Minimalistic home décor is definitely having a “moment” — just like it did more than half a century ago. Giving a reverent nod to designers of the past, mid-century modern décor is easily identifiable by its simple aesthetic, which usually features a vernacular style that’s understated yet artful.
Steve Thomas, owner of Soho Retro in Homewood, Alabama is a purveyor of the distinct look. So much so that he left his banking job a few years ago to explore the genre full-time.
“I’ve just always been enthralled with this style and its classic lines that really never go out of style,” Steve says while walking through his airy shop, nestled on Homewood’s bustling 18th Street South.
Most young families during Post-World War II America, Steve explains, sought a more minimalistic look that wouldn’t break the bank — but still kept in line with the prosperous energy of the time. What resulted was a distinct design movement that spread from Palm Springs to New York City and throughout Europe.
“They were getting away from the straight, boring pieces to things that looked much more artful,” Steve says of the popular designers of the time.
Today, mid-century modern decor is experiencing a comeback, blending with other period-specific styles to create a truly unique look. Birmingham designers Lisa Flake and Fran Keenan, who both frequently source fabulous mid-century modern pieces from Soho Retro, weigh in on how to incorporate this singular look into your home.
What are some of the the hallmarks of mid-century modern décor? How did the trend emerge?
Lisa: It’s very “Mad Men.” They used lots of new material like lucite and plastic with clean straight lines, and the approach to accessories was very minimalistic. Back then, ashtrays were a primary source of decoration!
Fran: The term “mid-century modern” was first used in a book by Cara Greenberg in 1984. It describes the mid-century era of décor that boasts clean, free-flowing lines and low-slung modern shapes. It was a pendulum shift in décor throughout Europe and the United States away from formal rooms filled with carved, curvy, dark and decadent furniture.
What’s the best way to incorporate this style into your living space?
Lisa: In my design, I like to use a few mid-century signature pieces like a “tulip” pedestal dining table with a mixed set of antique dining chairs or a beautiful oyster wood chest flanked by Knoll chairs.
Fran: I love to juxtapose an object with smooth, modern shapes with a piece that is crusty and textural. For example, we use a lot of antique chests and sideboards for clients, and the patina from the antique chest looks beautiful paired with a colorful, smooth lamp and a modern piece of art. The chest validates the lamp and the art, while the lamp and art make the chest feel relevant to this time period.
We love to work with clients who have inherited antique furniture from family. It is inspiring to use these sentimental pieces with other items that were directly chosen for the project. It makes for a thoughtful, deeply personal mix that represents past lineage and present preferences.
What are some common mistakes people make when decorating with mid-century modern décor?
Lisa: You don’t want your room or house to look like a showroom for mid-century pieces. At the heart of the mid-century movement was functionalism. So, each piece should have a “reason to be.” Keep it uncluttered.
Fran: Some common mistakes you might notice would be a failure to mix time periods in a room. If some things are old and some things are current, you avoid your rooms having a “catalog look” that refers to a certain time period when that style was prevalent.
Also, a mixture gives you freedom to continue adding and editing as your house evolves through the years, ultimately ending with a personal mix that reflects you and brings you daily inspiration.
Soho Retro is located in downtown Homewood at 2805 18th St. S., Birmingham, AL 35209. Hours are Monday through Saturday, 10 a.m to 5 p.m.; closed Sundays. For more information, call (205) 870-7655 or visit shopsohoretro.com.
This article is sponsored by Soho Retro.