by Pat Stelzer
Kiss August goodbye! Summer and all that goes with it technically doesn’t end until September 21st. In reality, summer ends for most families when school doors open in late August. A few cookouts over the weekends, especially over the Labor Day weekend, some nice days at parks, and just maybe some early ‘fall’ festivals will bring the lazy days of summer to a close. For many, the approach of fall signals a time to do some revamping, both on the inside and outside of the house. This year, some changes in decorating trends seem to be making their way into magazines and stores. Among the trends is a return to mission style furnishings and a growing interest in the retro or funky fifties styles with strong hints of art deco and art nouveau design influencing today’s modern versions of these styles.
Styles in home décor often seem to reflect the need of society to revive a period when times were simpler and life was less complicated. This looking backward to the past usually is strongest when people are confronted with times of upheaval and uncertainty. Revised styles from the past, now enjoying wide acceptance, all have some common likenesses. These styles stress function over frills and offer true touches of whimsy reminiscent of the eras when they were most popular and life seemed simpler.
While some styles such as Colonial, Early American and rustic, tend to be constants on the decorating scene, the home fashion industry is no different than the clothing industry with two exceptions. Most home furnishing/decorating styles tend to last longer than a year, and they aren’t paraded down a runway on the backs of scantily clad, skinny models. They are shown at designer trade marts, and an attractive young woman might act as the company’s spokesperson. But the similarities end when the intent of the manufacturers is compared. Home furnishings are intended to last much longer than clothing and so the changes are not as drastic in many instances and can often be incorporated into existing styles.
Mission style is enjoying a rather lasting revival probably because it will blend nicely into many other decorating schemes. Mission furniture is rather plain with clean lines. It fits well with colonial and rustic décor. It can be the dominant element or interspersed with more modern styles. Mission design in architecture and furniture had its beginnings with the Spanish missions built in Texas and California by early Spaniards using available resources and native labor. In the 1920s, the mission style was revived and extolled by influential architects and designers like Frank Lloyd Wright, Henry Richardson, Gustave Stickley, and Charles Eastlake. Clean simple design in houses called for the same in furnishings. The use of this style may also have been a backlash to the overdone and often gaudy late Victorian era décor, which lost favor as the world tried to recover from the horror of World War I. One of the most important aspects of mission furniture design in the 1920s was the use of good wood, particularly oak, oiled and hand rubbed to bring out its beauty, rather than the use of inferior wood such as soft pine stained and varnished to imitate the more durable woods.
Mission styling is back once more and can be seen in everything from chairs and bookcases to bedroom furniture and entertainment centers. This time around, it can also be found in painted furniture as well as natural finishes. Particularly popular are white, dark brown and black, making the pieces more versatile when used with other styles. Painting also allows for the use of less than perfect woods, creating less demand for the more expensive and scarce hardwoods. Painted mission pieces fit well when mixed with the new retro/funky furniture, much of which incorporates chrome and glass. 1920s mission pieces can often be found in antique stores, at auctions, and even in garage sales. If they are true 1920s pieces, they are worth saving as these pieces are made of wood that can take punishment and be restored with some care to the methods used. If a mission style chair was upholstered, it was generally done in leather. Today fabric can be used unless the intent is to restore its antique value, something difficult to do, so go with what fits a particular need in the overall décor of the room where the piece is to be used. Mission is a good mix with any style and will probably hang around for a long time to come.
The same can’t be definitely predicted for the “modern” styles making a comeback. These styles from the post-war eras are fun and funky, delightfully whimsical and bring back memories of soda fountains, diners and jukeboxes with flashing lights. The styles are, however, highly functional and more durable than many other furniture styles. Chrome, glass, leather and synthetic materials tend to last for a long time, and the improvements in manufacturing make these pieces less vulnerable to some of the problems facing their ancestors in years past. Rust inhibitors protect metal work, and synthetics can withstand years of abuse at the hands of children. Glass has undergone improvements making it less of a hazard when used to top end tables and dining tables. A family room done in retro would be great, especially if it incorporated a bar with chrome and vinyl stools reminiscent of the old soda fountains found in almost every Woolworth’s or Kresge’s Five and Dime Store. As an aside, the Kresge stores evolved into what are today the Kmart stores. History not withstanding, the furniture that has come about by a blending of art deco and fifties styles is highly functional and offers a light and nostalgic touch to any room.
These new “revivals” work just as well in outdoor settings. Adirondack chairs, also from the 1920s and the resort areas in New York, made a popular comeback a few years ago and are now available in synthetic materials as well as wood. Painted mission style chairs work well on porches, as do small mission tables. Even the ever-popular wicker from the 1920s is now available in very durable synthetic materials that will last a great deal longer than the original when exposed to the elements of nature. Just be sure to carry out the theme in accent pieces. Even on a porch, those touches are the glue that holds it all together.
Today it is possible to use a different motif or décor to vary the home’s look by having at least one or two rooms that take on a flight of fancy and bring back memories and touches of times past, especially fun when it reflects a time in the resident’s past. From a decorating standpoint, however, it becomes important that the ‘fancy’ is carried out in all aspects of the room’s décor including lamps, wall hangings and other decorative pieces. Old ‘78’size records mounted on the walls, metal signs depicting products and prices from the period, and replicas of food tins from that period add interest to coffee tables and end tables helps create a complete ambiance of the time when life was simpler, or so it seemed. For those born after World War I and before the Korean Conflict, memories may well come flooding to the fore when they spend time in a room or on a porch done in one of the ‘new’ styles.