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Back to Mid-Century

Two graphic designers with an eye for '50s kitsch create a surprisingly sophisticated interior of balanced neutrals in open-space comfort. By Brian D. Coleman | Photos by William Wright

    Mid-Century Living Room Interior

    The rug’s abstract design echoes the mid-50s, rectilinear coffee table. The fireplace, in neat Roman brick, was in working order. (The painting is by homeowner Karen Wippich.)

    What kind of house do you buy when you’ve acquired an impressive collection of mid-century furnishings? Jon and Karen Wippich were clear about what they didn’t want: no hopeless fixer-upper, no hollow-core doors, no aluminum replacement windows that won’t budge. The house had to be close to downtown Portland, Oregon, where they work as graphic designers for their own company, Dot Zero Design. The right house would showcase, but not be overwhelmed by, their tag-sale collection of ceramic ballerinas and chalkware heads, bright Fiestaware bowls, figural matador and clown lamps, and a bookcase full of jolly red-plastic Santas.

    Then again, Karen and Jon had trained eyes and were old hands at making silk purses out of sows’ ears. When this 1956 ranch hit the market, they made an offer on day one. Sure, it needed work. The bathroom had been remodeled in the 1980s (remember those thick “golden oak” switchplates?). The fluorescent-lit kitchen of broken beige tile and plywood cabinets needed total replacement. Sill, original oak floors were in good condition, Roman-brick fireplaces anchored the main rooms, and the backyard patio was vintage. The living room’s picture window afforded a sweeping easterly view of Mount Hood and the Willamette River Valley.

    Working on a limited budget and doing much of the work themselves, Jon and Karen started in the kitchen, tearing out cheap cabinets and deteriorated countertops, pulling up pink-and-white linoleum, hauling out the 1970s harvest-gold fridge. They ordered new cabinets, only to find the finished pieces would not fit through the 29″-wide kitchen doorway. Rather than cut them in half, as the supplier suggested, the couple returned the cabinets, took the hit, and measured more carefully.

    Period color marks the kitchen, especially the cherry-red vinyl of the chrome dinette set; vintage bowls in turquoise, celery green, and sunshine yellow are a foil for the gray and black countertop area.

    Now, mottled gray laminate counters (Iron Legacy from Wilsonart) set off a Black Galaxy granite back-splash—a sophisticated ’50s scheme. Period-perfect ribbed metal edging finishes the curving countertops. A faceted glass shade found at a salvage shop has replaced fluorescent lights overhead. Also on the main level, the bathroom got a makeover. The tub needed just a good scrubbing once the fiberglass shower surround was removed. Italian porcelain tiles from Casalgrande make up the floor, the countertop, and the tub surround. Walls above the sink (which had been a curiously unflattering yellow) got a coat of Miller Paints’ Light Tan.

    A handsome fireplace in Roman brick anchors the open floor plan of the living and dining rooms. Here walls are painted Miller’s Chocolate Brown and Light Tan to complement oak floors and brick fireplace. Period-appropriate furnishings include a wheat-colored Heywood–Wakefield dining-room hutch, and a Heywood–Wakefield corner table nestled between an angular, but comfortable, 1940s couch and matching chair. These have been reupholstered in mocha-brown bark cloth. An abstract area rug in neutral grays holds the arrangement.

    Published in: Old-House Interiors July/August 2010

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