Tag Archives: retro

Aesthetic Preference – Mid Century Modern

Rialno Designs

As we move forward into the new century, Mid-Century Modern refers to a period increasingly distant in the past. In this case even the word “Modern” refers to what now seems a quaint retro aesthetic – but one that has seen a rediscovery in recent years, especially in interior décor and furniture.

The Mid Century Modern style is characterized by simple, geometric shapes with an emphasis on the horizontal. Related to Danish Modern, the woods of furniture tend to be light in color. Surface details are minimal, with the emphasis on repeated shapes rather than textures.

Furnishings are often low in over all height but still float above the floor on think legs, rather than anchored with weight like Traditional or Art Deco styles. Close to Minimalism, the furniture tends to sleek and slim – never overstuffed or puffy. Alternatively, pieces display amoeba type shapes, again reflecting the post war fascination with science, and new technology.

Stylized botanical print

The textiles and art work of the era include barkcloth – a heavy plain weave cotton – usually printed in either large muted stylized florals or sci-fi/technology themed motifs. It was the dawn of the atomic age, and the designs that looked so futuristic then, look so fun and retro today. Both original yardage and reproductions of these fabrics are available today, and are used to restore original pieces as well as make focal point or accent pieces.

Vintage Mid-Century Modern pieces look cool upholstered with contemporary fabrics and colors. Wooden pieces like sideboards or floor lamps tend to work great as individual statement pieces. If you furnish a whole room with the style using reproduction textiles, you might find you look like you live in a 1960’s sitcom.

Finding it

  • In the 1959 scandalous melodrama A Summer Place, the film shows a pointed visual distinction between the traditional Victorian style boarding house, the titular summer place, and the new Frank Lloyd Wright designed modern home where the unfaithful spouses take up residence. Ultimately they are considered the better people, the film having gone to considerable lengths to highlight the inadequacy and downright evil of their first spouses.

Interior of the Frank Lloyd Wright designed Clinton Walker House as used in the movie. The public living areas are on the street level, while you go downstairs to the bedrooms.

(In an interesting piece of cultural trivia, the posters of the American version of the hit film feature the young lovers, Troy Donahue and Sandra Dee, as the beleaguered lovers who learn the folly of judgmental attitudes. However the Italian versions of the poster highlight the parents’ steamy sexuality, and their story of love rediscovered. I can only imagine this reflects the different mores and attributes of the ideal between the two cultures.)

  • Jacques Tati’s humorous masterpiece, Mon Oncle (1958) makes much of some of the extreme characteristics of the futuristic style, especially the furniture.
From Jaques Tati's Mon Oncle

The interior of the modern home

Life in the future

  • The USS Enterprise  NCC-1701


  • North by Northwest (1959) – it is interesting that this architectural style was often used to signify wealth and luxury.

Expressing Creativity – Reimagining/Mash Ups

Mixed media canvas

One of the hallmarks of Post Modern arts practice is appropriation – in homage, tribute or critique – of other art pieces in similar media. It goes beyond merely being influenced by another artist’s work. Rather appropriation is about the creation of meaning in your piece, with added layers for interpretation.

Mashing works together is knowing and intentional. Absolute acknowledgment of the source is essential for the meaning, and prevents this from being plagiarism. It is assumed that the audience – reader, listener, viewer – will understand, or come to understand, the source material also. There is a delight that arises from recognition.

It’s very noticeable in music – dance mixes sampling snippets from other songs, music styles or dialogue. I remember when rough mixing on the fly, using multiple turntables with vinyl records and adding in scratch riffs was brand new – in the dance clubs that superseded disco in the early 1980’s.

Part of the enjoyment is recognition, when you grok the source material and get the reference. The score of the Die Hard movies is an example where the insertion of light-hearted themes from classical music or movie musicals (“Singing in the Rain”) skews the action movies towards humor.

Lady Gaga is another artist whose work, especially her music videos, is full of references to pop culture (eg classic movie images and female archetypes) as well as initiating, grabbing and expanding on pop trends. For example the use of “anime eyes” – overscaled cosmetic contact lenses out of the Kawaii/Harajuku trend in Japanese teen/young adult culture. Lady Gaga used computer generated assistance to recreate the look in her video.

Here are some ways to use appropriation and create mash ups:

Memes, and image re-captioning: most social media memes are satire, irony, and sometimes biting social commentary.

Collage and paper craft: scrapbookers are masters of mash up – combining textures, images, and ephemera to tell both their memory story and create beautiful visuals. Collage is mixing images from multiple sources, creating relationships between the visual elements. Try using materials (like scrapbooking papers) in a different way from the usual.

Re-imagine a cultural icon: Create your own take on a famous painting or familiar photo using a different or changed medium. The many recognizable iterations of Mona Lisas or the Warhol style portraits are examples of this.

Reimagining Methods

Found object art: I love work using found objects to create sculptures. They can be so clever and ingenious. This is a loving way to use vintage objects and ephemera.v

In home decorating, a trend is to make a grouping of objects made different with a single surface treatment.

  • One example is the gloss white spray paint technique, which works equally well with other single colors.
  • Another is the fun trend of decoupaging with pages of text from old books.

Appropriate an image as a background for collage or shadow box framing – especially using filters to alter the colors (try sepia or black and white) and the texture.

Photograph two unrelated objects, placed in a vignette. Or use randomness to help you. Combine an image from a random wikipedia entry with a randomly selected page from a magazine.

How I design upcycled projects – scroll down.

In writing reimagining is often adaptation. Writers adapt books to film or theater, making changes that are more or less appreciated.

Follow me on Twitter for the weekly fun.

Please “Like” and Share using the buttons!


Aesthetic Preference – Art Deco Industrial Chic

Art Deco carved Penobscot facade

Ooh this is one of my personal favorite Aesthetic Preferences! I find it appealing on so many levels – partly because of where it leads visually (to Steam Punk especially in one direction, and Craftsman in the other) and partly because of the places where it is found – those wonderful glamorous movies, books, theater and retro magazines. I like clean lines and simplicity, but I also like curves.

Here’s how I describe it on my Etsy Treasury:

Geometry, repetition, symmetry, Fred and Ginger, high contrast, the Chrysler Building, Erte, clean lines, metals, hard edges, Ayn Rand, “Metropolis”, Poirot, the Nile, luxury train travel.

To this I would add the Pyramids and Scarabs, 1930’s Vogue magazines still lush with fashion illustration, and some of that hard edges, three color screen printing that transformed so dangerously into totalitarian propaganda. (That’s where I stop liking it.)

Cunard Line Poster

Of course I was imagining “Murder on the Orient Express” and “Death on the Nile”. Add “Hugo” for the clockpunk end, and never forget Busby Berkeley and all the theatricality of “Gold Diggers of 1933” and the harder edged “42nd Street. Had it softened by the time “Casablanca” added Moroccan lushness?

Thoroughly Modern Millie movie still

Julie Andrews in “Thoroughly Modern Millie”.

You can see still it in Gary Cooper’s ties in “The Fountainhead”. You can enjoy it on the roof of spook central in “Ghostbusters”. “The Great Gatsby” – both the movies, and the book. For a very light take try “Thoroughly Modern Millie”. For the dark side try Fritz Lang. “Metropolis” is his most famous, but his work includes “M” a film noir classic.

In no other style or time period are the architectural forms so clearly influential in jewelry design.

So many of those wonderful buildings are lurking in New York, but Los Angeles has a surprising number of them downtown – the old Wiltern Theater on Wilshire is one example. You can see many examples on my Pinterest board.

In terms of design Elements, Art Deco Industrial uses line to create simplified shapes and moves away from the uneven abstracted leaves and flowers of Art Nouveau nature forms (that’s coming, never fear). The Principles it embodies include high contrast (High Major Tonal Schemes), repetition and symmetry. (This is coming too.)

Using Art Deco Industrial Chic

As a style of decor, it can be quite easy to incorporate into many modern homes, by the use of painter’s tape and paint. Try a little Trompe L’oeil and create some faux molding with painted shadows. Chevrons, so popular right now, are an offshoot of it.



Winged Circle from Egypt

Collect vintage posters and frame them simply, or incorporate a bit of Egyptian into your decor like my late mother-in-law did with her black and white striped mirror frames.

Egyptian applique scarab

Art Deco definitely lends itself to stencils. Try layering – start with a light grey or silver paint over white, then offset the same stencil again in black.

Silhouettes, that work so well with romantic styles, look great in an Art Deco situation, with simple black and silver frames or perhaps with a fan shape in the background.

I like it because it is so easy to incorporate actual and reproduction vintage with very simple modernism and the clean lines of Mid-century Modern furniture – although I would be cautious with the textile prints and textures from that period and let Art Deco textile designs create my drapes and pillows.

Is this one your favorite too?

So please follow me on Twitter for the Daily Tweets!