Featured Work: “Mid-Century Retro”: Starburst, Atom or Tinker Toy?

Featured Work: “Mid-Century Retro”:   Starburst, Atom, or Tinkertoy?

When my Clients Ted and Mark expressed interest in a wall treatment for their guest room, they knew that whatever was done had to fit into the eclectic brand of “Mid-Century Retro” style they had developed throughout the rest of their home.

From their TV tables, to the artwork on the walls, to their shower curtain pattern, the colors, patterns, feel and sensibility of the interior design and objects recall the visual aesthetic of the 1950’s.

TV tabletop pattern

Touring their home, I observed earth colors re-imagined in plastic, textiles, dishware and furniture. Browns, yellows, beiges and ivorys were applied to patterns created by combining  repeated elements of line, shape and form.

Unadorned wall, a bit empty

Their sunny guest room needed adornment on the headboard wall , which captures attention upon entering the room. The wall color was already reflected in the pillows and bedding, and enhanced by the use of natural wood, pussywillow branches, and carefully selected artwork. Yet the wall felt bare.

Given the scale and function of the room, Ted and Mark were concerned about overwhelming it visually.  They wanted a treatment that would complement what existed, and add a sense of whimsy, depth, and dimension, without cluttering the space.

Ted, who had worked in graphic design, sketched out an image of  a “starburst”  which brought to mind molecular structure, resonating with their mid-century design sensibility.

TInkertoys? No, Molecular Structure

Or, to get more complicated, Tetrahedral Molecular Geometry.

Jack? No, Tetrahedral Molecular Geometry

I created a modular (molecular?) stencil based on his design, and cut the “line” and “circle” elements in a variety of sizes to mix and match, and create the visual impact we sought.

Ethereal Molecular

Assemblages of repeated parts, (lines and circles), were given depth and form through the addition of highlights and shadows, created with tints (white added) and shades (black added) of the wall color.

Line and circles were “built” into larger shapes and designs, just like some of us once built with tinker toys

The resulting treatment is reminiscent of designs and patterns that emerged with advent of the “Atomic Age”, and became integral to “Mid-Century” style. A nexus of science and design, perhaps so familiar to us now, that we may be barely cognizant of its origins.

Mirror Image Module Multiplies

Mirrors expand the space and subtle visual impact of the treatment. Values of light and dark add dimensionality and a soft “pop” to the shapes, which seem to do an dream-like, molecular dance across the wall.  Although it was not easy to articulate, this is the effect and feeling the Clients were looking for.

“The subtle starburst pattern enlivens our mid-century look. Our houseguests love the playfulness it contributes to the room.” – Ted and Mark, San Francisco, Ca.   August 2010

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6 CommentsLeave a comment

  1. That’s really fun, Debra! Nice job. I’ve long been a fan of those midcentury graphics. Used some 1950s matchbooks to come up with the concept of my first business card! Kind of the same feel, and I might go back at some point.
    Thanks for sharing this great project!

    • Hi Kelly!
      It is always fascinating to see the relationship of art, design style, culture and history!
      Love to see that first biz card, sounds like great fun!
      Thanks for reading, and commenting.
      Would you consider doing an expanded post on your blog about the project you recently shared? I would enjoy reading and seeing more about it.
      Cheers!

      • Oh – the Old California style living room? Yes! I will. Thanks for the request. I will ALSO write your rec on LinkedIn – which will be wonderful. 🙂

  2. Great Kelly!
    I look forward to learning more about that LR project.
    And thank you in advance for the LI rec.
    I respect your work and your words.

  3. […] Featured Work: “Mid-Century Retro”: Starburst, Atom or Tinker Toy? August 2010 4 comments and 1 Like on WordPress.com, 3 […]

  4. […] I share in my post, Featured Work: “Mid-Century Retro”:   Starburst, Atom, or Tinkertoy?,  Mid-Century Modern,design style, both in its “original’ format more than a half a […]


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