Tuesday, February 19, 2013

What is "Authentic?"

I've been thinking a lot about what we mean by the word "authentic," especially in regard to "period correct" home decor.  It seems to me that those of us who strive to recreate a period do so with a considerable amount of biases dragging us down.  All one needs to do is flip through any magazine devoted to "period correct" decor to realize that we don't really want to live in authentic period homes.  We may like the look of historic houses and the idea of living with museum pieces but the reality is that we like our TVs, microwaves, comfy couches, counter space, and central heating.  We're also, every one of us, guilty of picking and choosing items based on personal appeal rather than on "authenticity."

All of this got started for me the other night when I had something of an epiphany while wrestling with a bout of insomnia.  I was thinking about how much I dislike mid century modern couches.  They're low with low backs and seem to be designed for perching rather than lounging.  I can imagine Jackie O perched gracefully on the front of a mid mod couch, ankles neatly crossed but I can't imagine myself nestled in for a day of TV watching.  They're angular and low with stiff cushioning - or so I imagine.   I DO like the look of mid mod couches and Danish modern decor in general but there's something off-putting about it.  Maybe because mid mod furniture looks too much like art pieces and not like something you could stick your feet on.  Or maybe it's because I didn't grow up with that kind of furniture in my life.

My grandparents (both sets) built their homes in the 1950s and by the time I came along in the early 1970s, the decor in their homes was circa 1965.  My Grandma Lee strove for a "Hollywood Regency" look.  Her home was filled with ornately carved upholstered furniture and "gilded" accessory pieces.  Rococo comes to mind.  She even had a fabulous white and gold bedroom set with a big headboard and matching vanity.  My Grandma Charity favored a bit more of what I'd  call "country contemporary casual."  She did own a mid mod couch  but for the most part, her house was La-Z-Boy recliners, hobnail lamps, and upholstered pieces with simple wooden arms.  My stepfather's parents decorated their home in a similar fashion.

So the epiphany that I had amounts to this - those of us seeking to decorate our mid century homes are too focused on the mid mod look.  I think the reality is that a lot (if not most) people in the 1950s-1960s did not have high end mid mod furniture.  This is purely anecdotal on my part as I am basing my opinion on the homes I knew as a kid but the fact remains that there were other ways people decorated their houses.  I suspect that the mid mod stuff is still around is because it was expensive and has achieved antique status whereas the millions of plaid couches and La-Z-Boy recliners went to the dump or the second hand store.

So, to put my money where my mouth is, I put together a mood board that shows some of the pieces I think would actually be authentic to a mid century modest house - or at least the homes I knew as a kid. And if I can find the right pieces, I'm going to bring them into my house.

I based my choices for what I call my "Comfy Living Room" on what I remember being in my family's homes from the 1970s.  Skirted plaid couches with wood accents, rocker recliners, tiered sidetables, and hurricane swag lamps. To tie the room together, I'd go with knotty pine paneling and a braided rug.  I'm especially enamored with the idea of finding a rocking loveseat, which both my mom and my Grandma Charity owned.  I'm very nostalgic about those sofas, they were so comfy and I loved that they rocked.  My dream would be to find a living room set that included the couch, loveseat, and rocker/recliner but I suspect the best I can hope for is to find decent pieces and have them reupholstered to match.  My living room already has the paneling and I am an experienced rug braider.  I plan to make a crazy, unmatched rug with some wool I've been saving.

So anyway, I recognize that this decor idea isn't everyone's cup of tea but I like it.  But I was never comfortable with bringing mid mod into my house so I think this is a great option and, at least for me, it's more "authentic" than a mid mod living room set.


  1. While I appreciate what you are saying the furniture shown is more representative of my grandparents home built in the 30's than any of my parents modern residences. If I had to come home to the stuff you've shown I'd be couch surfing with friends.

    My house was built in 64 which is the same year my couch was made in Denmark so I feel good about it. Not that I begrudge anyone going a different route with the above but it would depress me terribly.

  2. To each his own I guess. We each pick and choose a vision of the past the pleases us most. The homey, modest furniture pictured was common where I grew up. It can be tasteful and doesn't need to look like a shabby fraternity lounge.

  3. I grew up in the 50s and 60s in the midwest and most people had for upholstered furniture a very inexpensive frisse (like a high low loop sculptured design in a solid color--like ferns, etc. Or they had a damask/brocade kind of thing, later in the 60's was the Ethan Allen colonial look with the maple furniture and plaid upholstery and braided rugs. We had in our 50's living room wood floors with a piece of linoleum centered like an area rug. It was patterned as such also. We had curtains with large leaf designs and in later in the 60's some cheap plastic curtains with a design printed on them. People were not spending money on imported furniture from Denmark in the farming country where I grew up. That was probably way more the norm since the bulk of any population are not wealthy.