Paper — Or Plastic — Chase
Design collecting takes many forms. I recently attended a workshop on the mid-century modern design photographer Maynard Parker at the Huntington Library in San Marino, California and met Charles Phoenix, resplendent in a vintage Hawaiian shirt, who is one of the great collectors of 50s and 60s modern Americana, a frequent guest on NPR and Martha Stewart and author of Americana The Beautiful: Mid-Century Modern Culture in Kodachrome (Angel City Press, 2006)
His enthusiasm for popular culture — from high style to kitsch — is infectious and his frequent slide lectures
– showing a vast collection of Kodachromes like the one above — are famous. He calls thrift shops “museums of merchandise” that are “the perfect place to study the underbelly of our mass consumerism culture.” I agree and think a lot can be learned about our culture by studying everyday life in any decade — just think how the phrase “better living through chemistry,” which became synonymous with the 1950s and derived from a Dupont slogan adopted in 1935 (according to Wikipedia), has now acquired an ironic edge. And don’t forget the “one word” that Mr. McGuire said to Benjamin (Dustin Hoffman) in The Graduate (1967) : “Plastics.”
Charles’ interest in ordinary mid-century life made me think about the parallel universe of high style retro modern imagery — also called classic modern – that’s visible in current paper goods like these eye-catching note cards by Annacote (6 cards and envelopes for $12), available at Esty.
The famous diamond-pattern metal chair designed by Harry Bertoia, originally produced by Knoll, makes a vivid design, as do the even more famous
Barcelona chair by Mies van der Rohe — designed in the late 1920s but coming to embody a corporate American look in the 1950s — and the
bent plywood chair by Charles and Ray Eames. These sleek and elegant forms remain powerfully seductive. Perhaps a Happy belated Valentine to the designer in your life!
Vintage modern plans are seductive too — browse our Historic Plan Collection, for example. The Stock plan exhibit mentioned in a previous post has made me review my own collecting habit. I am fond of ranch house plan brochures like this
one from 1946. And in doing my research for Cliff May and the Modern Ranch House (Rizzoli, 2008 — Shameless Self-Promotion Department!) I found this brochure
from the early 1950s for May’s tract ranch houses in Denver. With some updates — kitchens and bathrooms always need adjustment for today’s living patterns, and low-e glass, and higher grade insulation are essential — such a plan would work for today. Robert Nebolon’s updated Eichler (Plan 438-1), shown below in floor plan and elevation,
is comparable — and he’s already done all the upgrade work! For similar plans see our Ranch House Collection.