I don’t often write about current events – Wait! Wait – this isn’t about the election. I swear on a stack of Roubos that I will never write about that. This blog is a safe place.
What I’m writing about is a recent story in The New York Times about furniture styles headlined: “Why Won’t Midcentury Design Die?” Here’s a link to original story (no guarantee that they will let you read it, I’m afraid).
The story begins:
In 1998, The New York Times noted a new design trend. Cool creative types were tossing aside their thrift store décor in favor of midcentury modern. Out went the funky votive candles and wrought-iron beds, and in came the clean-lined furniture of Arne Jacobsen, Eero Saarinen, Charles and Ray Eames, and Florence Knoll. The look’s adherents were labeled “Generation Wallpaper,” after the magazine.
For some reason, time stopped.
Nearly two decades later, midcentury modern remains the rage. If anything, it’s even more popular. Flip through a shelter magazine, scroll on 1stdibs.com or shop at a mass retailer like CB2 or West Elm, and it’s all variations on a spiky-legged-chair-and-Tulip-table theme.
Art Nouveau, 1920s Spanish and shabby chic were all looks that the cognoscenti embraced at one time or another, but never for this long. It’s as if the mechanism that refreshes cultural trends every few years has developed a glitch.
The writer then interviews editors of shelter magazines, sellers of furniture, gallery owners and interior designers about why this has happened and what they think of it. Two typical comments:
DAVID ALHADEFF, owner, the Future Perfect: “I’m completely over it. I roll my eyes. Placing another Womb chair in the corner of the bedroom is easy and a real cop-out, frankly. Designers and architects should know better at this point. Oh, my gosh. Enough!”
MICHAEL BOODRO: “Your eye does get bored. Twenty years ago, when midcentury was first being discovered, you could do a straight interior, and that was exciting. People want to go beyond the expected. You don’t have to show the Florence Knoll sofa in nubby beige like she did.”
I read the whole piece, of course. And I was both nauseated and thrilled. Not by the photos of midcentury pieces or the comments of the interior designers. I was instead deeply affected by the word that rarely gets discussed when talking about interior design. And that’s “waste.”
Interior designers thrive on change because it gives them work. Someone wealthy wants to redo their brownstone. They call an interior designer, who then gets to go shopping (and, perhaps, employ some makers), guts the rooms and installs the new stuff. And the scene repeats itself every so often.
This cycle of destruction and redecorating used to be reserved only for the rich. But with IKEA and other contemporary manufacturers, we can all act this way, throw our old stuff to the curb and redecorate with new stuff, which will last five or six years at most. (Rinse and repeat.)
But what happens where a particular style, such as midcentury, gets stuck in the public consciousness? What if people don’t want to throw out their Eames fiberglass chairs or their tulip tables? What if they become illogically attached to their Hans Wegner chairs. Or Mid Century Mobler?
If you have read “The Anarchist’s Design Book,” then you know what I hope will happen. Furniture will become like craft beer, cave-aged cheese or artisanal no-kill lederhosen. And there will be one more giant purge of our termite-barf furniture.
I’m too jaded to think this could really happen. But you have to have hope.
— Christopher Schwarz