Q&A: Mid-century modern living with Keith Stephenson and Mark Hampshire

Jul 11, 2019

Designers Keith Stephenson and Mark Hampshire created the Mini Moderns brand in 2006 bring a new patterned vibe to wallpapers, fabrics, rugs and more. Their work is inspired by mid-century art and design. Based in London, they have just released their first book "Mid-Century Modern Living: The Mini-Moderns Guide to Pattern + Style" published by Kyle Books.

Every week, Jura Koncius helps you in your quest to achieve domestic bliss. She and weekly guests, whether Martha Stewart, Marie Kondo, the Property Brothers or Amy Astley, editor-in-chief of Architectural Digest, answer your decorating, design and decluttering questions. Jura is always happy to whip out her paint chips, track down a hard-to-find piece of furniture or offer her seasoned advice on practical living and organizing. For more than 20 years, our Thursday Q&A has been an online conversation about the best way to make your home comfortable, stylish and fun. We invite you to submit questions and share your own great tips, ideas and gripes. No problem is too big or too small.

Mark Hampshire and Keith Stephenson are known as the Mini-Moderns, designers famous for their use of pattern and color inspired by mid-century modern influences. Their interiors brand, launched in 2006, is now sold worldwide, and includes wallpapers, textiles and ceramics. Their new book "Mid-Century Modern Living: The Mini-Modern's Guide to Pattern and Style" (Kyle Books/Octopus Books/Hachette) breaks down the components of achieving your own modern look. Mark and Keith are here live from London to answer your questions now.

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We're Mark and Keith of Mini Moderns. We design wallpaper and homewares with a mid-century influence, and we've just published our book. Mid-century Modern Living, in which we share our love of all things mid-century.

I am re-doing my LR. I want to blend mid-century modern and glam. I am shopping for a new coffee table and seating for in front of my fireplace. I'm thinking of getting a mid-century modern coffee table and glam fireplace seating. I'm afraid the the two would be hard to work together in a congruent way, however. Are there places that sell furniture that meld the two well? Suggestions for making the two different looks work together?

As we're in the UK we're not always the most up to date on the US retail scene, but we always think that West Elm does a great job of blending modern glam with mid-century profiles. CB2 also do great modern takes on mid-mod styles. Don't be scared of mixing materials or new with old. The table could be a rich walnut but other items would be v glam in brass and marble.

we live in listed building which is rented and wall coverings are a bit of a no go so please tell me more about textiles you have coming up in the near future

Hi - regarding fabrics, please see our answer to Fiona below..... Also, though, you might not know that the new ranges of non-woven wallpaper are very easy to remove and virtually leave no trace. Another idea is to wallpaper a large panel to define an area such as an oversized headboard, or an alcove wall hanging.

Here in America, there is a movement to declutter and be minimalist as well as modern. How do those of us who like to collect curate our things so it doesn't make our living rooms look messy?

We're with you - we love collecting things! But nobody wants to live in a glorified junk shop or museum. To get the benefit of a decluttered life with your fave things on show, it's all about grouping, storage and presentation. Maybe limit your displays to one area of shelving or a feature cabinet (if it's behind glass there will be less dusting too). Think also about rotating your collections, so not everything is on show at once. Become your own curator!!!

I live in a rented apartment in a listed building where I am cautious about doing anything to the walls in any way so please tell me about textiles and fabrics you have up and coming. We adore your cushions and bedding (all of it) for ringing the changes ...tell me more please <3 thanks Fiona x

Hi Fiona - you are right - we do concentrate on wallpaper. Everything we design starts as a wallpaper and then graduates to different products, such as cushions and kitchenware.  We're so glad you love what we do - like you, we'd love to increase our ranges across all products - but sadly we are an independent business with not bottomless funds!! We do have a capsule collection of fabric by the metre on our website, and we are looking into bringing our popular Whitby fabric back soon - so stay tuned!

I’m in the process of buying a tiny 1970s Scandinavian log cabin for use as a holiday home and let in west Wales. It’s in excellent original condition inside - think pine clad walls and lovely natural light. I’m looking for interior design ideas and inspiration - which way would you go if this was your project? Thanks!

We have a beach house in Dungeness on the Kent coast and it is a converted railway carriage, so we have worked with similar proportions and materials. Mid-century furniture is great in this setting, as it tends to be designed on dinkier proprtions. Against that Scandi-pine, some pops of avocado green and fresh mustard yellow would look v MCM chic. Also, if you find the pine cladding overpowering, it looks great with some areas of the cladding painted white - just up to you. We painted all of our woodwork white to harmonise it as we inherited a mix of new and old, painted and unpainted panelling.

What should one consider when blending mid-century modern elements and furniture with more traditional pieces?

We'd say don't try to match (eg don't feel you need to match the woods or the materials) - let the mid century pieces act as pops of fabulousness with a solid backdrop of antiques. We think more contrast the better - eg a fibre-glass Eames rocker looks fab against an ornate armoire.

How do I rid my summer cottage of the smell of moth balls? It's pretty strong.

We're no Martha Stewarts, but we have heard that a bowl of vinegar, or a bown of coffee grinds tends to absorb the odour. A key thing to keep in mind is not to fight a chemical smell with another chemical - try to use something natural to combat the odour.

How do you mix blonde furniture from the 50s with today's darker wood pieces?

Probably best to think in terms of a ratio like 80/20 either way - because a 50/50 mix would look unconsidered. So use one as a higlight and the other as an anchor. Alternatively, darker woods can be updated by painting - either all over, or elements such as drawers or doors.

What artists inspire you? I'm guessing Charley Harper...others?

We love Charley Harper and have a couple of signed prints by him. We also love David Weidman when we're feeling a bit more psychedelic. Other big influences on us are Alexander Girard and the Italian architect, Gio Ponti.

I want to redo my bedroom and have it a cheerful Boho yet modern mix of color and pattern. Where do I begin.

A great way to experiment with pattern is with cushions or bed throws/duvet cover. If you go heavy on the patterned fabrics, maybe go with solid colour on the walls - if you choose a rich dark shade your bedroom will feel very cocooning and the pattern will really add extra depth. Don't worry about clashing pattern, but stay within a limited colour palette. Break up florals and botanical prints with geometrics and textured fabrics. Also, lighting is key in a bedroom - you need lots of options to create soft pools of light around the room - we say ban the big central light!! - that applies to any scheme :)

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Who are the famous designers of British Mid-Century furniture? Do you all collect Heywood-Wakefield and Knoll and Paull Cobb as well?

We love Robin and Lucienne Day - think of them as the British Ray and Charles Eames. The Days were recently featured in an Exhibition called The Value of Good Design at MoMA. Florence Knoll is another fave of ours. In terms of fabric design, we love Marian Mahler, the early designs of Terence Conran and Robert Stewart. Also check out all the fabrics designed for the company David Whitehead & Sons. A lesser known architect we love is Patrick Gwynne. We were not aware of Heywood-Wakefield - so thank you for the tip!!

I have to put a bed in front of a window-- no other choice in the room. Any tips for making the most of this scenario?

This actually just happens to be a trend we're seeing right now - so go with the positives!! Why not think of the window as a great big headboard, with the view as the pattern during the day. Then at night, rather than curtains, roll down a patterned roller blind to create a new view.

Hi, I love the MCM style and have some pieces in my traditional, 1930s colonial home, including a few vintage and some new. I particularly like Target's Project 62 line. One question I have is whether there is a certain type of art that works will with MCM style. I tend to buy what I like, and I am partial to both abstract art and landscapes, but wondering if you have any thoughts on the matter. Thanks!

If you look at art from the MCM period, it ranges widley from abstract to more figurative. Some MCM styles work better with dramatic abstracts, but sometimes a folksier approach works well. The key to putting together a great scheme is to start with what you love so we think go with your heart when it comes to art!

what are your favourite designs that you have produced and why

Mark here - all of our prints are based on personal experiences and things we love - so choosing a fave is a bit like choosing a favourite child. I'd have to say though that Moordale is possibly most dear to my heart as it's based on the landscape between West Yorkshire, where I grew up, and North Yorkshire, where Keith grew up. It's the countryside sister to our nautical Whitby (second fave!!)

Keith here - my favourite is our Festival print - which we designed to celebrate the 60th anniversary of the 1951 Festival of Britain. It features lots of buildings which appeared in the London exhibition - sadly there is only one of these buildings left. It was also the first time we used a combination of mustard and grey which has since become a key Mini Moderns colourway.


All that said, if you want to know which wallpapers we have up at the moment in our home (this changes constantly) we have Art Room, Pavilion, P.L.U.T.O. and Vessel.

Hi, I'm in the states, in upstate New York. Can I purchase items on-line? And if so, is the shipping prohibitive?

Hi. Yes, we ship to the States, via our website and we sell a lot to US customers. We also have varios US stockists for our wallpapers. On our site, the shipping costs are worked out at cost price, so we try to make it as accessible as possible. If you add some things to your basket the site will work out the shipping and you can decide whether it's reasonable before you hit the buy button!

Are you still taking questions?

yes until noon

If you are clearing out an estate of someone who had a mix of furniture - how do you find out what things are valuable or worth keeping or selling?

Gosh, that's a tricky one. Try to do as much online research as possible. Examine pieces for makers marks or artist signatures and then look them up online. Once you know what they are, you can check with online auction and specialist sites to get a comparative price. I've found out info on lots of things simply by searching with a  description of the item - sometimes you hit the jackpot because the search engine matches your description with a similar one on Ebay. There are some great MCM specialist dealer sites too. You can go on them and just scroll through pics til you see something that matches what you have. It's trial and error - but kind of fun too!

My husband of 28 years and I are get along fabulously on almost everything... except home decorating. He prefers traditional - wing chairs, lots of pattern, etc. - while I like contemporary - neutrals, clean lines, blonde wood or teak, etc. As result, we have numerous rooms that need work that are sitting, because we know it's going to be a battle. We abandoned a kitchen update last year despite deteriorating cabinets in part because of poor service responsiveness on the contractors we evaluated, but also because we were going to spend $40,000 and end up with no one happy anyway. Searching for "transitional" items doesn't help. We've tried a couple of designers on other rooms, but no one's come up with much that we can both be excited about. Any thoughts on ways for us to come up with ideas that might work?

Be your own designers and have confidence in your own taste. Try building mood boards together. You can both source things you like and then make something harmonious on the board, before you start spending money on products and contractors. You will both have to make compromises but the focus of the mood board will help the process. It's also quite bonding because once you make it work then that becomes the mutual goal you are aiming for. The board needn't be physical - you can do this virtually on Pinterest too. We don't always agree on everything but our friendly challenges to each other tend to make the end result better - and something we both feel at home with.

I recently cleared out and sold my father's house which involved a hideous sorting, packing, and loading session where we were up for 24 hours straight, but we are DONE. This has been a three-year process, and the Home Chat has been so helpful along the way, answering all my questions about donating and selling furniture, books, records, clothing, etc. My dad had more than 1,000 books, more than 1,000 records, over 200 pieces of art, etc. It has been quite the culling process. The house is in the mid-century modern neighborhood of Holmes Run Acres in Falls Church, which is on the National Register of Historic Neighborhoods My parents and I loved the neighborhood and the new owner is very excited about the house. So, thank you Jura and Home Chatters. You were such a great help throughout this process and made it much less painful. Now I just have to figure out where to put all my new possessions. ;)

When upholstering mid century furniture, should you pick a vintage style fabric or go with something more current?

It doesn't necessarily have to be MCM fabric but it helps if it's a contemporary design in the spirit of the furniture. Silhouette plays a big part - if the piece has a distinctly MCM style it can probably cope with a more conemporary print.

Hi! We are at the point where we have to undergo a kitchen reno. What colors/materials work well with a mid-century house where there are 3 different tones of woods in the house already - blonde, walnut and a reddish blonde ceiling in near room? Tile for floor? Cabinet colors? Countertops? thanks!

We love raw plywood - a material used by the Eames's - but it may clash with all your other woods. How about modern versions of Formica - this can be laminated on to the plywood so you get a hint of the wood down the edge but a flash of colour - either muted or bright. Natural slate is a timeless finish for a floor and works with MCM or other styles.

I just ordered your book on Amazon and will get it tomorrow...excited! It looks beautiful!

I so love the one you have produced. I too was a channel four kitchen sink drama watcher in my late teens and it feels like coming home to read it <3 Fiona

We'd love to write another one - let's see what our publisher says!!

Thanks so much Keith and Mark. Would love to see more of your products here. Join me next week to talk cat and dog furniture with Jackson Cunningham of the very sleek and stylish Tuft + Paw.

We had a great time answering your questions and we hope we've spread a little MCM love. If we didn't get to your question please forgive us!

Mark and Keith xx

In This Chat
Jura Koncius
Jura Koncius is a Washington Post staff writer who specializes in home and design. Read her daily Twitter feed @jurakoncius for the latest in decorating trends, shopping, decluttering and organizing.

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