Monthly Archives: May 2011

Mood Board: Retro-Mod Living Room

This room was designed for an ER doctor who wanted a great space in his condo to relax in when he has free time and an easy place to entertain when it can fit into his schedule. Spending his working days under bright lights had inspired him to seek out saturated color but he was afraid of making this room too dark.  He also really liked mid-century modern design but didn’t know how to put it into a practical living room…

Deciding on a color palette was our first order of business for this room. Blue was chosen as the dominant because it is the client’s favorite color and offers a lots of flexibility when working with mid-century modern style. This light blue wall color immediately gave the client that “ahhhhh-I’m-home” feeling when he stepped into the room.

Lighting was very important for this room, especially knowing that the client worked under bright fluorescent lights in a hospital almost every day. This living room needed to be lit well, but with a soft feel. The old ceiling fixture in the middle of the room was replaced with a modern drum shade with sleek stripes and placed on a dimmer. A floor lamp next to the sofa offers some interesting up-lighting and it’s finish ties into the ceiling fixture without matching too closely. The drum shaded table lamps were chosen because they offer a classic ’50’s pattern in our palette on a modern lamp.

This condo was on the 23rd floor of the building, overlooking the harbor.  This meant any window treatment chosen did not have to worry about privacy needs, but also should not block the view.  Ceiling-to-floor sheers in a smokey blue were chosen to soften the window openings, keep the view open and give the client an option for glare-free tv viewing during the brightest hours of the day.

The tailored sofa offers a great place to stretch out and watch a movie or seating for multiple guests when entertaining a large group. The grey fabric of the sofa contrasts nicely with the many shades of blue in the room. Throw pillows in colors pulled from other places in the room add some pops of color to the seating and keep the sharp upholstery lines from feeling too formal. The two eggs chairs offer some recliner luxury, incorporate the blue and the grey found in the room and give some rounded contrast to the strong, rectilinear lines of the sofa. The seating area is defined by large star-burst patterned area rug. The rug’s pattern reminded the client and I of those ubiquitous cosmic wall clocks of the 1960’s.

Having a low, mid-century sofa means you have extra wall space to fill above it. Big prints of classic mid-century art, chosen by the client, in matching black frames give the large wall a nice gallery feel. The clean black frames of the prints also make the large tv already owned by the client feel almost like an extension of his art collection.

Light, warm wood tones were needed in this room to balance all of the cool, sleek finishes. The client, like all of us, also needed some practical storage options. One wall of the living room was lined with three of these beautiful bookcases to house his large book collection. Each bookcase also offers a cantilevered center shelf, which can be used as an extra desk or a place to serve snacks during a party. The credenza is the home of the large tv, across from the sofa, while also hiding all of the accompanying electronics and media storage neatly.

The light wood was repeated in the small coffee table chosen for the seating area. The free-form shape of the table’s surface has a nice organic silhouette and the slim, angled legs of the table echoes the legs of the credenza. The client was not too keen on having “too many little tables to trip over”, but knew he would need something more when entertaining. We found a good table compromise in these brushed steel nesting tables. For everyday living, the client can stack the tables as simple end tables for his lamps. When entertaining, the smaller tables can be pulled out to float wherever the guests may need them.

Halfway through the project, the client sheepishly confessed to owning a lava lamp. He had always loved it as a symbol of modern design, but had never known what to do with it. I absolutely believe you should surround yourself with things you love, so a place was found for the lava lamp immediately. Finding out that the lava lamp fit so perfectly into the design was a real touchstone that the client’s retro tastes had really been honored.

Finally, a few decor touches were added, to keep the room from looking too showroom-perfect. The black candlestick trio can add an instant touch of elegance when entertaining. The wire magazine basket keeps magazines and papers corralled whenever the coffee table is needed for other uses.

Practical furniture choices allow this room to be used every day and still feel easy to entertain in regularly. By mixing rich colors, bold patterns and classic mid-century modern profiles, the room feels both personal and welcoming to the client.

Unique, affordable, comfortable living.

Art’s own rule of 3

We’ve been talking about finding great art for the home recently (you can read earlier posts here and here). Today’s Design Vocabulary post is about using a simple, old form to bring some new, personal art into your home.

The rule of three is the basic writing principle that everything is better in groups of three. This is a tried-and-true pattern. You can see this most easily at work in fairy tales. Three…little pigs, bears with Goldilocks, blind mice, billy goats gruff, etc. You can also probably name successful examples of this principle in film. How many movie trilogies have you paid to see in your life so far?

Art has its own version of this rule of 3. We call it a “triptych”. Pronounced: “TRIP-tik”, it comes from the Greek, meaning “tri-fold”. It basically means an image shown in three panels or sections.

Here’s an example:

"Harbaville Triptych" Image courtesy of Wikipedia

This is the Byzantine “Harbaville Triptych”, which was carved out of ivory in the 10th century. When you consider how heavy yet fragile these panels are, the ability to hinge closed on itself seems rather practical. I’m sure the various clergy who have moved this piece over the centuries have appreciated the easier way to carry it.

Here’s another example of the religious form of the triptych:

"The Elevation of the Cross" by Peter Paul Rubens Image courtesy of Wikipedia

This enormous triptych painting was painted in 1611. It is a great example of how those extra panels give extra story to the overall religious image. We are looking at the cross itself being lifted to its final position (center panel), but we are watching those who are watching this scene of violence (side panels). In this case, the artist allows the viewer (you) to identify with those present at the scene (side panels) and thereby empathize with them. This visual aid could be a valuable tool for a church teaching to a largely non-literate congregation.

Well, that is beautiful and interesting, but how does that fit into modern life?

Triptychs are still around as a medium today. Last month, this modern triptych set an art auction record in China when it sold for $10 million.

"Forever Lasting Love" by Zhang Xiaogang Image courtesy of the Huffington Post

Don’t have $10 million burning a hole in your pocket?  You still have options:

Image courtesy of

Can you see the story-telling in these photography shots? This is Muhammad Ali vs. Sonny Liston in one of two very famous bouts in 1964 & 1965. Based on the story told in these pictures, you can probably guess who won. Your wallet wins, too, if you like this triptych, because it is only $22 on

Sports not your thing?

Try this:

Image courtesy of

This print is also only $22 at While this triptych doesn’t tell a linear story like the others we have seen, it does allow you to have multiple views of the subject. This is very popular way triptychs are used in modern art.

In your home, triptychs can be a great way to fill a large way with beautiful art. Take this, for example:

"Seashore Tranquility" by Dan Werner Image courtesy of

This collection is 39 inches wide, before you space them apart from each other. These lovely canvases would look gorgeous over a fireplace or in a dining room over a sideboard.

You can even make your own triptych, which always adds such personality to any home’s art collection. Think of your favorite family celebration or trip and put together three of the best pictures to tell part of the story of that event. Just to prove my point, I’ll close today with a small photo triptych from our wedding day that I put together for this post:

(Close-up of my train's hem, my dad holding my bouquet, the hymn in our program)

Now its your turn. Can you think of a place to use a triptych in your home? What happy event could you celebrate with a triptych?

%d bloggers like this: