How vintage and contemporary modern furnishings come together for an inspirational mix of warmth and style

This is a part of an article that was published in the Eichler Network eZine. See reference to the source at the end. It is re-posted on the blog section of Go2 Design Studio.

Go2 Design Studio - Timeless Blend


Go2 Design Studio - Timeless Blend

Two scenes above seamlessly bring together vintage and contemporary modern furnishings. The top living room, from interior designer Jay Jeffers, features four vintage pieces blended with several unusual contemporary creations (end table, lamp, sculptures, hoop accessory) from the Coup D’Etat gallery in San Francisco.

Go2 Design Studio - Timeless Blend


Go2 Design Studio - Timeless Blend

Fickett home interior, from Southern California staging company Modern Mecca, adds several contemporary items to the mix, including a sofa and chaise from Room & Board, and Kennedy chairs from Thrive Furniture.

Go2 Design Studio - Timeless Blend

A new Nova Tri-Pod Floor Lamp adds Asian flair to this Eichler setting.

Go2 Design Studio - Timeless Blend

Sizing up old and new: Coconut and Diamond chairs (top row – vintage), Impossible and Paper Planes armchairs from Moroso (bottom row – contemporary).

Go2 Design Studio - Timeless BlendThe Lacey-Ronneback living and dining areas blend vintage and new. Here, a contemporary sofa, from Design Within Reach’s Bantam collection, is paired with a vintage Lane surfboard coffee table.

Go2 Design Studio - Timeless Blend

Sacramento Eichler owners Andy Lacey and Karen Ronneback.

Go2 Design Studio - Timeless Blend

Lacey’s Dixie night stand with a contemporary modern bed.

Go2 Design Studio - Timeless BlendWith vintage and contemporary furnishings, Redux Stage Co. enhances this living room of an Eichler listing for East Bay Modern Real Estate.

Go2 Design Studio - Timeless BlendEven the Eichler baby room can get the treatment: a miniature repro of the Eames plastic rocker (from Modway) meets a contemporary bed and nightstand (Aerial Circle by Nurseryworks).

Go2 Design Studio - Timeless BlendSizing up old and new: Nelson Marshmallow Love Seat repro (top – vintage) and the Aspen sofa from Cassina (bottom – contemporary).

Photography: Joe Fletcher Photography, Sabrina Huang Photography, Claudia Desbiens, Camila Baum, Ken Fox of East Bay Modern Real Estate, Andy Lacey & Karen Ronneback, Jay Jeffers, Julian Goldklang, Tyler Mussetter, Nova Lighting

Story Resources

Mid Century Mobler’s Julian Goldklang, Lucile Glessner of Lucile Glessner Design, Modern Mecca, Redux Stage Co., Vince Bravo and Severine Secret of Go2 Design.

Where to Shop

Do you want your home to look considered instead of chaotic? We’ve rounded up many of the best contemporary and vintage modern furniture stores in the Bay Area and online to help you get the mix just right.

Aldea Home
Contemporary: S.F. & online stores

Another Time
Vintage: S.F. store

Blu Dot
Contemporary: S.F. & online stores

Contemporary: S.F., San Jose & online stores

Contemporary: S.F., Berkeley & online stores

Coup D’Etat
Contemporary: S.F. store

Design Within Reach
Contemporary & repros: S.F., Berkeley, Palo Alto & online stores

Contemporary: S.F. & online stores

Funky Furniture
Contemporary & custom: S.F. & online stores

Contemporary: online store

Vintage: S.F. & online stores

Mid Century Mobler
Vintage: Berkeley & online stores

Mscape Modern Interiors
Contemporary: S.F. store

Oh La La!
Contemporary Italian: Los Gatos store

Past Perfect
Vintage: S.F. store

Revelution Furniture
Contemporary & custom: Foster City location

Room & Board
Contemporary: S.F. & online stores

Scandinavian Designs
Contemporary: ten NorCal stores

Vintage: S.F. store

Vince Bravo
Vintage: S.F. store

West Elm
Contemporary: four NorCal & online stores

Zinc Details
Contemporary: S.F. store

When it comes to furnishing your mid-century modern home, all bets are off. There are no rules that say all the furniture in your home needs to come from the 1950s and ’60s.

In fact, embracing contrasting periods, and blending period with contemporary furnishings can give your home a level of beauty and interest that having everything from one period cannot.

New and old go together really well,” says Julian Goldklang, owner of Mid Century Mobler, a vintage furniture shop and online retailer based in Berkeley. “When everything in a space is vintage, it can start to look dated—unless you are going for that 1950s catalog look, which is 100-percent period. When you mix new [contemporary] productions with vintage, you are bringing warmth into a space.”

Some of the most inspiring residential spaces combine an old (vintage) and new (contemporary) aesthetic that give a sense of being assembled over time.

“Unless you are doing a home restoration and would like to keep a total connection to that mid-century modern era, it can be more interesting and original to blend contemporary, exotic, and MCM furnishings,” says interior designer Lucile Glessner of Lucile Glessner Design. ” Color and texture were important design elements in the late ’50s and can be reproduced in many different ways.”

Glessner says a home should represent its occupants, their needs, interests, and experiences. The furnishings should be sized for the space, sparse, and stylishly on point, as well as functional.

“Having a few MCM vintage or reproduction pieces is a good idea as their simple lines fit well in a mid-century home,” she says, “but some contemporary clean and sophisticated lines from Europe or Asia can also be perfect and add some originality and color.”

There are no hard-and-fast rules for how much vintage, whether represented by original or reproduction pieces, or how much contemporary furniture should be used.

“There are purists who only collect vintage furniture, others who like new, fresh design, and most who combine both vintage and new,” says interior designer Severine Secret of Go2 Design Studio based on Saratoga. “There is no formula. It has to work for the person who is going to live with it, not the designer to dictate.”

A large piece, like a sofa, could be contemporary and mixed with a vintage coffee table and lounge chairs. The kitchen cabinetry could be contemporary from Italy and the bar stools, chairs, and lighting fixtures vintage MCM. “I would look for some interesting and beautiful vintage furniture items to complete the look,” Glessner says.

What ties disparate pieces together is a unifying element, such as color. One strategy is to mix old and contemporary accessories with the same hue, perhaps varying monochromatic shades. Create contrast with complementary colors, such as a bright sofa; and offset sleek, smooth surfaces with rough textures while balancing straight lines with sweeping curves.

Wood tones play a major role in getting the mix right. MCM furnishings have beautiful wood finishes, but many people are afraid of mixing finishes in a single room. Varying two to three wood tones can create a layered effect, and the contrast helps to create a harmonious look. If an MCM coffee table gets lost against oak-toned floors, one solution is to create a canvas for the table by placing it on top of a contemporary rug.

British-born Andy Lacey and Karen Ronneback live in a mid-1950s Sacramento Eichler, which they purchased in 2013, and they documented their home’s renovation on their blog Having preserved or restored most of the home’s original Eichler features, the couple wanted these to shine through.

“We kept our color palette minimal, with white ceilings, walls, and floor; gray siding and beams; and warm wood paneling and furniture,” Andy says. “We punctuated this with occasional bright color accents. We also kept clutter to a minimum. This allowed the architecture to breathe.”

They sourced a mixture of vintage and contemporary furnishings over the last four years, but even the contemporary pieces were chosen to fit the same mid-century aesthetic, and naturally blend with the home.

“We prefer vintage furniture, wherever possible,” Lacey says. “Much like an Eichler, these pieces will never be 100 percent perfect—nor should they be. Vintage pieces tell a story, and have more charm than anything off the shelf. We also enjoy the quest for finding the right pieces, and have snagged many bargains via Craigslist and garage and estate sales.”

For example, Lacey bought a vintage Plycraft chair for just $35 and then paid approximately $200 to reupholster it. “This made way more sense to us than spending thousands on a new Eames lounge chair [reproduction],” he says.

“That said, new is sometimes more practical. When we needed a sofa for our living room, we saw many vintage sofas we liked, but they all needed reupholstering. The hassle and cost didn’t seem worthwhile, so we bought new, choosing the period-appropriate Bantam Sofa, [a contemporary design] from Design Within Reach.”

Most of the couple’s favorite pieces are both vintage and new. Among them are four early-’50s Eames shell chairs, a Lane surfboard coffee table, Modernica case-study planters, and a collection of George Nelson Bubble Lamps.

“We also love our ’60s Dixie bedroom set that came from an Eichler in Concord,” Lacey says. “We use the dresser as a credenza in our living room, and the night stands in our master bedroom.”

Lacey says guests to their home often remark about their leather Forum sofa, along with a pair of 675 series chairs, which reside at the ends of the dining table. “These were designed by Robin Day, regarded as the British equivalent to Charles Eames,” Lacey explains. “You don’t see many of his pieces here. We brought these all the way from England, when we relocated to the United States.”

So how does a homeowner know when the furniture mix is right? It all depends on the house, the homeowner, and the look you are after.

“It depends if you are starting from scratch when furnishing your home,” Glessner says. “Some people are MCM collectors and might have all the vintage pieces they need for a house, but that is rare. Most people already have some furniture, and will be using it and adding other pieces over time.”

Finding the right mix depends on a balance between functionality and style . Most people care about the comfort of a sofa or a chair; for instance, a vintage sofa might not be comfortable enough for a family to use for watching television or for entertaining. Also, since a MCM dining table might not be large enough by today’s standards, one might turn to a larger reproduction or a contemporary option.

These days contemporary style needn’t be a dramatic departure from vintage mid-century modern. In fact, says Claudia Desbiens of Modern Mecca, a Los Angeles home staging studio, “many elements of mid-century modern design are very popular right now and are being incorporated into contemporary designs.”

Style is very personal, but many people are educating themselves on options online via Houzz and Pinterest , and by shopping on Etsy and other online websites .

Soliciting help from an interior designer can help to incorporate contemporary and vintage pieces for a finished look. They evaluate the space and use space-planning tools to furnish it according to their clients’ desires and budget. Consideration is given to personal style, color preferences, and what furnishings a homeowner already has in their collection.

Proposing vintage and contemporary furniture and accessories will stem from there. “An interior designer will help you think of every aspect of your space and home in a holistic and sustainable way,” Glessner says.

Where to start? There are a few avenues you can take when you’re embarking on the search for vintage pieces to incorporate into your collection. “However, I would not suggest going out on the hunt for something vintage just because you want something vintage,” says Vince Bravo, a Bay Area dealer of furnishings from the mid-century.

Then when is an ideal time to introduce vintage?

“Most people can identify an item or two in their home that they know is stylistically off-putting,” Bravo added. For example, if you’re always thinking that you never liked a certain clock or a chair that you purchased from a box store, Bravo recommends upgrading those pieces to something vintage. This way you’re still fulfilling a need you have in your home but upgrading the level of style.

For homeowners who are collectors and want to recreate the mid-century vibe in their homes, studying interior photography from the period is a great place to start. Many design magazines have been digitized and can be found online for free; and Pinterest, Instagram, design museum archives, and countless blogs have hundreds, if not thousands, of images at the click of a button.

“I am always interested in assisting people in finding the perfect piece for their home,” Bravo says. “Sometimes that piece is in stock, and sometimes I have to be on the lookout for specific pieces for clients.”

Collectors who enjoy the 1950s Googie style tend to never have enough atomic lamps, starburst clocks, airbrushed art, kitschy salt and pepper shakers, dog nodders, hula girls, and Tiki mugs. Those collectibles lend themselves to be amassed in large qualities and displayed in layers on bookshelves.

To each their own, Bravo says, but “in my home, I try to keep my environment free of clutter. That means that some things might be on a rotation throughout the year. While I would love to fill my living room with chairs, a room does have its limit. Our walls of windows have a distinct chair rail line. It would not be stylistically appropriate for the furniture in the room to be taller than that.”

Goldklang, who lives in a 1967 Leon Meyer-designed round house, imports Danish modern and authentic mid-century furniture on quarterly buying trips to Denmark, Sweden, Norway, Germany, England, and Scotland: “Personally, I love homes that are 100 percent vintage, where the owners restored the home; and all the electronics, appliances, and cosmetic touches are vintage. Very few people are doing the complete vintage look and living the ’50s lifestyle. I happen to have an insane passion for it to be that into it.”

Goldklang fell in love with MCM furnishings because of what the era stood for: “It was about the essential Golden Age of America. When the country was prosperous and fast-forward looking, and there was so much optimism.”

When helping clients find a vintage piece, his first question is what size are they looking for. The second question is budget. “If our clients are torn between pieces, and their budget allows it, I will point them in the direction of better quality,” he says. “Pieces that are a little more expensive are usually built by a well-known cabinetmaker and have less pressed wood in them for better structural integrity. So it’s a better piece of furniture.”

One of the great benefits of investing and owning mid-century furniture is that it usually retains its value. “While value is dictated by stylistic demand, mid-century furniture remains a hot commodity on the secondary market,” Bravo says. “This means that when you get tired of your vintage furniture, if you purchased wisely, it is still worth what you paid for it. That is definitely not true for much of the furniture and accessories purchased from chain stores.”

“We try to hit that middle range, for people who are looking for a well-built piece, and they don’t mind whether or not a name is attached to it,” Goldklang says.

“Every time we go over to Europe, which is ever four to six months, we are seeing less and less good stuff. Five years ago there was a wealth of things from the ’50s and ’60s from high to mid-range. Now, we are seeing more ’70s and ’80s pieces, and the mid-century is getting very hard to find.”

For this reason, and also because of continued demand, quality vintage continues to climb in value.

As in life, there are no shortcuts to creating a perfect balance in any living space. It is time-consuming to create a home that is functional, uncluttered, and beautiful. The devil is in the details.

“There are no shortcuts in design—only love and passion for good-looking pieces that need to work together,” Secret says. “If you think something looks good, or will, it will most likely work. Trust your gut.”