Today more than ever, savvy homeowners crave real design for real situations. They expect and demand furnishings and accessories that are durable, multifunctional, and fabulous. We asked three of the industry’s most successful tastemakers to weigh in on the resurging popularity of mid-century modern (1940s through 1960s) designs—great-looking styles that are timely and timeless.
Pulling up a Seat with Dakota Jackson
CEO, Dakota Jackson, Inc. (dakotajackson.com)
A manufacturer of high-end furniture and a key contributor to the Art Furniture movement, Jackson is known for his form-and-function designs. From early prototypes and one-of-a-kind pieces fashioned for celebrity clients, to the robotically carved library chair, he has produced innovative work for 40 years. In April 2010, Jackson was awarded the Lifetime Achievement Award from the Art & Design of the 20th & 21st Centuries show.
“A stylish home is a reflection of the taste and pleasures of its owners.”
Do mid-century modern styles influence your work today?
The mixture of modernism and minimalism—and that movement in the art world in the ’60s that inspired sculpture, painting, dance, and music—are key elements for me. One is constantly moving away from it, moving toward it, moving against it. I keep coming back to those designs.
Which of your signature pieces are most enduring?
There are several. The Saturn stool is a seminal piece for me that dates back to the 1970s. That was the first time I thought of design in terms of “sit here.” I would also include my self-winding glass coffee table—and the more recent Arabesque line that includes occasional tables. The Arabesque piano, for example, is a lifetime endeavor. It’s a lasting design that resonates for me.
The very simple library chair also is rather iconic. We designed it in 1991, and it had its start in the San Francisco Public Library. Today about 100,000 of them are in libraries around the world. The library chair supports the notion that strong design can be part of any institutional landscape.
How do you begin the design process?
For me, there are two prevailing components to design—the essential line, and the awkward moment between indecision and acceptance. This moment creates tension, but also relieves it. That’s what makes powerful design—you are pushed to an edge—and once you make that decision, it’s very satisfying.
If homeowners want to design a new space from scratch, how would you advise them?
Be informed and open-minded before you take the first steps. A good starting point is to read about design and architectural history. Whether you study particular periods of design or the designers who influenced history, you’ll begin to form your own ideas. Then you can collect photos and magazine images of the spaces and objects you like. Ultimately, a stylish home is a reflection of the taste and pleasures of its owners.
What’s the next big thing for you?
We’re developing an outdoor furniture line, a rug collection, and a new seating group of 30 to 40 pieces. I’m also working on an Oceania cruise liner’s ultra-luxury suites—architectural, interior, and lighting. This is my first foray into very large boats, although I’ve worked with mega yachts.
Dakota Jackson’s pieces are available through Space Interiors (24 White Street, Red Bank; 732-224-1006) and Douglas Wittels, LLC (2 Horizon Road, Fort Lee; 201-224-5180).
Getting Comfortable with Mitchell Gold
“Chair-man”/cofounder, Mitchell Gold + Bob Williams (mgbwhome.com)
Before starting his own company with designer Bob Williams in 1989, Mitchell Gold was a furniture buyer at Bloomingdale’s and the gallery director and national accounts director for furniture giant, Lane. Today, Gold and Williams’s $100-million manufacturing and retail business offers slipcovered and tailored upholstery, including sofas, sleepers, beds, ottomans, and dining chairs—as well as tables, lighting, and accessories. The company has earned Metropolitan Home’s Design 100 Award numerous times.
When did you first become interested in home furnishings?
I grew up in Trenton, and my parents’ 1960s home could have been in an episode of [current TV hit] Mad Men. I began to envision comfortable home furnishings for real people at a young age—probably because my brother and I were always banished from the living room.
How do you incorporate those classic mid-century styles into your work now?
We make the designs of the ’60s and ’70s relevant for today by softening the avocados and oranges that were popular in my youth, and reinterpreting them into more relaxing and enjoyable shades. Today it’s all about happy colors.
Which of your pieces do you consider to be classics?
One example would be the Liam sofa because of its simple lines and nailhead trim. It makes a bold statement when surrounded by neutral furnishings and accessories. I’m also partial to the Kinsey bench because it can be used for seating or as a coffee table. Homeowners appreciate pieces that can be used in multiple spaces, in various ways.
What distinguishes your company’s sofas from others?
Today, people are more interested in their home interiors, and more interested in design, so we focus on a clean, crisp scale and design aesthetic. Even our distinctly traditional looks have a modern feel. We try to design and price sensibly for today’s market because smart shoppers aren’t looking to overspend.
Which sofa is in your living room?
My New York apartment is very much mid-century modern in feel, and I have a Tyler sectional, which is Scandinavian in style in ocean blue. In my North Carolina home, I have more room for the overscaled Niki, a traditional sofa in a modern butter-colored denim.
What’s the next big thing for you?
In September, we’re introducing a super-luxe sleeper that will take sleeper sofas to a whole new place with an 8.5-inch luxury mattress.
Mitchell Gold + Bob Williams furnishings are available through Michaelian & Kohlberg, Inc. (315 Springfield Avenue, Summit; 908-522-1004) and the Blue Raccoon (6 Coryell Street, Lambertville; 609-397-5500).
Lifting the Curtain with Vicente Wolf
President, Vicente Wolf Associates (vicentewolf.com)
For three decades, Vicente Wolf has developed his brand through interior design, photography, art collection, and global travel. His team’s portfolio spans multinational conglomerates, private homes, hotels, and restaurants—as well as the interior of the chic new Liberty National Golf Club in Jersey City. House Beautiful named Wolf one of the ten most influential designers in the U.S., and he was selected as one of the top 100 designers by both Metropolitan Home and Architectural Digest magazines.
What inspires your work?
I design from the gut. I’m not a minimalist, but I design spaces so that every piece in the room counts—just like every word counts in a well-written sentence. I like rooms without extraneous things—where all the elements, the architecture, the furniture, are one-of-a-kind pieces that come across as peaceful and sensual. Today, people want comfort. They want to be relaxed. They don’t want to be pretentious.
Do you enjoy decorating with some of the same styles that were popular years ago?
It’s fun to look back and see how those styles can be reintroduced today. Vertical blinds, for example—they’re due to come back, and I can think of places to use them—to reinterpret them in a modern way. The same goes for Lucite, which became saturated in the industry, but now I like to use just a touch of it in a room to lend one more point of view to a space.
What’s the first step a homeowner should take in decorating a new space?
Begin by measuring the room. Then create a floor plan so that you can draw the pieces you choose to scale. Never do this by eye. Then make sure to look at the light in the room, and consider the functionality of your furniture within the space.
You’re an avid collector, right?
Yes. I’m a consumer, and I love beautiful things. So I travel, and I collect photography as well as African, Swedish, and Chinese pieces. I like the mixture because it’s all about the constant refinement of objects in one’s space. My rule in my own home is, “if something comes in, something has to go out.
So, although you’re a collector, you’re not a pack rat?
I don’t like clutter because, you know, it’s just stuff. After all, you wouldn’t put on four dresses at a time just because you like them all. Good decorating is not about acquiring objects. It’s about expressing your complete emotion. Too much stuff in the pot ruins the taste.
What’s the next big thing for you?
I look forward to my newest book, coming out in October, Lifting the Curtain on Design. It very honestly describes various design projects from start to finish—what I experienced the first day I walked into the space, the requirements of the clients, challenges along the way, and before-and-after photos. The book features my own photography in a travelogue. I get a lot of pleasure from sharing my experiences with readers, and I hope they enjoy it.
For decorating tips and a list of Wolf’s favorite blogs and resources, visit him on vicentewolfblog.com.