John Lamb, Published May 11 2013
It’s a Mod haus!: Midcentury modern furniture makes comeback with new generation
The Rev. Jamie Parsley is celebrating the good news, but not just the kind from the good book.
Parsley is one of the devoted converts excited about the late-April opening of Mid-Mod Madhaus, a store devoted to midcentury modern furniture.
The style, marked by clean lines, exposed wood and metal and molded fiberglass, has seen a resurgence in recent years, thanks in part to the success of the stylish TV drama set in the 1960s, “Mad Men.”
After a 30-year run, the look fell out of favor in the late ’60s, but the forms never fell too far from grace among the design-savvy. Coupled with the solid craftsmanship that went into the pieces, the works have proved to be durable and thus handed down or available for resale to a younger generation.
“Most of this is real wood, real construction and priced below Target,” says Andrea Baumgardner, who works in the secondhand store with her husband, owner Brett Bernath. “It’s neat if you have something in your home that means something to you. And you can’t buy that at Ikea.”
The couple’s interest in the genre started in earnest when they found a Broyhill Brasilia dining room set at an estate sale. The line was designed in the early ’60s as a nod to Oscar Niemeyer’s architecture in the Brazilian capital, particularly his use of long curves.
As they developed a taste for the styles, they developed an appetite and bought more and more, to the point now where Bernath has storage units packed with goods he moves into the store as other pieces sell.
The store, at 115 Roberts St., Fargo, holds a range of items, from a beautiful Danish modern walnut desk to different dining room sets, like a Lucite tulip-shaped table and matching formed chairs, in the windows facing Roberts Street.
Pieces are arranged to give the feeling of a mixed and matched living room. Around the corner in the back of the store, the walls are lined with colorful, formed chairs, with shelves of fans perched above. Across the way, another wall is decorated with old clocks above a kitchenette.
“It’s either, ‘Whoa, my grandma had all of this stuff,’ and I want to punch them in the mouth, or ‘This is such a trip back in time,’ and I want to punch them in the mouth,’ ” Bernath says when asked what kinds of reactions he gets.
While he thought the chairs would be hot sellers (“The living room is where you make a statement in your house”), he says old schoolroom maps and metal laboratory cabinets with glass doors generate more interest.
“I could’ve sold five sets of that this week,” Bernath says pointing to such a cabinet. Two business days later, it and many other pieces in the store were gone, replaced with different items from storage.
To help explain the significance of a piece (especially the higher ticket items like the Brasilia hutch for $600), Bernath and Baumgardner post informational placards by works, like a birch Heywood-Wakefield dining set or the iconic Shelby Williams Gazelle chair.
“It was the first time designers tried to bring good design to middle America,” Baumgardner says of the impact of midcentury-modern.
The work still resonates with collectors born well after the works were manufactured.
“The clean simple lines and the quality of the furniture built in the ’50s and ’60s seem timeless,” says Andrew Rosenburg as he purchases a table-top metal fan, a popular item at Mid-Mod.
Already a return customer, Rosenburg pulls out his phone to show Bernath where he put a Heywood-Wakefield dining room set he previously purchased.
Rosenburg isn’t the only returning customer.
Kilee Kadrie Weiler and her husband, Dan, selected a three-piece bedroom set. The next time they came in to make a payment, they picked up a small, slatted table.
“I like that it is functional and simple but not cold. Clean lines but still have a warm, comfortable feeling,” Kadrie Weiler says, explaining her fondness for the style.
“We were looking at Dan’s overstuffed couch and saying, ‘We really don’t want something huge any more. We want something a little more sleek and well-designed,’ ” she says. “For us, it’s simple and keeping things functional but not the sterile feeling that much of the modern furniture has.”
Finding just the right pieces has been a long process for Parsley. The priest in charge at St. Stephen’s Episcopal Church in north Fargo lives in a 1959 house and has been working to outfit it accordingly.
“It’s been very exciting for me to bring everything back to that time and that style,” he says.
Parsley had always been interested in furniture, but got hooked on Mid-mod after discovering the magazine Atomic Ranch.
“It just kind of snowballed after that for me,” he says of his affinity for the style. “I’m just obsessed with it.”
In particular he’s drawn to the straight lines and exposed wood of Danish modern and has purchased a Heywood-Wakefield coffee table and side table.
Always on the lookout for lamps, chairs and tables, he scoured antique stores to the point where workers recognized him and knew what he was looking for. He also visited estate sales and sheepishly admits to keeping an eye out for curbside treasures during cleanup week.
That changed when he heard Mid-Mod was opening.
“What’s great about this is I can go in there, and I know he’s probably going to have it. And if he doesn’t, he knows where to get it,” he says. “I don’t want to go in there too much because I’m probably going to go into debt, probably. I don’t want to go too crazy.”
Readers can reach Forum reporter
John Lamb at (701) 241-5533