They admire the legendary Frank Lloyd Wright structures and the visionary architects who designed mid-20th century modern homes in the area – Ralph Fournier, William Bernaudi, Harris Armstrong, Isador Shank, Robert Elkington and Charles King.
The post-war housing boom led to famous furniture designers Ray and Charles Eames’ mantra of “the best, for the most, at least.” New technology that uses lighter metals has allowed high-design furnishings to become stronger, faster, and less expensive than before.
This last name should be very familiar to any self-respecting person in St. Louis. Yes, the same architect who designed our neighborhood’s most famous landmark also designed the distinctive womb chair.
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Its sleek, simple, clean, and curved lines give it timeless beauty, while its multi-layered identities speak to the zeitgeist. It reflects a design style that includes architecture, furniture and art.
“Good design is timeless,” said Kelly, “but ‘knowing’ good design and designers is just pretentious nonsense.” “Looking at something and liking it is good design.”
In fact, so many consumers loved the look of the low-hanging sofas, the minimalist accent tables, and the functional pieces of wood — all built on the scale of smaller homes — that the look is all over the place. Retailers such as West Elm and Wayfair have embraced this trend, introducing generic furniture that is visually lighter. It tends to work best in apartments and smaller homes occupied by millennials.
Rachel Laboheme, creative director of Bohemians, an online antique and antique furniture store, wrote a post outlining her reasons for loathing mid-century modern design.
She writes that “originals” can be inaccessible, while mass-produced replicas are exaggerated and cheaply made by machines. She also knocks the purported comfort of mid-century modern furnishings: “I see these little square dining chairs or low living room furniture with 1.5 inches of foam, and I don’t feel the need to snuggle up and watch a movie.”
Kelly says their store looks for authenticity with the pieces they sell.
“We don’t direct our customers toward imitations,” he said. They prefer the originals because of the difference in quality that Labbohemian noted.
“But I don’t hate those (imitations),” he added. “For every mid-century mass-produced and retail piece, the same replicas exist for all sorts of traditional styles, too.”
Most of the furniture is for sitting and enjoying, he said, and part of that pleasure comes from looking at something that appeals to you. He doesn’t want people to comment on the “Mid-Century Modern” peculiarity. He said there are modern classics created in the 1920s.
Its notable features such as low ceiling lines, vaulted spaces and open floor plans with ample amounts of natural light create a feeling of bright space that today’s homebuyers also want. The homes are designed with natural materials to blend in with the landscape – so much so that the backyard feels like an extension of the house.
“There is a connection that people feel to the larger landscape when they live in these homes,” she said.
“It’s not the notable style of homes you find in St. Louis,” she said. Many of these farmhouses were demolished in the 1950s so that buyers could build new homes larger than two stories on the lot.
She said that when modern homes collapse into tatters and many turn away from their rescue by those who want to preserve history, it is heartbreaking. The challenge, Svoboda said, is that a house built in the 1950s may have been updated in the 1980s or 1990s in ways that destroy the aesthetic of the original form. This is a tough sell for clients who are looking for assets they can keep and get back. It is better for them to find a more dated house and renovate it in the mid-century modern style.
Svoboda herself is a fan of the style and serves on the ModernSTL board of directors. She bought her mid-century modern home in 2010 and spent a decade renovating it. They sold it and moved into a modern home during the pandemic.
Wilbur, the group’s president, says local interest in regulation has increased significantly over the past 12 years. Attendance for their events and home tours increased.
“We have definitely seen a shift in awareness and efforts to conserve it,” he said. One of the turning points for the conservation community was to help save the mid-century flying saucer building on Grand Avenue and Forest Park Parkway. It was originally a Phillips 66 gas station and later Del Taco. It’s now Starbucks and Chipotle.
“Lots of people crowded around it,” Wilbur said. “People had a strong emotional attachment to the building.”
It’s the same sentiment they hope to foster for mid-century lesser-known homes and structures.