It was for the love of mid-century modern architecture, style, and design that cityhomeCOLLECTIVE was founded, along with a commitment to uplift and advocate for the unique, diverse, and eclectic individuals of our community. For us, those things easily go hand in hand. Our approach, when it comes to creating a mid-century aesthetic, isn’t necessarily about replicating an earlier era, but instead hinges on capturing the mood and rebellious nature of the movement. We love it when spaces are created with respect to an architectural style, but what really excites us is when they authentically and eclectically reflect the people who inhabit them.
cityhomeCOLLECTIVE founder + designer Cody Derrick and residential realtor + art curator Kelly Carper sat down to talk about what it means to design or curate a home in the mid-century aesthetic. The conversation is in preparation for the pair’s upcoming project with the Springville Museum of Art, where they’re curating a mid-century modern home environment with sourced furniture and artwork from the Museum’s collection as part of the exhibition, Mixed Reviews: Utah Art at Mid-Century, opening August 24th. More about that, soon!
Cody - Is there a time when you became fond of mid-century art as an aesthetic – or are you fond of mid-century art?
Kelly - I love a lot of different styles of art, but most of my favorite artists from history came from that time period (1950s-60s-70s) and the modernists are who I loved studying the most in college. The abstract expressionists from New York – Mark Rothko is a favorite, but I particularly love the women artists from that movement like Joan Mitchell and Helen Frankenthaler. After I moved west I became really excited about the Bay Area Figurative painters in California like Diebenkorn and Thiebaud – and also the movement happening in the Southwest with the Taos Moderns; I love the simplicity of Agnes Martin’s work especially. Georgia O’Keeffe is obviously a big one for me from my time in New Mexico. Her house in Abiquiu is the epitome of mid-century style and she totally embodies the mood of that movement.
So I guess the styles of all these artists look a little different, but they all based their work on feeling and emotion rather than academic structures. The rebellious sentiment and breaking away from previously established “rules” around painting and art is what they have in common. And that’s really the root of the mid-century aesthetic, I think.
Cody - As a curator, do you think that filling a mid-century house with art is a different ask than filling a house that is either turn of the century or more current?
Kelly - Yes and no. I think more about energy and mood when placing art than trying to make it look period-correct to the style of the home, especially since I work with living artists rather than sourcing vintage pieces (which is cool, too! I just like the idea of supporting working artists.) So I guess I would consider artists whose work has a similar aesthetic, noting the lines of the architecture and composition of the house to make sure it's all cohesive, but putting more emphasis on the mood and energy of the artist’s work and how that compliments the feeling in the home. In a residential setting it’s all about feeling for me – considering how the homeowners live in the space and what they’re doing or feeling in certain areas of the home. Do they want excitement and a statement piece, or do they want to feel calm and relaxed with something quiet and minimal? Do they want something that has a specific narrative or do they want it to be more interpretative so it starts conversations? These are the things I think about. So when it comes to mid-century I’d probably look at current artists who embody the same mood as the time period, architecture and design, because that’s what’s present in the house and probably what the homeowner loves about it too. When you base it off mood and feeling, a cohesive aesthetic naturally follows.
Your Cottonwood Lane listing comes to mind as an example - Paul Reynold’s work was hanging in that home, which was designed by Stephan McDonald and is a classic example of mid-century modern architecture. Paul’s paintings are obviously not from that time period, but they felt right in that house because of their organic nature and feel - the same reason we brought one of his paintings into the cityhome office.
Kelly - What about when it comes to designing a space – what do you consider when furnishing or staging a mid-century modern home?
Cody - It’s interesting that you bring up mood, because what I think is interesting about designing and curating mid-century modern houses is that there is this mood of mid-century that is so organic. That’s why Paul’s art worked so well in the Cottonwood Lane home. Because he was actually raised in that house, it was his family’s home. So his art doesn’t have to be done in the 50s or 60s to be complementary to the feel of a mid-century modern house - he embodies the essence of that space. I think people can get pigeon-holed when it comes to designing and curating in that they think a contemporary house means contemporary art and furniture, or a traditional house means traditional art and furniture, but I think the most interesting homes stem from a clear mood. When I see a mid-century remodel that’s giving you Palm Springs on a platter I think, where’s all the original soul? Where’s the woodwork and the sculpture and the art?
So for me, when it comes to designing a mid-century modern house, the most important thing is to honor the mood regardless of the era or style. The mood of mid-century in my opinion is rebellious, sexy, organic, welcoming, and intimate. I bring in pieces that are in harmony with the space, but that still feel current and interesting and fresh, because I don’t ever want to design something that’s a single note. And that comes back to the idea that if the design is done well, it sets the mood for a lot of very different types of people to feel at home. So if I fill a room that is very diverse – different artists, eras, makers and materials, they all still make sense because they’re held by the same structure. They’re held by that vision of mid-century architecture and style, which was very inclusive and inviting.
Kelly - What about when it comes to architectural preservation? How do you make it feel fresh and current while still maintaining the integrity of the style?
Cody - When I was on the board for Salt Lake Modern, we attended a conference in Los Angeles about modern conservancy. I listened to a preservationist speak there and he basically said that the best way to preserve a property is to do whatever we can to make it habitable enough to prevent somebody from tearing it down. So that doesn’t necessarily mean keeping it pristine and perfect based on traditional standards, because if we actually want it to move from generation to generation and for people to keep it, it has to be livable to current standards. So you may have to change the kitchen or update the tile to meet today’s needs, because ultimately what you don’t want to happen is for the structure to be demolished. So really it’s about honoring the integrity with landscaping, furnishings and artwork in ways that still feels true to what it was, while allowing it to be new enough that it won’t be destroyed and replaced with a new build.
Think about this space (the cityhomeCOLLECTIVE office); this is a mid-century modern building but from my perspective, there was no real commitment to furnish it with mid-century modern pieces, however there was a commitment to honoring its mid-century integrity. For example – I designed these tables in a way that highlights the natural wood in the space that’s been here since the 50s, because I wasn’t willing to get rid of the original wood. And over here are pieces that are probably 1910-1920, so not mid-century, and were originally from a museum in Europe used as display cases. They’re from a totally different era but still flow with the space. And then we brought in some glam by placing the disco balls inside them, and then of course added pops of color in the furnishings with this orange velvet mid-century couch. And the lighting is Jonathan Adler, a current designer with a mid-century aesthetic. It’s a bunch of things mixed in but that together create an interesting environment while honoring the mood of the entire space.
Kelly - So for folks who already know that we at cityhome have our finger on the pulse when it comes to mid-century real estate and design, what else do you want to communicate to them about our perspective and what we do?
Cody - That our love for mid-century architecture, style, and design comes from an authentic passion and sense of place, and isn’t just following the trend. Because our place is here – we don’t need Palm Springs pools and pink and yellow sundresses – because we have pine trees and mountains, stone and wood, and cabin life with a mid-century aesthetic that feels a lot more authentic. I would want people to know that if they’re asking us to design or curate their space that they’re not going to get Palm Springs on a platter, they’re going to get themselves expressed within a home.