Mid-Century Marvellous

Inside out: The dining room opens out to a courtyard used for alfresco meals. Vintage Eames dining chairs and a George Nelson 'Bubble' lamp complement a table Brunson made from secondhand legs and a new plank of wood

Inside out: The dining room opens out to a courtyard used for alfresco meals. Vintage Eames dining chairs and a George Nelson 'Bubble' lamp complement a table Brunson made from secondhand legs and a new plank of wood

Sean Brunson's cool Orlando home skilfully mixes mid-century furniture with 21st-century know-how. DesignFizz snoops around to get the skinny...

BY DOMINIC LUTYENS

An extraordinary formative experience fired Sean Brunson’s fervent love of mid-century modern architecture and design. When he was a child, family friends owned a house designed by Paul Rudolph, the best-known figure of the Sarasota School of Architecture, a Florida-based offshoot of the mid-century architecture movement. Also called Sarasota Modern (think buildings with broad overhangs to shield them from strong sunlight and floating staircases with cantilevered treads), it coincided with the wave of mainly Californian Case Study Houses, constructed from 1945 to 1966.

‘I had the privilege of holidaying in Rudolph’s house which had a major influence on my life,’ recalls Brunson, an advertising agency director in Orlando, Florida. What’s more, in his teens in the 1980s, long before today’s vogue for mid-century design, Brunson began collecting it. ‘It was far cheaper then — you could pick up an Eames chair for $20 from a thrift store!’

Brunson’s mid-century-steeped childhood even inspired him to commission another Sarasota Modern architect, Gene Leedy, to design the concept for his four-bed, single-storey new-build home in Orlando. ‘I wanted it to be true to the mid-century spirit with the biggest space being the living room — incorporating the kitchen and dining room — and smaller bedrooms,’ he says. ‘I wanted that feeling of inside/outside living, too.’ Indeed, light permeates the house through a glass wall running along the back of it, while the bedrooms have glass doors opening on to the garden.

Fifty shades of grey: The bare brick feature walls throughout the house bring the mid-century look bang up to date

Fifty shades of grey: The bare brick feature walls throughout the house bring the mid-century look bang up to date

American diner: The kitchen at the end of the living room features sleek walnut cabinets and a multicoloured George Nelson 'Sunburst' clock

American diner: The kitchen at the end of the living room features sleek walnut cabinets and a multicoloured George Nelson 'Sunburst' clock

Modern mash-up: A 1960s sofa and chairs by Florence Knoll sit comfortably with custom-built cabinets that echo the mid-century style

Modern mash-up: A 1960s sofa and chairs by Florence Knoll sit comfortably with custom-built cabinets that echo the mid-century style

E is for Eames... A plywood splint designed by Charles and Ray Eames for the US Navy hangs above a red Eames 'DCW' chair

E is for Eames... A plywood splint designed by Charles and Ray Eames for the US Navy hangs above a red Eames 'DCW' chair

Just as the Sarasota style, echoed by Brunson’s house, beckoned the outdoors in so nature hugely influenced the mid-century aesthetic which, arguably, was pioneered by Finnish architect and designer Alvar Aalto in the 1920s. His curvilinear furniture radically departed from the hard-edged designs of the Bauhaus, ushering in a softer take on modernism. Peaking in the 1950s and 60s, mid-century also embraced colour and pattern, and exploited the latest technologies to create its graceful, ergonomic, playful forms, all of which consumers craved after years of drab, wartime austerity. And, in tune with an increasingly informal postwar climate, mid-century furniture was practical — often lightweight, easy to move about and multifunctional. 

Mellow Yellow: The brutalist brick wall in the guest bedroom is softened with the addition of yellow Eames armchairs and a vibrant abstract painting. A vintage lamp towers above a dinky Eames 'LTR' table and a 'Credenza' cabinet by Florence Knoll

Mellow Yellow: The brutalist brick wall in the guest bedroom is softened with the addition of yellow Eames armchairs and a vibrant abstract painting. A vintage lamp towers above a dinky Eames 'LTR' table and a 'Credenza' cabinet by Florence Knoll

This very informality is one reason why it’s so popular and feels so contemporary today. In Brunson’s home, such mid-century gems as vermilion and apple green chairs by husband-and-wife team Charles and Ray Eames, a Florence Knoll sideboard, George Nelson’s 'Bubble' lamps and Harry Bertoia’s wire-mesh chairs all happily coexist alongside such personal touches as his family photos. ‘The work of Knoll and Nelson in particular touches my heart,’ says Brunson. ‘The Eameses, too, were an amazing team. Their talents blow me away.’ Spoken by such a long-standing aficionado of the style, these sentiments can’t fail to ring true.
Living with Mid-Century Collectibles by Dominic Lutyens (Ryland Peters & Small, £25) rylandpeters.com  dominiclutyens.co.uk
 

Pictures by Andrew Wood