At the beginning of the year I told you that I was working with the Swiss furniture brand USM and for today’s post I have interviewed the UK CEO (who actually launched the brand in this country back in the 1980s) about why mid—century furniture is perfect for any style of interior and properties of any period.
Ian Weddell lives in an Edwardian house, which he loves for its period features – square rooms (those of us in Victorian terraces can only dream) and high ceilings (those in modern houses I hear you) but he surrounds himself with mid-century modern design believing it to be timeless and a perfect foil for all the frilly bits of period architecture.
There’s no doubt that in this country mid-century did suffer a little from being associated with the Brutalist style of architecture which was (and is) very polarising as a style, he says. But we are all a little more design literate these days and buildings like the Barbican and the National Theatre are more widely accepted as being examples of good architecture and so mid-century is now deservedly recognised for its importance.
USM furniture belongs to this timeless mid-century style of furniture, says Ian, and while the best-selling colours are black, white and grey, the other colours fall in and out of favour. Last year it was all yellow – he says that’s because of the Pantone colour of the year – I prefer to think it was an attempt to bring the sunshine into our homes during lockdown. Now, though he says the beige is gaining ground and that would definitely back up the current mood which is swinging towards warm neutrals as evidenced by the new Little Greene Stone paint collection and the Heals Reclaim Your Home survey which found that 41 per cent of us are now buying rich warm neutral shades for our spaces.
“We have 14 colours and you can update a piece you bought in the 1960s with a new addition now and the colour will match it exactly.”
If you go into antique shops in Copenhagen they are full of original mid-century pieces – strictly speaking they aren’t antiques as it’s not 100 years yet – but the dealers recognise its worth and it is highly collectible. The most famous designers such as Finn Juhl, Arne Jacobsen, Eero Saarinen and Charles and Ray Eames, spent ages deliberating over all the tiny details to make sure it was perfect. And the materials were good, says Ian, who has a mid-century sofa with a birch frame which will last for ever and can be re-upholstered. Many modern sofas aren’t worth the cost of re-upholstery as their frames aren’t good enough quality to warrant the expense.
Pietro Russo, a scenographer in Milan who designs interiors and furniture says: “A piece of furniture is not like a dress. I want furniture to last as long as possible.”
IT COMPLEMENTS ANY STYLE
The clean lines and pared-back style of mid-century furniture mean that it’s very quiet and understated and that’s why it works in any period. It will sit happily by an ornate fireplace or in front of a vibrant wallpaper and not detract from either of them as the main focal point. It simple lines also mean it will act as a resting point for the eyes in a busy room.
But mid-century is also perfect for lovers of minimalism. As a style this is much harder to pull off successfully as every detail is visible so it must be perfect. It’s much easier to hide a mistake or a jarring note in a busy maximalist scheme full of colour and pattern. Mid-century won’t dominate if you don’t want it to but its quiet beauty means it will hold its own in a room.
Fernando Oiza is an architect who worked on the Hotel Villa Clementina in Navarra, in Spain, and used lots of black USM furniture in the 19th century building: “The USM Haller series emits a serenity that perfectly contrasts heavily ornamental spaces.”
This is one of the reasons why we are now recognising this period as one that was so important for furniture design. For its designers both form and function were crucial and they designed pieces that were built to last. The very timelessness of the design means that it will endure but it can also be mended and repaired. Or you can change the upholstery. The design is reduced to its bare essentials but then the form of each of those essentials is made to look perfect. This means you can keep it for ever and use it in any room in any style of house and it will always work so you only need to buy it once.
Sara Storey, an interior designer in New York, often specifies USM for children’s rooms: “Choose materials that are not age-specific and can be easily maintained.”
Ian says many customers start with a small piece of USM for toy storage for their children and then adapt it to be a bedside table, expand it into a bookcase and when they grow up and move out the children then take it with them and use it as a media unit in their home homes.
IT HOLDS ITS VALUE
Good quality does cost money but we all know the saying buy cheap buy twice. Investing in mid-century design whether it’s vintage or modern will always be worth it. Both will hold their value over time and should you need to sell you won’t lose money.
It might be more expensive than many other pieces of modern furniture, but we are much more aware of the hidden costs of cheap furniture now. Your chair might be cheap but what damage has it done to the planet and who made it? We are all trying to buy less and buy better.
Ian Weddell CEO of USM UK: “The mood is changing and where we might once have bought two or three pieces of cheap furniture, throwing them away if they broke and replacing them with something new (and possibly also cheap), we might now spend the same amount on one really good piece that will last.”
The simple clean lines mean that you can always use a mid-century piece of furniture in your home and you can either change the upholstery to fit with the mood or, which is easier, change the walls to fit with passing fashion.
The joy of the simplicity of this period is that while it is impervious to fashion it will happily sit next to whatever is fashionable at the time be it maximalist floral wallpaper or pared back Scandinavian style. It is the constant in a constantly changing environment.
As Ian says: If you ‘were to draw a Venn Diagram of all the styles and periods and fashions you would find that Mid-Century Modern would sit very happily in the middle being overlapped by all the others.”
Pietro Russo says: “There is unconditional style and there are trends. Trends have a limited life, while true style is long-lasting.”
All the images provided by USM unless otherwise stated.