Maureen McMullen, Multimedia Journalism
Mid Mod Madhaus, a vintage furniture store that opened in downtown Fargo earlier this
year, furnishes a growing niche interest in midcentury motif.
“I definitely found a niche,” said Brett Bernath, owner of Mid Mod Madhaus. “It’s not like walking into an antique store where it’s all sorts of stuff from all different time periods. This little time period, I wanted to focus on and do it well.”
Defining Midcentury Style
Midcentury design is marked by its almost anachronous modernity, satisfying both
nostalgic romance and futuristic optimism. Clean lines, unusual shapes and tapered legs on tables, sofas and chairs are all characteristic of the era, along with drab colors like avocado, harvest gold and earthy brown.
With the midcentury’s revolutionary style came iconic furniture designers. Charles and Ray Eames, renowned for their beautifully functional chairs,
pioneered the use of molded fiberglass and plywood in their furniture, creating smooth, curved silhouettes.
Other furniture exemplary of the time includes designs from Heywood Wakefield. Prized among vintage furniture collectors, Heywood Wakefield tables’ multiple tiers, tapered legs epitomize the midcentury’s function-aesthetic duality.
Bernath searches for perfect pieces
Bernath’s involvement with in midcentury furniture started as a shared interest with his wife that resonating in the decoration of their own home. As a stay-at-home dad, Bernath’s wife observed that he had a “good eye” for unique pieces of vintage furniture and encouraged him to keep finding pieces for their own home.
“She primarily wanted a couch and so she kind of taught me about stuff like Herman Miller, Ray Eames and George Nelson and then I started kind of researching it and reading books and stuff,” said Bernath.
Their love of midcentury furniture eventually led to a collection in their home that Bernath said “got to be too much”. Bernath was able to continue his with his interest in the style of furniture by selling pieces among other collectors and through Craigslist.
Having been a stay-at-home dad for several years, Bernath opened Mid Mod Madhaus out of necessity for a job when his son started preschool. Though he can often be found in-shop, a key aspect of Bernath’s job is hunting and finding new pieces. Bernath will often gets tips where to snag good pieces while combing through thrift stores, estate sales and Craigslist.
“People will invite me into their homes, or they’ll be getting rid of grandma’s stuff and they’ll invite me in,” said Bernath. “I’ve also gotten a lot of connections with other people that buy and sell in North Dakota and Minnesota, so I’ll go pick through their stuff.”
While Mid Mod Madhaus introduced a fairly new concept to Fargo, a community of midcentury aficionados has steadily grown. With the establishment of his shop downtown, Bernath hopes to help foster a wave of interest in the motif throughout the area.
“I think it’s just catching on in Fargo. It’s like many trends in furniture or fashion or architecture; it hits Fargo 10 to 20 years after it’s popular on the coast,” said Bernath. “It’s working well; the timing’s good for me. I’m just going to ride it for as long as I can.”
Furnishing nostalgic fantasies
Though Mid Mod Madhaus opened earlier this year, Jamie Parsley’s penchant for the era’s furniture has lasted more than 25 years. After a friend introduced him to Atomic Ranch, an interior design magazine tailored around midcentury aesthetics, Parsley was inspired to take his interest a step further
“I realized that there are other people out there who are interested in this time and style and furniture,” said Parsley. “It gave me permission to explore my interest in that era of furniture and still keep things somewhat modern.”
As a priest at St. Stephen’s Episcopal Church in Fargo, Parsley has lived in the parish’s
rectory for five years. Built in 1959, the rectory provided the perfect venue for him to express passion for midcentury motif. Though the wallpaper and light fixtures were updated in the 80s, the core architecture of the house preserved the iconic designs of the midcentury. Parsley only needed minor tweaks to turn it into an early 60s time capsule.
Parsley’s interest in this era, which has become more of a lifestyle for him than decorative preference, stems from his love for its balance of modern and nostalgic.
“I think it was a transitional period between World War II and the psychedelic 60s. Things were changing very rapidly at that time and I think that reflects where we’re at now,” Parsley said. “I think there was a stability back then that appeals to me.”
Parsley suspects this stability has drawn a new wave of people interested in all aspects of the mid-century, from furniture to music to fashion. Interestingly, many of these people, Parsley included, who feel a nostalgic connection to this era weren’t even alive to witness it.
In many ways, our world is now going through a transition that mirrors the midcentury’s. With an onslaught of new technology churning out innovations more rapidly than we often know how to react to and constantly changing ideals in human rights, one could draw significant connections between the 50s and 60s generation and the current.
“I think it’s easy to idealize that time because we didn’t live in that time,” Parsley said. “I’ve heard people say ‘it was a simpler time’ or ‘things were so normal’ and I think we kind of crave that. We think it was like that, but it really wasn’t. It represents something we kind of hope we could have and probably will never have, but that’s all right.”