How to 'Mad Men' your home

Mar 22, 2012

HGTV's Vern Yip and the Post's Jura Koncius discussed how to give your home that 'Mad Men' style and took your questions about home design. Yip, a Washington Post columnist for the real estate section, also serves as one of this year's judges of our 'Mad Men' Look contest.

- Announcing the five finalists
- Vote on the five finalists
- See photos of all the entries

Follow @PostLive and @PostRealEstate on Twitter

Greetings from me and Vern Yip, who joins us from Atlanta today. Vern is an interior designer and HGTV star of shows "Design Star" and "Bang for your Buck" . Vern and I were judges for the Washington Post Mad Men Contest. We had lots of dozens of entries this year and many were very impressive. We had more than 600 people vote on which of our five finalists they liked best and the winner will be unveiled on Monday March 26, right after the season premier of Mad Men on Sunday. The winner will be featured  in an article on March 31 in Washington Post Real Estate. Now, Vern and I are ready to take your questions and comments about mid century modern and anything else. Let's go.

Hi Folks! I'm thrilled to be here with Jura to talk to everyone about one of my favorite styles...Mid-Century Modern. I look forward to seeing your questions and comments.

I love everything about the show except the smoking, in offices, pregnant women, in your face, etc. Reminds me too much of growing up in NC in the 50s and 60s...

I know what you mean...the drinking is incredible too and during the work day.  I read an article recently that interviewed someone who was in advertising in the 1960s who said that everything in the show rang true to him except the bars set up in the offices! Ashtrays, by the way, are turning up at collectibles shops. I think people use them as random accessories and nut dishes. Personally, they sort of give me the creeps. I remember our coffee table in the 1960s had huge ashtrays on it and I had to empty them in the morning after my parents' parties!

Do you guys have favorite places to shop for modern stuff in the DC area? Please share places with us. Thanks. One of my favorites is Modern Mobler  on Georgia Ave.

Love, love, love the Saarinen table and chairs, although not necessarily together. I'm planning on purchasing an oval table and would like to pair it with the chairs. BUT . . . .are they comfortable?

Haha. One of the dirty little secrets of the chairs from this period is that they aren't always the most comfy for long dinners or parties. I think that's why upholstered dining chairs came into vogue later in the century. These chairs do look fabulous with the table though. Does anyone have these chairs and can you give us a report on how a long Thanksgiving dinner would feel sitting in them?

Hi Vern! No question just wanted to say how much I always enjoyed your room designs! Any chance you'll have any future shows where you'll be designing? I love still seeing you on "Bang for your Buck", but I'd love to see you designing again!!

We actually shot Bang for you Buck in the Washington area late last year, and I hope to be able to come back to the DC area to shoot again.  DC is my home town so I always try to push for DC whenever I can. 

Keep your eyes peeled for later this year for new shows!

I'm looking for a small, COMFY lounge chair for my living room, with arms. Some of the MCM pieces are huge (Womb chair, anyone?) while others just seem uncomfortable. Wood arms would be okay, as long as the chair is comfy. Ideas?

I like some of the Eames recliners, although they aren't particularly small! I also like Milo Baughman's leather lounge chairs with wood or metal arms designed for Thayer Coggin. Does anyone else have favorites?

We have a late 50's split level with the original kitchen (cabinets are similar to the ones in the house Betty and Don sold last season). We have a small formal dining room next to the kitchen. When we redo the kitchen, would it make sense to take down the wall to the dining room and open it up into one, less formal space? Will losing the formal dining room hurt resale?

Based on what I know of the DC area, no.  Losing the less formal space will not hurt resale.  People are changing the way they live their lives these days.  It's definitely much more casual than it used to be.  I think it's a good use of space and something people will find attractive.

Vern is having a few technical difficulties! Modern technology isn't always perfect... anyway, we are going to get him answering in a minute.

Modern Mobler is great. We also like Modern Montage in Alexandria on Route 1 and Hunted House on 14th St. has some good finds as well. Most of our best luck has come from Craigslist though.

Yes. You are right about Craigslist. Stuff left by the side of the road is another great source. But it's still fun to go out looking on a Saturday afternoon. Thanks for those other ideas. Please keep them coming.

Love the Mad Men contest and love Vern Yip! We have a house from the 60s with a 90x40 inch super wide window in the dining room. We placed a vintage 60s long teak credenza (90 inch wide) under the window. It looks great but I am at a loss with what to put on top of the credenza. Would a pair of vintage MCM lamps work? Thanks.

Yes!  A pair of MCM lamps would look great.  I would keep it clean lined and simple to be consistent with the style and maybe a beautiful bowl or statuary on the credenza would be a nice accent and something people could appreciate from the street as well.  I'm jealous.

Ones with upholstered seats are plenty comfy. Mine came out of a county courthouse in Oregon 10+ years ago.

Wow. You are lucky. Thanks for the info.

Thinking about this reminds me of visiting Graceland -- yep, that stuff was hip in 1977. But it's not like the homes looked like that because they style was superior. It was a collection of traditional furniture arrangement, with newly developed items and fabrics. There's no shortage of looks available at good prices at Marlo; and that's where the Mad Men would have gone if it had existed in their time.

Ha! Interesting outlook.

Why do you think MidMod is so unpopular in and around the District?  Other than the Charles Goodman projects, there are astonishingly few pockets of modernism, compared with almost every other U.S. city I've been in.  Washington is so hip in so many ways -- even in the other fine and decorative arts -- but its architecture, at least to my mind, seems to embrace the anti-Adolf Loos dictum, "lack of ornament is crime!"

Well, DC actualy has more mid-century moderan acrch than many cities, especially in the south.  DC is sort of in this transitoin point between the south and the north. DC is a very cosmopolitan area, and there's a lot more diversity in DC in terms of architecture and design, believe it or not.  That's why we have to fight hard to protect the mid-century modern pieces that we do have.

Why do we not see the influence of Modern Design both in house and commercial spaces?  For a forward looking AD CO they seem far behind.

Not exactly sure what you're saying, but modern design is much more promenient in urban areas, and I think we're seeing much more modern design in the DC area than we have in the past. 

I just purchased a large, antique buffet to put in my dining room. My dining room/living room combo is a mix of browns and reds. I would like to incorporate another color by painting the buffet. I have a bohemian sort-of look going on and I was thinking of going with a teal or blue for the buffet. Any advice? Thanks!!

Teal or blue is generally cool in undertone, so it's going to be pretty stark difference with the brown and the red.  You may want to think about some warmer colors if you want to introduce something different.  Purple or orange or other colors that work well with red and brown could blend better with those color choices.  But at the end of the day, if you love teal, then you can go for it.  It's just paint.

This is a less permanent decorating question, but I'm hosting a Mad Men themed bridal shower, and I was wondering if you have any ideas on how to decorate? Unfortunately, we're not using one of your award winning houses as our venue, so we're starting with a late century, not modern, slate.

If you're not looking to redo a room and you want to do something a little less permanent look at service ware - the plates and serving platters and the utensils - and the glasses you end up using. I thin you could really set the stage with cocktail hour.  Cocktails are such an inherent part of that culture. You could always look at getting - Crate and Barrel might even be a good resource for those kind of things.  Stick to silver and aluminum, and keep your pieces streamlined.  You can always have fun with tablecloths as well.  Be mid-century modern colors and patterns that were prevalent in clothing and find fabric or existing table cloth that goes with it.

You asked for some good shops in the DC area that feature vintage midcentury design. In addition to Modern Mobler, I keep an eye on: Millennium Decorative Arts on U Street has funky and affordable stuff. There's a reason it has lasted 20 years. Home Anthology outside of Baltimore has a huge showroom with a variety of items always changing. Hunted House on 14th Street On the higher end, but with some exquisite items, try Metropolitan Interiors on Wisconsin in Georgetown Darrell Dean Antiques (right next door) ArcherModern near Cady's Alley in Georgetown

Wow. Love having this great list. Thank you! Do you all know any more stores in Baltimore? I hear that's a motherlode of great MCM.

My parents still live in our built-in-the-'50s house in southern California. The dining room has a long narrow (horizontal) window on upper half of the wall. It's between 1 & 2 feet tall and about 6' wide. Was this a mid-century "thing"? Or perhaps because it overlooks the backyard driveway, they put it high enough to not really be able to see out, but to be able to get light???

A long window is a mid-century modern arch feature, but usually they're bigger than that.  They're not really short windows high up on the wall. But we do see a lot of those kind of windows in ranch houses and it could be specifially to allow light in without having to see something unattractive.  So it's not necessarily a bad feature.  I woudl utulize that space under that window to arrange artwork or put something decorative underneath. 

is where my parents got their Mad Men look. I remember going there with them. When I needed living room furniture for my townhouse and wanted something modern/mid century that is where I went some 30 + years later. Still the same with the attitude etc. Got a great deal at their Labor Day sale saved over $3K on tables, sofa and chair. Sofa and chair were custom and I got glass tables. I still ahve my parents glass martini set. 18in tall carafe and glasses. Carafe has that frosted mid century modern look.

That is fantastic! Love your story!

What do you think of Crate & Barrel's new midcentury modern collection and some other large furniture stores' new lines that have a take on the look? Do you think this style will stick around or is it faddish, built up because of the TV show?

I really like what I'm seeing in many of the larger retailers who have developed collections with mid-century modern inspiration.  Many of these pieces are inspired by mid-century modern, but are more versatile and are proportioned for today's homes.  I think that they're simple, clean lines make them easy to adapt to eclectic environments and make them somewhat timeless.  Check out my Washington Post column next week to see some of my favorite pieces from the stores.

Jura... Home Anthology in Catonsville, on the SW side of Baltimore is a great place to find MCM furniture. Also, I just heard of another place, Orion's Objects, in the Clipper Mill section of Baltimore (right near the stellar Woodberry Kitchen) that specializes in MCM. pigtown*design

Thank you! I love Woodberry Kitchen - any excuse to go up there is good - so here is another one.

Does anyone know any good MCM stores in Virginia? Maybe Richmond?

We have inherited a MCM teak Danish dining room set, complete with chairs (horrid black vinyl seats) and a low slung buffet. It is sooo not my style (really dislike MCM- no offense, it's just not my thing). Husband says we must keep it because it is "good furniture" and it is sentimentally valuable to him. How do I incorporate it into a house that's French country/ cottage-y? I am absolutely forbidden to paint it, so that's not an option. Help!

The good thing is that these days the prevalent design style is eclectic, so even though mid-century modern isn't your thing, the fact that you have to keep it because it's important to your husband isn't the end of the world.  I would definitely reupholster the seats in something that has a more of a French country color.  I'd keep the fabric solid instead of printed. I would begin to introduce more of your aesthetic through a light fixture over the table, drapes on the windows, a rug underneath the table, and accessories.  The thing about mid-century modern is that the lines tend to be fairly clean, so they're fairly adaptable to many different decor styles.  You don't have to be a purist.

the Alvar Aalto models from 1935-1937 were extremely ahead of their time, design wise. Low, slightly low-slung gorgeous curved wood arms...nay be hard to find or be a small fortune. I have amazing luck on craigslist (st. louis) and shouts out to TFA (The Future Antiques) here in stl. All about MCM. They have everything you're looking for and stuff didn't know you needed.

Wonderful! Thanks so much for that.

Hi Vern: I totally love midcentury design and have collected it for almost 25 years. However, the midcentury look sometimes gets a little too predictable and ho-hum. Put a Bertoia diamond chair next to a Noguchi coffee table and Nelson bubble lamp, and voila, you have midcentury. It can be stylish, but not too creative. Any recommendations on how you keep things fresh and not formulaic?

You know, I think mixing up mid-century modern with different home accessories and not feeling so tied to that aesthetic in terms of the more changeable items in the room will help.  Throw pillows on a sofa, art work, lamps  - those kinds of items, changing them out, really helps.  mid-century modern again is really clean lined so you don't have to have everything be that and be a purist.  I actually prefer the more eclectic - I have it in my own home.  I have a handful of mid-century modern pieces, but have mixed them with antiques and really contemporary pieces and everything in between.

Do you think mid-century modern pieces are like vintage cars -- do they appreciate over time? If I have inherited some furniture from this period from my parents, should I hang onto it even if I'm not finding a place for it in my home?

They definitely do appreciate over time. My sister and I recently discovered a brand stamp on my parents bedroom and office furniture bought in the 1950s in Boston. It said Conant Ball. We looked it up and saw it was designed by Russel Right for Conant Ball. The stuff is collectible and has probably retained if not exceeded the price my parents' paid for it. We are hanging on to the stuff right now - it's in great shape and mixes well with other things. If you really don't have a place for the things in your own home, offer them to other family members - it has meaning for them beyond its value.

Hi Vern, I am a huge fan of your NY and Chicago apartments. When will the location for the next sweepstakes be announced? Have you started working on it? Any hints on location or design?

Stay tuned!  I think you'll really love the new urban oasis location.  Unfortunately, I'm unable to tell you anything more.  But thanks for the support, and thanks for the compliments.

It's time for us to turn a currently empty room which sits just off of our front door and looks into the front yard into a home office. Currently the room has just natural-colored bamboo flooring and a floor-to-ceiling window and it's probably 8'x10' so we have a lot to design and fill. "Mad Men" style - functional but also space for socializing - could work well for us. We have looked for furniture near our home before (Dallas), and have been unhappy with most of the obvious commercial options, mostly because we want to buy 20-year quality, not 5-10 year quality, and Dallas seems to be short on independents. Can you recommend some online resources (or local TX ones if you know them) where we can start to get some ideas of how to fill and layout this room?

The most important thing to do for any room that needs to be multi-functional (home office and socializing) is to create a space plan. You want to make sure that you plan this out very carefully since these two functions are so disparate. For example, you could look at a desk that also is proportioned to work as a bar service area. If you don’t feel that the quality you are seeing in big retailers meets your needs and want to purchase real, vintage pieces that are of super high quality, you can always check out vintage stores. Boulevard, for example, in Palm Springs has beautiful vintage pieces that can ship anywhere. You can see what they have on-line and also speak to someone at the store if you can’t visit.

What is the best way to incorporate a few mid-century modern pieces in your home if you don't want to have your entire house dedicated to this look? Do you think there's a way to make it work?

We had to deal with this in our beach house. We found that keeping a few classic pieces in each room was okay, just not entire rooms of it. We bought things from West Elm and Restoration Hardware and Ballard Designs and C2 to fit in with what we already had. The way to make it work is to choose simple clean designs that play off of the modern classics. We used clear colors too, not a lot of clutter or accessories or prints.

Hi Vern, My living room is Art Deco style. The main feature is a cut glass & mirror Art Deco skyline I had made for me. 2 questions: 1. I want to paint the walls a pale green. (Furniture is grey and black, hardwood floors. Accents of green and rose.) Any color suggestions that might work, while not losing the Art Deco look & feel? 2. A staircase wall leading to another level is very visible in the living room. Furniture in that room is dark brown; it is staying but everything else is going, so I can go w/ pretty much any colors for the walls & accessories. Any suggestions for a color that will coordinate with the living room, but still work with the dark brown furniture? Thanks!

Art Deco is really coming back into style…much like Mid-Century Modern. Rich bronzes and browns always work well with this style and also go well with both grey and black. Warm grey is also very big in design right now and is considered the new neutral. Either one of these options would allow you the ability to add other colors easily. If you want a brighter color, you could look into a Eggplant which works well with green and rose. If your staircase wall, if visible from your living room, should be painted a variation of your living room color in order for these two areas to work together well. Either go lighter (if that area is dark) or slightly darker (if you have lots of natural light) in order for it to flow without being the same.

I find a lot of MCM stuff at thrift stores. Because they are so plain, these pieces don't show particularly well in these types of shops and often get overlooked. You have to hunt, but eventually you'll find something for cheap. The further out, the better!

Yes! That is so true. It is amazing the fabulous lamps from that period that end up on a table for $5 at a thrift shop!

This is off the topic of the 'Mad Men' look. I'd like to what what you're into these days in terms of design -- what is inspiring you right now in terms of colors, furnishings, style, etc.?

The big color of 2012 according to the Pantone Institute is tangerine tango, which is a really kind of reddish orange.  I'm really inspired by orange at the moment, but I'm leaning towards more of a burnt orange, a little warmer.  I also just came back from an incredible trip from Morocco and Thailand and pulling lots of inspiration from both of those trips. I'm actually designed two entire collections - one inspired by Morocco and one inspired by Thailand - for HSN.

Do you have any tips to find out whether a midcentury piece of furniture is designed by a famous designer of that period? What resources are out there?

Your best bet is to always contact a mid-century modern collector or retailer, someone who sales vintage items. Send them a picture if this is something they are familiar with.  there are many such stores in parts of the country that really love mid-century modern, such as Palm Springs, and I'm sure that if they sent you a picture they would be happy to help and maybe even make you an offer.

Vern, thanks so much for being on the chat and also for judging the Washington Post Mad Men Contest. Look for the results of that on Monday, March 26. Sorry we had a few technical difficulties today. Have a great weekend everybody.

In This Chat
Vern Yip
Vern Yip is an interior designer and star of HGTV’s “Design Star” and “Bang for Your Buck.” Originally from McLean, Yip is based in Atlanta and New York. He writes a monthly column for The Washington Post Real Estate section and serves a judge for The Post's 2012 'Mad Men' Look contest.
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, organizing and DC retail.

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