You’ve scoured the high street and browsed the web endlessly. But you still can’t find the mid-century modern piece you’re looking for. Well, not anymore.
What if I tell you that there’s a place where you will find not just one piece, but all the furniture and accessories you could imagine? Probably the biggest combined collection in the UK.
Interested? The place is London, and the name is Modern Shows. The best part is that it’s an event, not just a shop. Read below to discover unique mid-century modern finds.
This show could cause design lovers a cardiac arrest
It’s not me who said it, but no other than Grand Designs! Recently, I visited one of the regular events organised by Modern Shows, the Midcentury East in Hackney, London. Let’s talk about the show, the amazing dealers and why it’s essential for all design lovers.
How it all began
It was in the early 2000s when Petra Curtis and Lucy Ryder Richardson first came up with the idea. A fair to connect the finest independent mid-century modern dealers and shops with design hunters. Soon, it expanded into a variety of regular events throughout London (Midcentury Modern and Midcentury East) and pop-up shops. They also stage interiors for The Modern House.
Midcentury magazine published a fascinating feature about Modern Shows in 2011 (Spring/Summer edition). In the article, Petra and Lucy shared their advice for those looking to decorate their homes or even start a collection. I’ve scattered their useful tips throughout this post for you to digest. Don’t forget to follow them on Twitter and Instagram.
STYLE TIP: See what you feel passionate about. Find something that speaks to you and tells you a story. It may be one particular thing that kickstarts a collection. — Petra Curtis
All the dealers you could dream of
What I like the most about the layout of the show is the flea market atmosphere. This makes the experience more friendly and relaxed. You don’t feel intimidated when browsing. In fact, all the vendors are knowledgeable and eager to answer my silly questions. They can also give you advice and tips to help you find the piece you want. Ask — they don’t bite.
Are you looking for vintage icons? Got them. Maybe knickknacks and accessories? Got them too. There’s a wide range of prices. For the design enthusiast, the die-hard mid-century modern collector and everyone in between. To spice things up, there are some upcycled and contemporary pieces. A mix guaranteed to keep you busy for hours.
Swoon-worthy event venues
The Midcentury East event took place in Haggerston School, Hackney. An example of brutalist architecture with plenty of timber details. It was designed by Ernő Goldfinger. There’s a 007 link here, as it was the architect’s name that inspired the famous Bond villain character. I could picture Shirley Bassey walking along the corridors singing. Even though that makes no sense at all.
STYLE TIP: There should be elements that remind you of who you are. Keep things personal. Don’t hide the children’s toys for instance and occasionally let your kids scribble on the walls. — Lucy Ryder Richardson
One thing that Petra and Lucy have mentioned in interviews is how they choose a venue. They look for huge windows to flood the space with natural light. Nothing better than daylight to bring out the real colours of the pieces. The surrounding area didn’t lack charm either: a blend of council estates and luxury developments. Everyone was carrying a fiddle leaf fig tree, a eucalyptus bouquet or both.
7 Unique mid-century modern finds to make a statement
You can discover true gems in here. But rather than picking my favourites, I tried something different. I asked seven dealers to choose their absolute favourite piece from their shop. The one they would keep for themselves. Some knew which one was the winner. Others took a while to decide: “I love them all!” Let’s look at what unique mid-century modern items you can find at the shows.
1. Spanish pineapples
Moderne Brighton didn’t hesitate to choose this fantastic collection of metal pineapples. We talked about the meaning of the fruit. And why it’s so popular nowadays. Later, I found that it’s an international symbol of hospitality and welcome. My grandmother has a set of metal peacocks in a similar style. I’m waiting for peacocks to make a comeback.
2. Kontur armchair and footstool
This is one piece you won’t stop touching. I had my eyes on it even before The Attik picked it as their favourite. The elegant Kontur armchair and matching stool designed by Alf Svensson for Fritz Hansen. The slender frame is made of stained elm tree. And it’s been reupholstered using Linwood wool for a perfect finish.
3. Laminated pine pendant light
It took SkandiHub a while to decide for this “organic modern” bentwood pendant (top left). Designed by Hans-Agne Jakobsson in the 1960s. The fine sheets of pine diffuse the light and produce a warm glow. It’s said Jakobsson first used laminated wood as an experiment to reduce the glare in his shop — and it became an instant success.
4. Tribal jugs
Lyn and Wayne from Lynways Interiors chose their top ceramics each. Wayne’s choice was this collection of tribal jugs by Michael Andersen & Son. This Danish factory produced utilitarian ceramics in the late 19th Century. Later, they expanded into decorative vases. Like these 1950s black and white jugs with tribal and animal motifs.
5. Ox chair
The Ox armchair by Hans Wegner for Erik Jørgensen is a Scandinavian design icon. This sculptural piece was way ahead of its time in 1960. It was reintroduced in the late 80s with great success. Look at the oversized headrest and stylish steel base. Comfort is one of the many reasons Scandesign Classic chose this chair as their favourite.
6. Olympe table lamps
You must know this feeling. When you walk into a room full of people and there’s someone who stands out from the crowd. That’s what happened in the Béton Brut stall — twice. Meet this pair of semicircular table lamps by Harvey Guzzini. The bases are made of metal with translucent perspex shades. Channelling Italian 70s vibes with style.
7. Vintage travel poster
The aptest name award has to go to Travel on Paper. Hands down the best name I’ve seen in a while. They couldn’t resist picking a handsome travel poster by F. Lesourt. It was commissioned by the Transports Aériens Intercontinentaux to promote tourism in Madagascar. It features the traditional baobab tree against blue and earthy tones.
The original list contained ten items. But some of my photos weren’t as sharp as I’d hoped. Lesson learned — a tripod is a must. I also spoke to Retro Bazaar who chose a tastefully restored Dynaton teak radiogram. Design: Post War & Before picked a Bitossi ceramic vase. Finally, 20th Century Marks went for a rosewood and green marble sideboard by Robert Heritage for Archie Shine.
But where can you buy mid-century modern furniture online?
OK, I got a little free gift for you (because you read the whole thing).
This mobile-friendly guide will show you numerous options to finally get the piece you’re looking for. Packed with useful tips to consider when buying vintage furniture online. One to keep for future reference.Want more? Don't miss the subscriber-only articles in the newsletter Join the mailing list