Mad for that mid-century look

Lynn Underwood

Jake and Mercedes Rudh couldn’t believe their luck. The couple had coveted a cluster of 1960s flat-roofed modernist houses in a Minneapolis cul-de-sac ever since discovering them while going to an estate sale a few years earlier. Now, finally, one of the homes was for sale.

The Rudhs quickly set up a showing and were excited by the original wood paneling on the living-room walls, the buff-colored stone fireplace and Danish light fixtures -- all in pristine condition.

“I felt like I’d stepped into an unchanged time capsule from the 1960s,” said Jake. The Rudhs made sure it stayed that way. After buying their one-level home in 2009, they filled almost every room with mid-century modern furnishings they’d collected over the previous decade. Today, an iconic leather Eames lounger reclines next to a walnut-paneled Danish stereo console. The vintage Electrohome bubble-cover turntable is playing a tune by bossa nova singer Astrud Gilberto.

Their home’s aesthetic reminds Mercedes of Uncle Bill’s penthouse apartment in the 1960s TV series “Family Affair.”

“They lived in a pretty great pad in Manhattan,” agreed Jake, noting that the couple have watched every episode and own a boxed set on DVD.

The Rudhs are among a growing group of Twin Citians and others fixated on mid-century modern design. Inspired by everything from old TV shows to Atomic Ranch, a shelter magazine, they’re dedicated to preserving the spirit of their 1950s-to-1970s-era ramblers and split-levels by decorating them with sleek Danish teak furniture, beaded velvet paintings and avocado-colored appliances. These homeowners would never paint over period paneling or obliterate a stone wall. They’ll try to restore rather than replace an original Formica countertop with granite.

‘Mad Men’ influence

Jake, a Minneapolis event DJ and radio host, is well known among local retro lovers through the Facebook group Twin Cities Midcentury Modern (TC-MCM) that he launched in 2008. Members post photos of their finds and share resources. Real-estate agents also use the site to highlight mid-century homes for sale. Today the group has more than 1,200 members, a rise, Jake said.

The trend-setting TV show “Mad Men” has helped fuel the craze for all things retro. Jake has hosted three sold-out “Mad Men” premiere parties, where people don 1960s cocktail dresses and dapper suits.

“’Mad Men’ has been such a big influence,” Jake said. “Don and Megan’s 1960s Manhattan apartment is gorgeous.”

Fans of Atomic Ranch magazine also credit the popular periodical, which celebrates postwar ranch homes, with helping propel midcentury modern design into the mainstream.

The magazine’s founding editor, Michelle Gringeri-Brown, was working at American Bungalow magazine when she started speculating on the next hot trend in housing.

“There’s a zillion postwar homes,” she said. “We thought ranches had value, and people buying and fixing them up could use some resources and guidance to furnishing them in an appropriate way.”

Eight years later, Atomic Ranch, based in Portland, Ore., has more than 100,000 subscribers, and Gringeri-Brown and her photographer husband, Jim Brown, also have published two related coffee-table books.

Design Within Reach, CB2, Room and Board and other retailers have helped drive the popularity of sleek minimalist interior design, said Gringeri-Brown.

“Today, people are freely mixing vintage, reissued mid-century design and contemporary furnishings in their homes,” she said.

“Post-war design from the late 1940s to mid-1960s was mass-produced and not that expensive. You don’t have to be a wealthy art collector.”

Where to find it

Jake Rudh’s passion for midcentury design was ignited when he was a kid, entranced by his uncle’s space-helmet-shaped Weltron eight-track stereo from the early 1970s. Jake started collecting bright-colored orb-shaped radios and bubble-topped turntables. Next came retro furniture to outfit his “Space Age bachelor pad.” By night, Jake was a DJ; by day, he was a picker at thrift stores, estate and garage sales. “I’ve slept in my car overnight for a Laurel floor lamp,” he said.

He got lucky at an estate sale of an art collector and snapped up two rare Alexander Calder prints. “He’s one of our favorite midcentury modern artists, and we’re always on the lookout for his works,” he said.

Jake’s also an armchair collector who frequents online sites such as Craigslist, eBay and Etsy, where he’s seen an increase in dealers buying and selling retro merchandise.

When Jake and Mercedes started dating, they would hit stores, looking for midcentury finds. “We’ve refined our taste over the years,” she said. “We started with kitschy items with lots of chrome. Now we have more 1960s Danish teak, warm woods and simple lines.”

The Rudhs consider their well-preserved architect-designed home the ultimate piece in their collection.

The Preservation Alliance of Minnesota has even featured it in a guide to Modern Architecture in Minnesota.

“I’m a huge preservationist of pop culture. I love retro and history, and too much of it is lost,” said Jake. “People who were raised in this era want to discard it. New generations are understanding its value more.”