Go on, do it: Mention the word “Eames” to hipsters of any age and watch their hearts melt in your hands.
It’s a neat trick. Like talking to a foodie about ramps and microgreens. Or an audiophile about that rare northern soul 45. Or Pavlov about his dogs.
All right, so midcentury modern might be the trendiest thing in interior and exterior design right now, something that pricey outlets such as Design Within Reach have tapped into, but one look and who can blame anyone for wanting to stray from $40 pop-up, particle-board beds or McMansions?
The term is an all-encompassing one, covering everything from architecture to product design in California in the mid-20th century. The look is smooth, organic, flowy and totally natural, as opposed to the boxy modern look of the international architectural style.
The movement’s primary players have worked their way into mainstream consciousness: Isamu Noguchi, Harry Bertoia, Eero Saarinen (swooon!), the aforementioned wonder duo Charles and Ray Eames, Pierre Koenig . . . okay, fine. Chances are you may have never heard these names before. But you’ve definitely seen their famed designs knocked off in IKEA’s latest catalog. Tulip tables? That’s Saarinen. Molded plastic chairs with metal legs? Eames. Pierre Koenig’s the guy who designed that amazing Stahl Case Study House in the Hollywood Hills, with floor-to-ceiling windows overlooking Los Angeles; it’s been popularized in countless photo shoots.
But it’s Orange County that boasts some of the greatest neighborhoods of midcentury-modern homes, such as the Eichler houses in the city of Orange or the Ellerbroek House in north Tustin—which is currently going for $1.4 million, if you’ve got some cash to spare. Sloping roofs, strong geometric lines and giant windows are all common characteristics of these California-modern homes.
Midcentury-modern items look best when meshed with your own personal style—whether it be antique or just plain kitsch, the idea is to mix and match to avoid a total time warp. The key here is to get only the main pieces: a sofa with tapered legs, a teak credenza, an armchair or two. The rest of the stuff, like the colorful geometric shapes of the artwork from the era, might be overkill. Or just tacky.
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The chairs are truly the most iconic and representative of the midcentury-modern look. But they are also some of the most expensive; though they’ll be (arguably) timeless purchases, an Eames lounge chair can cost up to $3,899. A Saarinen tulip table can go as high as $12,156.
Flea markets caught wind long ago of the trend factor of the items, and prices have consequently gone way up—even for the vintage finds that are rarer than ever. But for those not so concerned with authenticity, Advanced Interior Designs (advancedinteriordesigns.com) offers some of the best “inspired” items I’ve come across yet. An authentic-looking, Eames-inspired lounge chair and ottoman here cost $895. I purchased a few Eames-inspired eiffel chairs in white to pair with my 1920s wooden dining table with drop leaves for $99 each, while one original goes for around $249.
Sure, some might balk at a fake, but until that paycheck goes up, Eames, Eero and Noguchi are going to have to wait.