getting the basics right

20 Mar

They look innocent enough.  But they’re intent on destroying your carefully-designed, thoughtfully-appointed, simple but beautiful baby nursery.

Because guess what?  That adorable DS or DD (or, bless you, combination of s’s and d’s) – whether you’re ready to admit it or not – has outgrown ‘baby’ mode and is now firmly putting his or her foot down into young kid territory.  And with the changing table, so goes the crib, the pom poms, the bedding you spent hours agonizing over and coordinating with paint colors, and virtually anything else that’s too delicate to have lasted this long.

And as you may find, a daytime dalliance with Geo and Milly might just morph into a super-obsession.  Then Grandma finds out.  And a couple of days later, you find yourself with officially-licensed character sheets and a new bedspread straight from China to you.   What to do?  Console yourself with a super heaping of the basics.

As Miss Sarah Brown says, “follow the fold and stray no more.”

You know the room is going to be taken over by Super Shapes.  You know Wubzy is yellow, and everything’s painted a lovely shade of pink.  Here are some tips for making the new toddler room a sea of calm amidst all the stuff your modern-furniture-loving-self is starting to get twitchy around.  Remember the power of simplicity and knowing what you can control.   At the end of the day, everyone wants to be happy.

1.  Shapes – make sure your new furniture is bold and graphic, but not too delicate or serif-y.

2. Colors – keep them neutral, save for a pop or two of brights.

3. Density – everything needs to be climb-tested.  Twice.

(Click image to view larger)

To put these rules to the test, I wanted to see what I could do with items from one retailer only.  Curious to see what was going on at the re-styled JC Penney, I checked out the new website – which is full of offerings only available to online shoppers.   And I was more than pleasantly surprised by what I found.  For anyone who’s gone one round (or ten rounds, as it seemed) with the Ikea/WalMart/Target furniture the first time around, this stuff will seem a little more on the expensive side.  But it should also last a LOT longer and feel a lot more sturdy.

1. Colors Kids dresser and mirror $400 + $150

So the room here starts with white and neutrals, and pops into red and turquoise for some flash.  This dresser/mirror combo is the perfect shape and size for bedrooms of any size.

2. Hollie tufted headboard $300

It comes in a million colors.  Jonathan Adler would be proud.

3. Colors Kids nightstand $200

The companion piece to the dresser, but in RED.  How cool is that.

4. Cameron storage tower $190

I doubted whether to include this one; it doesn’t look like it would pass the #3 (density) test.  But you get the idea.

5. Flush-mount ceiling lamp $50

Score. I love this piece. It lends a vintage-y feeling to the design without being old fashioned.

6. Champagne washable shag rug 5×8 $250

A washable shag area rug. What will they think of next?!

7. York circular frames $25

To finish off the theme and to remind the kid of the folks who really matter.

If you’ve found any great decor for your toddler lately, let me know- I’d love to see it and hear it.


Russel Wright for the kids

12 Mar

Hi friends. Image Last time we spoke, I had a toddler.  Maybe even an infant.  Six months or so later, we’re in full KID territory.  And in that move from crib to toddler bed, from squeezies to go-gurts, and from tossing to outright *throwing* (balls, forks, tantrums), my interests as a mom have changed slightly too.  So expect me to cover fewer “isn’t that cutes” and more “will it last”s over the next few months.

Image So back to the story.  We’ve got a kitchen (of course, this one: KidKraft Kitchen).  And we’ve got the nice wooden play food from Melissa & Doug and the crappy plastic stuff from the dollar store (that the dog really loves crunching on).  But no plates or tea sets for my little boy.  And every little boy needs a tea set.


Enter Russel Wright (Ideal vintage advert, above).  Mummy has her own set of this lovely, wonderful, beautiful tableware, why not Fionn?  For the uninitiated, imagine Russel and his wife Mary the disciples of Frank Lloyd Wright and the predecessors to Charles & Ray Eames.  Or in more modern terms, they were Martha before Martha even started organizing her dolls.  In a truly fortunate marriage of equals, Russel was the industrial designer and Mary was the promoter.  He had a vision of introducing high quality design to the post-war generation – at the dinner table – and she has a vision for marketing it as a guide for ‘easier (not better or simpler) living.’

They wrote a book to that effect, their mission (as it were) to “liberate readers from the stiff dinner party, the formal tea party, and fussy houses that ‘make scolds out of so many women, who are constantly after their families to keep coke bottles off the coffee table, feet off the sofa'” (via the Cooper-Hewitt guide to their exhibition).  So what better way to celebrate the freedom of casual life then by getting my son an entertaining set of his own? I promise I’ll try not to force the fork on the left or move the spoon to the right when he’s not looking. (I have been known to do this.)


There’s a set currently up for auction, but I won’t tell you where until Wednesday.  (If you bid against me I will be very unhappy.)  The pieces are exact replicas of the teapot, cups and saucers, creamers and sugar bowls I, myself, collected as engagement gifts to Fionn’s dad.  They’re on display most of the time, though we take them out for use on special occasions, the irony of which I am supremely aware.

So if you find the plastic Russel Wrights, snap them up. They’re a lot nicer than anything you’ll find today.

goose barnacle, rodger stevens and wire dog decor

23 Jun

We have two super-creative neighbors, who happen to be sister and brother.   Sister Marissa is a jewelry designer who sells her beautiful wares in a shop around the corner from our apartment.  (Every mom within a three-block radius of State Street seems to be sporting Marissa’s beautiful initial pendants; to me, they’re the modern version of those boy/girl shapes our own mothers used to sport).  And brother David recently transformed a creaky, tumble-down storefront on Atlantic Avenue into a beautiful wood-hewn tribute to the best in no-fuss but gorgeous, solidly made, durable menswear (In fact, the stuff is perfect for the way my husband shops; unlike me, he spends a lot on one piece then proceeds to wear it (out) every day – so it had better be made to last).  But Goose Barnacle isn’t just a clothes shop, it’s also a place for David to show off pieces of art that match his hand-crafted aesthetic.

That’s why I smile when I walk by his store window nearly every morning:

front window, goose barnacle

I was reminded of his wire display while browsing one of my other favorite shops in New York (this time, near work).  If you’re not familiar with Mxyplyzyk, you should be.  Of course, there are more of these MOMA-store-inspired tchotchke shops popping up all over the place, but Mxyplyzyk (look it up) was an originator of the scene.  And it’s one of those design-centric shops that seems to always keep its inventory new and fresh, no matter how often you visit (it’s been there for as long as I can remember).

wall of dogs, mxyplyzyk

For those of you who are slightly bored by the Wallcandy-Blik-decal overload of the past few years, but don’t have a lot of space to feature big posters or the patience for wallpaper, these fabulous metal dogs are full of personality and only $65 each.

french bulldog? closeup

It’s funny to find something so similar to something you walk by every day, so I thought I’d try and learn a bit more about David’s colleague and collaborator for Goose Barnacle.

Turns out this guy is a pretty big deal!  His name is Rodger Stevens and his work has been featured all over the place -from private residences of the rich and famous to some really gorgeous retail locations around the US.

driftwood/wire, barney's, scottsdale, arizona

He calls his work “shadow-casting metal narrative pieces” – to me, that’s one fascinating thing about this work.  Whether mounted against a wall, hanging from a ceiling, or standing on its own, these thin sculptures end up occupying more territory and feeling ‘fuller’ than you think they would at first glace.   Here’s a video of his technique, courtesy of David’s website on behalf of Stevens.

Untitled from Goose Barnacle on Vimeo.

Which takes me back to the dogs.  I bet they’re probably imitations of his work (an impression based solely on price point) but if it builds an appreciation for three-dimensional sculpture and the place it can have in a kids’ room, to me, that’s pretty cool.

Check out more about Rodger Stevens here.  Could be a nice option if you’re looking for some new art in the rest of your home too.

vintage hamilton cosco high chairs

21 Jun

cosco high chair, mikeyboy2020, ebay

I’ve been putting together images of mid-century and vintage-inspired high chairs for a future post. And in my searches, I came across this Cosco “Comfort Line” high chair being sold by “Mikeyboy2020” of Cincinnati on Ebay this week.  But there are only four days left for this auction, and was hoping someone might find it as interesting as I have.  In fact, this is the only vintage Cosco of its kind that I’ve found so far.  Apart from a chip on the footrest and the (Very Important) need to attach a new seatbelt strap, the chair is in pretty fantastic shape.  I figure that with shipping, you’ll pay a little less than $200 for it.

It’s much easier (and cheaper) to find the folding metal chairs similar to the one below (which is in great shape and also available on Ebay), although you might find the chrome needing a touch of polish and the seat requiring a brave scrubbing.

cosco folding chair, thevillagepeddler, ebay

It’s definitely very different from the powder-coated-and-animal-print-vinyl versions we’re used to today.  There’s something super cool about the late 60s/early 70s version of Cosco’s eponymous line.   My interest was piqued after learning that Fionn’s favorite chair is actually of the same generation of awesome designs to come out of the Hamilton Manufacturing Corporation of Columbus, Indiana.

cosco booster chair

Or if you’re looking for a booster seat, it’s pretty easy to find Fionn’s chair (as discovered by Grandma on Ebay and mentioned above).  I actually had no idea that it WAS a booster seat, and an adjustable one at that.  Compare these simple, beautiful designs to today’s existing contraptions, and it’s like comparing an Eames lounger to a Bob’s Furniture recliner.

And, lastly, the Cosco chair I hesitate to feature, because I kind of want it for my own.

cosco rocker, eames forever, ebay

Same as the booster, but a rocking chair, here on Ebay.  HOW COOL IS THIS.   So if you visit the link, and find it sold,  here’s the tip I’ll share with you:  Antiques > Periods & Styles > Mid-Century Modernism.  Always worth a browse.

mattel modern mid-century doll furniture

9 Jun

Mattel Modern boxes, courtesy Rosies Too and You

I have a son.  And unlike the famous Jenna (J.Crew) whose son famously had his photo snapped while receiving a bright pink pedicure, Fionn is just as well-defined by his dislike of pink and the prospect of having his toes touched at all.  This is a short (and probably non-PC) way of saying that there’s probably very little chance of him – anytime soon – enjoying this amazing dollhouse furniture I just discovered by the Mattel company, manufactured in 1958 and sometimes available on Etsy and Ebay.

Vintage breakfront, courtesy The Toy Box

This amazing toy furniture was developed in 1958, a year before the launch of Barbie. But I’m sure Barbie would have loved it.  You can see from the top image that this was a limited collection (and a premium one at that, being called “Mattel Modern” from the get-go).  The Scandinavian influence is apparent, and it pleases me to no end to learn that a mainstream toy company would have created what us KidRobot fans nowadays call ‘limited edition exclusives’ which may not have appealed to all doll-house-furnishing consumers at the time.

Mid-century dresser, courtesy The Toy Box

Chairs and table, courtesy The Toy Box

As with most niche mid-century modern furniture fashions, Mattel Modern has inspired a Flickr collection.  You must visit these images, if just to see the intense care paid to maintain and reupholster(!) some of these pieces.

Sofa box, courtesy Rosies Too and You

Even the packaging is fantastic.
As of today, I found pieces (as represented by the photos above) at the Rosie Too and You shop on Ebay and the Toy Box (in Texas) on Etsy.  Pieces range from $15 to over $100, but compared to those silly Vitra collector’s chairs, it’s quite a deal.  Keep an eye on them – at time of posting many of the pieces were already sold, but they seem to be popping up quite often.

Any additonal detail to add on the origin of these designs?  Anyone out there who’s furnished a mid-century dollhouse?  Please write!

warhol’s harper’s bazaar years

7 Jun

Harpers spread, May 1958

Andy Warhol, as you may know, got his big break at Harper’s Bazaar Magazine.

A few months ago, I went to a meeting hosted in the Hearst Tower in Manhattan (the new home to magazines like Bazaar and its friends).   And while tripping over my feet staring at the art on the walls outside our conference room (“a Chuck Close is just hanging there…!”) I happened upon an exhibition catalog written on behalf of, and recognizing, Andy’s time at the magazine.   Sadly, I missed the actual show and the accompanying party, but it sounded like fun.

Shoes, Harpers, March 1956

Makeup, Harpers, July 1956

Between 1951 and 1964, Warhol created tons of illustrations and art-directed a handful of spreads for the fashion magazine.   And back then, people didn’t keep original artwork – so the only evidence of this work that exists comes from the pages of vintage magazines themselves.  I’ve taken the liberty of scanning some spreads (above) from the catalog to share the amazing visual style he displayed early on in his career.   As Charlie Shieps, author of the catalog, described, “His drawing had an idiosyncratic style and visual impact in print that appealed to art directors both for their whimsy and linear elan.”  So, in other words, he got work because it appealed to his bosses. An entrepreneur in action.

And just as it’s always fascinating to read earlier novels from a writer you’ve just discovered, or listen to back catalog discs from a new band, it’s equally rich to see how Warhol’s work for the magazine was the initial proving ground for his photo-booth portraits, his experimentation with technique (rubber-stamped reproductions as the precursor to silkscreening), and his liberal ‘borrowing’ of source materials.

But what I found most interesting about the whole thing was how strongly I found myself attracted to this work, despite not having much of an emotional ‘feeling’ for Warhol in general.  (Art history majors would probably tell me that’s the point…)  I’ve written about him once before, but never found a reason to mention his own work as a beautiful and decorative option for a bedroom or living room.   So I stand corrected.

The posters are available at, here on Amazon,  or at  They’re from the same time period as his magazine work – roughly 1956-1958.   You can find cats, shoes, (DVF-logo) lips, among other things.  They’re a great way to introduce one of our great artists to your kids without having to travel the well-worn Marilyn/soup can route (they’ll find it  on their own soon enough).   Skipping back a few years from an artist’s famous period is always fascinating… if you’re ever seeking inspiration, it can help you make some interesting discoveries.

Lastly, here’s a great article by Tama Janowitz on why people miss Andy Warhol.

ole wanscher and danish modern rocking chairs

22 Feb

Lovely reader “Nashville Momma” has just reached out to me, asking about the Danish Modern rocking chair (above) featured on myModern Vintage Eclectic inspiration board a few months back.

Unfortunately, being a vintage piece of furniture, the rocker has already been sold from Modernicus, a furniture shop in Alexandria, Virginia.  It seems like their inventory is constantly being refreshed, and they have lots of other gorgeous pieces, so you may want to bookmark their site, just in case.

But the good news is that there’s lots of Wanscher pieces out there, some reupholstered, some a little different in style, but all beautiful and very collectible.

So who’s this guy?

Here’s the short version, for your next cocktail party (yes, that was a little joke I made to myself).

Ole Wanscher.  Danish.  Mid-century.  All about well-designed and mass-produced pieces (the original ‘design for all’ philosophy – one of my favorite things about this period).  A contemporary of Finn Juhl, another famous MCM Danish guy.  Both were known for developing the ‘unsupported arm’ style of chair frames – see how the wood extends beyond the cushion?  (It’s one of the fun details that makes this design quirky and joyful).  He designed these rockers for a company called France & Son.  Not the most adventurous of the designers of this period, so not as famous as some of the rest.  Shame.

(Read more at the Danish Furniture Decor website).

Gorgeous yellow upholstery, once sold at Modern Montage (Alexandria, VA).

This is the shorter version, which is much easier to find.  The above is sold out, but here are a few others, which are still available…

Love this.  Leather from Tom Gibbs Studio on 1st Dibs.  $1500.

A tall one! But the listing’s old.  Don’t know if it’s still available – at $695, it’s got to have been snatched up by now.  Regardless, it’s worth checking out Ottawa Finds, described as “Canada’s best source for Danish Modern Furniture and accents.”

This one’s from Ebay, being sold by Atomic Lipstick for $900.

So what have I learned?  This guy Wanscher deserves our respect.  And if you want a gorgeous piece of design in your nursery or living room, do a web search every few days and you may find one.

The short ones are more available (and widely copied) than the tall ones (above via Scandinavian Mod – sold, of course).   But if you can find the frame and hate the fabric, BUY IT and get it reupholstered!

Or you can expand your horizons and open your search to other Danish designers.  I think I also love this Georg Jensen.  (If you live in SF, this one is a (relative) steal for $950, available NOW on Craigslist.)