Philadelphia Home: How To Make Yourself Mid-Century Modern

A how-to guide on how to decorate your home in the mid-century modern style.


Yo, Daddy-o. Want to get your hands on the coolest the middle of last century had to offer? Here’s our list of our area’s top dealers (and wheeler-dealers), complete with splurges, steals, and, in some cases, the next big things. Out to snag the rarest of the rare? Mark your calendars for the next modern auctions at Center City’s Freeman’s (May TBA; freemansauction.com) and Lambertville’s Rago Arts and Auction Center (April 12th and 13th; ragoarts.com).

 

Everything plus the kitchen sink

Atomic Warehouse, 1021 Market Street, Harrisburg, 717-236-1900,atomicwarehouse.com

Collectors who wish to authenticate the pedigree of a Noguchi tornado table, or a virtually unsat-upon 1950 Eames red LCM, or a powder-pink ’59 Coupe DeVille low-rider with leopard-print upholstery and fully functional flame throwersbefore purchasing, ought to consider making the trek to this kitsch-filled (in a very serious way) emporium on the edge of Harrisburg’s historic district. The wares here range from tiny—boomerang ashtrays, diner clocks — to mega — see the Caddy, above, or maybe a complete set of metal GE kitchen cabinets, spice rack and all. It’s exclusively design that came before, as owner Steve Pearlman sees it, the decline of American civilization (which he interprets as the decades before Walmart). Though the giant, crammed one-room place — a former auto parts shop — is flea-market-y and definitely laid-back, it’s not to be mistaken for a thrift-filled secondhand store. Pearlman knows the exact value of every piece he sells — dude might sound a little burnt-out, but he’s no fool — and quite frankly, he’s not willing to part with certain pieces. The king-size Paul McCobb bed he sleeps on in his place upstairs, for example, is for sale, but according to the shop owner’s website, he’s “not ultra-motivated to see it go.” Still, there aren’t many places where you can score a perfect pair of Bakelite earbobs (granted, from the ’40s), a Danish modern floating couch — and the exact Frigidaire your Nana had. Plus, who doesn’t love a road trip to our Commonwealth’s capital?

What we want right now: A curved Frederic Weinberg shelving unit with original colored masonite panels ($895); a red enameled copper wall sculpture by C. Jeré ($600). (Alas, the Caddy’s sold.)

 

Investment-worthy icons of the mid-century

Mode Moderne 159 North 3rd Street, 215-627-0299

If it weren’t for this Old City shop, this story wouldn’t have existed. Owners Michael Glatfelter and Mike Wilson are the guys everybody refers to when it comes to Philly’s mid-century modern scene. (Thanks to them, we found Ron Rowe and Glenn Landeau, whose Cherry Hill home inspired our story.) The Michaels are, indeed, the real deal: Glatfelter’s circa-1948 Wyndmoor home is a floor-to-ceiling homage to mid-century living, right down to the atomic-blue vintage Citröen in his garage; Wilson’s Port Richmond rowhouse is impeccably outfitted in machine-age Gilbert Rohde. Their two-floor, 2,500-square-foot store is a neat clutter of iconic pieces, most vintage, some new. You’ll find everything Eames — Ray and Charles’s metal-legged chairs, the couple’s covet-worthy leather and rosewood lounger, plus Eames reissues by Herman Miller. (Mode Moderne is also a Herman Miller dealer.) A black wire Woodard sofa, Arne Jacobsen Swan chairs, Vitra reissued Nelson ball clocks, and Paul McCobb’s perfectly proportioned tables and benches offer a virtual tutorial in mid-century design. All in all, an amazing place to explore — and then drop a few thousand on an extra-rare George Nelson for Herman Miller coffee table with hidden pull-out trays.

What we want right now: Allan Gould’s string chair ($1,495); anything by McCobb.


First-time investments for the budding collector

Bucks County Dry Goods 5 Klines Court, Lambertville, 609-397-1288

How we never took full notice of the cool coffee tables, boxy wooden side tables, funky vintage bronze and silver lamps and, um, more than one six-foot-long teak credenza on our way to Bucks County’s incredible selection of trendy-cozy sweaters is beyond us. Oh well. Good thing owners Natalie Page and Stewart Ross have continued to populate their rustic, general-store-feeling clothing and home shop with non-designer-y mid-century modern scores from flea markets, auctions and trips to Europe. That way, next time we’re back, and realize how effortlessly their mix of retro-informed Jonathan Adler pottery, fresh Thomas Paul pillows and biomorphic glass bottles from Spain blends with the 50-year-old pieces Page recently scooped up while vacationing in Belgium and France, we won’t feel so bad for overlooking this amazing — and amazingly affordable — collection lo, these past few years.

What we want right now: The driftwood coffee table ($380); a set of six bentwood chairs with aqua vinyl seats ($1,150).

 

Quick, reasonable Scandinavian (and Scandinavian-inspired) finds

Hello World 1201 Pine Street, 215-545-7060, shophelloworld.com

With all its embossed stationery, funky pottery lamps, motif silk ties, designer vegan totes and whatnot, this corner shop doesn’t have much room for displaying owner Jay Lamancuso’s growing collection of mid-century furniture (or, for that matter, any furniture). But Jay insists on mixing up the space with affordable, new-to-you mid-century pieces — scored from a top-secret source in upstate New York — each Wednesday. So if you want to find the wheeled wooden tea cart with inlaid Formica tiers, you’ll have to look beneath a set of green-glass cocktail tumblers. To snag a trio of wire stools upholstered in -matching-patterned pink, white and blue fabric, search between sets of splatter pottery and very ’50s-looking plastic plates printed in orange lettering that says “Let’s Eat!” Lamancuso even manages to squeeze an occasional Danish modern secretary or dramatic dresser with earthily atomic drawers into his display window — and will be squeezing in even more once the holiday wares are out of the way.

What we want right now: A single Bertoia Bikini chair with an original upholstered cushion ($295); a solid-wood surfboard table with a bowed edge ($195).

 

A funky furnishing to go with your Bettie Page getup

Zap & Co. 315 North Queen Street, Lancaster, 717-397-7405, zapandco.com

In the heart of Lancaster’s less-than-rowdy downtown, shop owner Steve Murray proudly presides over this 34-year-old “retro department store,” source of umpteen costumes for Woody Allen and John Waters flicks (and not-so-secret source of vintage dresses, skirts, jackets and sweaters that reincarnate and multiply onto the racks at your neighborhood Anthropologie). Still, while we’ll always look for classic June Cleaver garb at this super-crammed space, we’d rather keep our eyes trained on the shop’s shiny steel Art Deco facade, where the display window just might contain a circa-1950s entertainment center (comprised of a turntable and radio that convert into a bar, natch), a chrome dining table with a marbleized gray Formica top, a Nelson ball clock or a Bertoia Diamond lounger.

What we want right now: A tall floor radio ($150) and, simply because we can never, ever get enough of them, more chrome cocktail shakers.


A statement piece—and maybe a crocodile clutch

Mix Gallery 17 South Main Street, Lambertville, 609-773-0777

In the blink-and-you’ll-miss-it category: This tiny — really, barely bigger than a closet — riverside gallery specializes in mint-condition Wegner, Eames, Nelson, Wormley, and vintage … handbags. Lots of handbags, as collected by co-owner Chery Lin, who displays them in clever white cubbies and behind a wall’s worth of glass, their tiny golden interlocked C’s or sculpted Italian chenille denoting their timeless eminence as objets d’art, not just arm candy. Still, those bags — what bags! — wouldn’t look quite as precious if Lin and husband Andy hadn’t spent a few decades honing their eye for big-name and anonymous finds. If you want to get a gander at the Lins’ most serious pieces, you’ll have to head farther north: Two years ago, the couple took a space in Center44, midtown Manhattan’s antique-dealer powerhouse.

What we want right now: A four-drawer rosewood dresser with columnar steel legs, by Danish craftsman Ib Kofod-Larsen ($2,450) — and that French croc clutch with the gold-and-gem clasp ($785).

 

The piece that makes the room

Vintage Modern 906 North 2nd Street, 215-238-1997

Across the street from Standard Tap, up a single front step, a giant glass window looks into a bevy of refined bachelor pads in the making. Your host at this narrow, handsomely vignetted shop is affable ’20s-through-’80s collector James Miller. Miller has purposefully arranged his stock of vintage minimalist loveseats reupholstered in reissue wool weaves to face low-slung glass-topped cocktail (not coffee) tables lit by a mushroom-shaded floor lamp here, a mirror-based table lamp there. Walk in, and you’ll want to sit down and have a drink. Of course, that would be somewhat of a mistake, because then you wouldn’t wander downstairs to ogle a bright yellow reptile-patent-leather chaise lounge displayed like sculpture against a backdrop of cubby bookshelves of precisely the same hue. At the very least, you’ll want to take a few steps up into the shop’s elevated back space, kick off your loafers, and sit back in a perfectly preserved bright red Womb chair, where, thoroughly relaxed (and, quite frankly, ready for a manhattan), you’ll suddenly understand exactly how you’d like to furnish your glass-walled unit in the Le Corbusier-inspired, Erdy McHenry-designed Hancock Square just up the street.

What we want right now: A circa-1954 pre-Wormley dining set by Drexel ($1,450), and, of course, that Womb chair we’ve thirstily parked ourselves in ($1,850). Stuff we’ll always look for here: Unidentified pieces that you’ll never find reissued from Design Within Reach: “Things don’t have to have that much provenance for me to like them,” says Miller.


Impeccable Bargains

Reform Vintage 112 North 3rd Street, 215-922-6908

You know that one boutique where you can always find that perfect little black dress that you know you’ll be able to wear right away, without a single alteration — or having to miss a mortgage payment? This petite 15-year-old gallery in Old City sells furnishings just as classic — and essential — as that LBD. Soft-spoken and low-pressure shopkeeper Arthur Meckler doubles as a restorer and artist, watchfully tending to his finds in his backroom workshop. He’ll recondition a geometric but earthy Danish modern bedroom set he discovered at a house sale. He’ll buff and rewire brass sconces by the incredibly hot right now Tommy Parzinger. And though he himself didn’t reupholster the pair of iconic Knoll wire lounge chairs in the manufacturer’s crimson fabric, he is selling the pair for the you’d-never-see-them-this-inexpensive-in-New-York price of $3,000. Meckler’s inventory spans the whole of the 20th century, has recently trended away from the Heywood-Wakefield years, and, once the well of vintage Saarinen stools and Nelson clocks runs dry, will likely include increasing amounts of circa-’70s chrome, steel and glass. A few words for the wise shopper: Although Meckler refurbishes his own wares, and will gladly recommend other restorers, he won’t work on yours. His advice to the unsure purchaser: “I often tell people to think about it, sleep on it. If they’re still thinking about it in the morning, then it’s meant to be.” Just move quickly: New York dealers make regular treks to Reform to pick up pieces they’ll sell up the pike for twice the price.

What we want right now: A classic Eames Aluminum Group by Herman Miller tan executive chair ($495), and penthouse-worthy two-foot-long brass candle sconces by Tommy Parzinger ($2,000 for the pair).

 

Fixer-uppers for the whole home

House of Modern Living 718 Cookman Avenue, Asbury Park, 732-988-2350

“I tell people to wear hiking boots to shop here,” says Bill Meisch of his 30-year-old vintage-modern store, crammed with wares dating from the Art Deco era to the ’80s. Among the haute-junk jumble: stacks of wire Bertoia chairs, bolts of mod ’50s fabrics, and “as is” Scandinavian tables set with rare Dansk cheese boards, ice buckets and nutcrackers. Although Meisch does some of his business supplying props for film and television — Carrie Bradshaw’s bulb-shaped Laurel bedside lamps came from here, as did most of the set of The Ice Storm — he’s also furnished a number of summer homes for Asbury Park’s burgeoning population of discerning summer residents. Stock changes weekly, and includes two on-site storage areas. Attention, mid-week shoppers: Store hours are Thursday through Sunday, by appointment the rest of the week. (Oh, and the store is closed over the holidays, reopening the first weekend in January.)

What we want right now: A Hans Wegner double-leaf, original-finish oak and teak desk ($2,800); a complete eight-person service of Dansk’s teak-handled Fjord flatware ($1,500).

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