid-century gems has exploded in the last ten years. While some love the trend and others may not, there is no denying that the 50's are back in vogue again.
Without intricate lines or cluttered adornments to distract, mid-century modern style furniture tends to be highly practical, serving many different purposes to meet the demands of the modern lifestyle.
Form follows function; many furniture designs nest, bend, stack or fold in order to be used more conveniently. Bold, vibrant colors abound, as do graphic blacks and whites.
Another distinctive feature of MCM furniture is their use of the alternative man-made materials that emerged during World War II. Post-War designers integrated stainless steel, glass, molded plywood, fiberglass, vinyl, and plastics such as Plexiglass, Lucite and Bakelite into the design of their creations. Many MCM designers also used natural woods, but the one that tends to predominate is teak wood, with its warmth and strength.
Popular culture also has helped to bring mid-century modern design into the mainstream. The AMC series Mad Men, which ran from 2007 to 2016, is an obvious cultural influence. The show's reputation for period accuracy extended to the sets, which were specifically designed to reflect East Coast interiors in the 1960s.
MCM collector Amy Irvin moved to Bay St. Louis two years ago from New Orleans, where she had started her first antique business, MCM Furnishings. Irving’s collection of retro furnishings, barware, and accessories can now be found at Identity Vintage, at 131 Main Street in Old Town Bay St. Louis.
Amy became particularly enamored with the sophisticated drinking culture of the 50s and 60s and its beautiful barware – like slender cocktail shakers and geometrically-etched martini and cocktail glasses.
In an age when we have seen the price of some other antique furnishing styles soar, Amy appreciates being able to find more inexpensive pieces. She loves the hunt for the next treasure, a pastime that she can pursue whether she is at home on the Gulf Coast, in New Orleans, or road-tripping about the United States.
It’s easy to find vintage MCM items that fit your budget, Amy explains. All you need is one statement piece to set the tone nicely, and you can build the rest of your room around it. It does not have to be a set, but for best effect, avoid too many patterns and stay within a color range. Sleek and slimmed down furniture in open spaces gives the MCM home a light and airy feel, especially compared to the boxier, darker and heavier furniture styles from other eras.
Suzi Walters, the owner of Identity Vintage, the Main Street vintage store where Amy Irvin’s MCM pieces are found, is also a connoisseur of retro pieces. Many of the vintage hats and accessories in Suzi’s collection are mid-century modern, and she also creates décor items from mid-century fabrics.
Suzi also has a passion for collecting and selling vintage vinyl LP albums (she has accumulated nearly 1,000 classic albums in her stock already), and she carries vintage turntables to play them on. Now, that’s retro mid-century!
The distinctive MCM furniture style combines beauty, innovation, and function. Look for mid-century in other Bay St. Louis antique stores as well: Antique Maison (111 North Second Street), Antique Maison Ulman (317 Ulman Ave.), the French Potager (213 Main Street) and Magnolia Antiques (200 Main Street). Although mid-century isn't the focus of their collections, they often have wonderful MCM items for sale.
Although finding genuine and timeless mid-century modern articles can sometimes be hit or miss, what better reason could one have to frequent Bay St. Louis’ diverse retail shops to enjoy the search. Happy hunting, mid-century enthusiasts!