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Mid-century modern permeates today’s home furnishings

Maureen Feighan
The Detroit News

AMC’s “Mad Men” may have gone off the air last year, but its funky 1950s and ’60s style certainly hasn’t gone anywhere.

Mid-century modern decor is big these days, from offbeat light fixtures to smaller profile sofas with sleek legs and arms.

“There seems to be as much interest as there ever has been,” says Roger Ellingsworth, co-owner of Vertu, a 1,500- square-foot store on Washington in downtown Royal Oak that sells vintage mid-century modern tables, chairs, clocks and light fixtures.

And as interest in modern decor and design continues to expand, mid-century inspired pieces can be found everywhere from online retailers such as Dot & Bo to national chains like West Elm.

Loren Weiner, owner of ModMart, a Clawson mid-century resale shop that sells pieces from the 1950s through the 1980s, believes it’s a trend that never went away.

And “it’s certainly more of a trend with shows such as ‘Mad Men,’” says Weiner.

Locally, Art Van Furniture tapped into the modern craze last fall when it pulled the curtains on a new 4,000-square-foot gallery called Modern inside its flagship Warren store. The bright, sleek gallery offers a mix of modern-inspired tables, sofas and chairs. Funky light fixtures in a variety of shapes hang from the ceiling.

Bob Price, Art Van’s vice president of merchandising, says Modern covers a range of styles between transitional and contemporary. It has different applications from casual contemporary to mid-century modern to ultra modern.

The Modern gallery is all about “cleaner lines, comfort, detailing that includes mixed elements, such as welting, tighter backs, chrome or wood legs and button tufting,” says Price.

Michigan played a pivotal role in developing mid-century modern design. Some of the biggest names – Eero Saarinen, Charles Eames, Ray Eames, Florence Knoll – were all students at Cranbrook Academy of Art, where collaboration among designers was encouraged and expected by founding president Eliel Saarinen, Eero’s father.

“You think about all these legendary greats in 1930s and ’40s and they were all there (at Cranbrook) to study architecture and design,” says Greg Wittkopp, director of Cranbrook’s Center for Collections and Research.

It was at Cranbrook – which has been called the “cradle of American modernism” – that Eero Saarinen met Charles Eames. Together, they collaborated on a series of furniture for the MoMA-sponsored 1940 Organic Design in Home Furnishings competition.

“That’s a seminal, landmark event,” says Wittkopp. “I might mark that as the beginning” of the modernism movement in the U.S.

Today, reproductions of iconic mid-century pieces can be found everywhere from to But for collectors, both Royal Oak’s Vertu and Clawson’s ModMart are resale shops that sell a variety of original pieces.

Ellingsworth says he and Rozycki get much of their inventory, which ranges from the 1930s through the ’70s, from owners who sell them vintage pieces. The store offers a variety of furniture and accents that read like a who’s-who of mid-century modern design, from an original George Nelson ball clock to Heywood Wakefield chair.

“I always had an interest in design,” says Ellingsworth, who opened Vertu 30 years ago. “When I first started, it was more art deco.”

Weiner’s 3,000-square-foot ModMart, which opened late last fall and also fixes, repairs and reupholsters vintage pieces, is the fulfillment of a lifelong dream. Weiner always imagined owning a shop where she could wear her mid-century clothes, sell furniture and “really live my passion.”

Weiner’s partners are Dan and Brian Laundroche, the great-grandnephews of famed designer Harry Bertoia. The three had worked together on various projects over the years. “My visions tend to be a bit out there at times, but somehow they had a way of getting in to my head and making my ideas into a reality,” says Weiner.

Wittkopp says there are several reasons why mid-century modern design still resonates with so many, but one of the biggest is there’s a simplicity to it.

“The nature of a chair has been boiled down to its essence,” says Wittkopp. But the mid-century modern designs unique to the United States “integrate a greater degree of humanity through materials, color, through a playfulness.”

(313) 223-4686

Mad for Mid-Century

Vertu: 514 S. Washington, Royal Oak; (248) 545-6050. Open Wednesday-Saturday, 12-5 p.m.

ModMart: 932 W. 14 Mile Rd, Clawson; (248) 757-4663. Open 12-5 p.m. Monday; 10-6 p.m. Tuesday-Friday; 12-5 p.m. Saturday; 12-4 p.m. Sunday.

Cranbrook’s Saarinen House: The 1920s house designed by Eliel Saarinen. Tours available May through October. Call (248) 645-3320