Thursday, July 30, 2015

Tray, Tre Cool

Something in the wind is bringing me TRAYS - Stainless, Glass, and even another Couroc which I had to grab off the bottom shelf at the Goodwill and though faded and with a dull finish, was not scratched so I brought it home - does 2 make a collection? Hmmmm

The Couroc Company in Monterey California produced many different types and shapes of trays, boxes, ashtrays and glassware from 1948 until their closure in the early 1990s and this one is not a cheese tray but a little larger and without the wood cutting board. I loved the use of brass !?o!c!!?oo to indicate the parrots song - so creative!

The finish was dull and gray so I googled how others had cleaned these phenolic plastic works of art and learned that phenolic plastic was first manufactured under the trade name Bakelite after the inventor of the plastic Dr. Leo Hendrik Baekeland.

Seems there are several methods to shine up this early plastic, all of which involve some some combination of a fine rubbing compound (grit) to remove the oxidised layer exposing a new layer of unoxidised resin, and elbow grease!

Metal Polish / Brasso / Simichrome Polish can be used, but are relatively coarse abrasives, we chose the chrome polish method and it seems to work fine for the Couroc trays.

Couroc Makers Mark 

Couroc Cheese Board Tray

Couroc Parrot Tray


Restoring Bakelite

Buying Couroc Trays

Saturday, July 25, 2015

Stainless Steel and Sidekicks

I seem to have found a lot of steel this week and this stainless 18-8 Cordova creamer set from 1969 reflects the well designed, timeless look of mid-century modern decor. Out of the local school districts thrift shop (yep - the parents foundation generates funding for classes, field trips, etc with a shop!) I found a wonderful example of midcentury stainless steel sugar, cream and plate set for $1 a piece. The spoons were a set of 6 for $.50 at goodwill and the black tray, well the black tray has its own story...
Cordova 18-8 Stainless Steel Sugar Bowl, Creamer and Tray
The super cool midcentury tray made in Monterey California by another husband/wife midcentury design team, Guthrie Courviosier and Moira Wallace who hired local artisans during the 50's and 60's to create unique designs from re-use/re-purposed items - brass bits, springs, screws, glitter all found their way into many Couroc Tray designs.
Couroc Cheese Tray
I found this one at the Marin goodwill - $2.48 and the image is made of flattened brass wire coil, a sliver of driftwood and brass letters!

David Douglas was a prolific designer of sleek, cool, mid-century styled kitchenware and dinnerware. Responsible for numerous carafes, bread trays, butter dishes, and even a “lighted beverage glass,” which he patented in 1975 there is very little known about the man other than his name appearing on the bottom of many kitchen products. Though his work in the 1960's is phenomenal it is his Genie server carafe that commands the most attention. Regardless, I was smitten by this glass with gold trim coffee carafe from the 1960's - one of the few I've seen with a cone shape.

David Douglas Carafe ca. 1962
When I saw this sitting on the shelf at Goodwill with top intact I picked it up without going through the usual 3 questions - Do I NEED this? What will it replace? Can I live without it? The $.99 price tag eliminated any thought of waiting until 50% tag color day!

Museum of American Glass in West Virginia
Modernism From the Heartland

Wednesday, July 22, 2015

A Little Chartreuse

Auctions and Estate Sales are filling my sunday afternoons and my research into Russel Wright's American Modern is paying off as I found a few more pieces to add to the table this week.I will add these chartreuse pieces to the growing collection of Chutney Brown and Seafoam dinnerware that has been accumulating in the our new house.

Looking through the catalog for the Auction I saw a what seemed to be a strange description 'cupboard contents' and when I took a closer look I saw the now familiar shape of these american originals.I brought them home for $35.

American Modern in Chartreuse
Morgantown Ad

A short description at the Kovels website tells us "... Russel Wright designed dinnerwares in modern shapes for many companies. Iroquois China Company, Harker China Company, Steubenville Pottery, and Justin Tharaud and Sons made dishes marked Russel Wright". I have seen references to additional lines including commercial sets so even Kovels has some gaps in their information - take a look on the web, Mr. Wright was very prolific!

The Steubenville wares, first made in 1938, are the most common today. My new pieces above are from this collection.

Glassware designed by Russel Wright was also manufactured by different companies through the years including:
Imperial Ad
  • Bartlett Collins (1957) "Eclipse" & "Sunburst" (I haven't seen ANY Sunburst but often see references to "Asterisk" are these the same?)
  • Duncan Miller Imperial Flair (Flare)(1959) "Seed"
  • Imperial Pinch(1951) designed to accompany "Iroquois Casual" 
  • Old Morgantown/Modern (1951) was handmade glass. It included three sizes of tumblers, five stemmed items, a dessert dish, a pilsner, chilling bowl and a double old fashioned. It was made in colors to complement the American Modern line. The colors included Coral, Seafoam, Chartreuse, Smoke and Clear Crystal.
    Russel Wright Morgantown Glasses to 'Harmonize with dinnerware'

In the auction cupboard contents were also 4 Morgantown seafoam tumblers, 6 of the seafoam sherbert dishes and a chartreuse tumbler. A great addition to the now growing collection of our Mid-Century Dinnerware.

Morgantown Glassware
During the 1950s, American design was characterized by an organic modernist approach that rejected hard-edged forms in favor of curving forms inspired by the human body and the natural world. When I hold a Russel Wright (1904-1976) Morgantown glass it sits lightly in my hand, the texture almost sensual, the form pleasing and familiar. The response to his contributions in bringing his passion "Good design is for everyone." to Americans created the first recognizable ‘brand name’ in lifestyle marketing centered on an individual. Russel was the Ralph Lauren, Martha Stewart of his day...deservedly so.

Chartreuse and Seafoam Glass

American Modern Dishware in Chartreuse and Seafoam


Oh, Mr. Wright you continue to pull me into this organic #midcenturymodern vision of an environment void of hard edges and gratuitous excess - elegance in simplicity! Let nature dictate the form and thoughtful function follow ... Last week I found some American Modern dish ware in chartreuse and seafoam at an estate sale to complement the other pieces we have picked up. There were 5 place settings including a little black chutney thrown in for spice ... $45 and our table is a colorful splash from the #mcm palette ... 

Sunday, July 19, 2015

Shaken Not Stirred ????

What is a Mid Century experience without libations of some sort? Isn't every gentleman required to know how to make at least the perfect Cosmo or Dry Martini? How can you make cocktails without a shaker? Besides being a useful tool to concoct a great cocktail, a shaker is also piece of d├ęcor that adds sophistication and elegance to your bar. Don't think a cocktail shaker should just be functionally effective, it also has to look and feel good.

With the seemingly unlimited supply of chrome, aluminium, glass and stainless steel accoutrements manufactured during the middle of the last century choosing the right shaker and glassware can be mind boggling. I want something that works with my chrome, black and gold tone decor in the dining room so when I saw this 1950's Aluminum Mirro 'The Finest Aluminum' I thought with a little cleaner and elbow grease it would fit in well with our new home.

Mirro Aluminium Shaker
At $1 (Sunday at an Estate Sale) this 40oz bad boy was going home with me! With my Danish Stainless tray and a couple of Russel Wright Asterisk highball glasses - I think this will look great on the X-Leg service table in the dining room.

Saturday, July 18, 2015

The Land Locked Mariner (or Old Blue Seals the Deal)

I saw an ad in Craigslist for 4 Mart Stam reproduction (?) chairs for $80. I had spent some time in Berlin during the 1980's and the Bauhaus Museum was a favorite place to lay low on snowy afternoons. Wassily chairs (designed by Marcel Breuer in 1925-1926),  Mies Van Der Rohe chairs and all the chrome and leather were familiar and when I saw these chairs I quickly learned about Stam and his fight for recognition as designer of this style of cantilever chair and decided it was worth a hour to drive the old pickup (referred to by the family as 'Old Blue') up the road a few miles and take a look at potentially my first MCM furniture purchase.

Old Blue - 1966 Ford F-250

As I pulled up in the big '66 two-tone truck a woman walked up to my window and immediately asked how long I had had it, how was it to drive, etc. and we spent the next 30 minutes talking about the truck. Seems the woman selling the chairs had once driven a 1960's Chevy Truck and missed it. As we walked back to take a look at the chairs I heard the story of the Mariner, his passion for working with teak and why it was time to let the chairs go to a new home. Seems that back in the 1960's a Mariner, married and with a small family, settled in Santa Rosa. Over the years his love of woodworking and design manifested itself in additions to the house that included his 'Man Cave'. With an interior of fine teak wood (floors, walls, ceilings and cabinets) all built by himself he complimented the design with 4 Mart Stam chairs which stayed with the house until I saw the ad. Though in need of some TLC, I knew I would be taking the chairs home and when it came time to pay, the women said "Let's make it $40, you have a cool truck".

I spent the next few days with the Mother's Chrome Cleaner, a couple of different screwdrivers and leather cleaner from Restoration Hardware tearing down each chair, cleaning the chrome, servicing the leather and then rebuilding the chairs.Like most Mid Century versions of these chairs the paper backing has cracked and replacement parts seem to be non-existent. Anyone have a source for the under seat crossbars? There are a couple missing and I would like to replace ...

Mart Stam Re-production Cantilever Chairs $10
Married with a chrome cylindrical plant stand I found at an estate sale in San Rafael (Sunday - $5) two of the chairs are holding down the far end of the dining room and two are being used as occasional chairs around the house.

Tuesday, July 14, 2015

A Few Things From The Garage

When we moved I had a chance to purge again and while going through items stored in the garage found a few things that I decided might work with the Mid Century decor we planned.

The Eyeball Lamp
First was an 'eyeball' lamp that I had inherited from a roommate when she moved to England back in the late 80's. The lamp was too interesting to throw away so I used in my office for a while and then in the garage while we were at Casa.

Similar to many of the Sonneman eyeball lamps but white instead of the typical chrome, the lamp needed a substantial cleanup after 15 years in the garage. I was struck by the detail of the height adjusters and the number of parts required to connect the shades to the poles. Unlike modern lamps, this one had been 'designed' for ease of use and adjustment not built for a target price point.
3-Arm Eyeball Floor Lamp
Chrome Arms / White Shades and Base
The Napa Doctors Self Portrait
A few years ago I had attended an auction and as a 'mercy' bid of $10 for the auctioneer who was having a difficult time off loading some rather unique works I took home a painting done in the late 1960's of questionable value and taste. It was an oil painting and it had a story but mostly I wanted to thank the auctioneer for taking my low bid, albeit late in the day, on a beautiful California oil from the 1800's. Anyway, I stashed the painting away for a rainy day and during the move thought maybe the colors would work in the new house. I spent a few days getting all the dust and grime off the large 3' x 2' painting, letting loose the bold reds and blues from years of storage.

The story goes, the doctor liked his cocktails and when he decided to quit drinking, he took up painting and one day when speaking to a friend about his transformation his friend let on that as a drunk the good doctor was a bit the blathering fool; Good hearted, but pedantic to say the least and no topic was beyond his domain of knowledge and so to remind himself of his past the doctor painted his self portrait as his friend saw him ...
1960's Self Reflection

The Trimline Phones
Also from my years of living in San Francisco, I had two trimline phones with lighted dials and l-o-n-g curly cables from the base to the handsets. As I pulled them from the box my daughter screamed in delight saying she wanted the orange one for her bedroom.Introduced in 1965, the Trimline phone included a lighted dial and was encased in a sleek, curved plastic housing. .

Western Electric Lighted Trimline Phones

Sunday, July 12, 2015

Something Caught My Eye

I had a friend in the 1980's who loved modern art and as part of his consulting spiel on how to grow professional service businesses he always included a 15 minute section that encouraged business owners to 'go out and buy a few oil paintings, anything that caught their eye', and put it in the waiting room to show customers they had some kind of aesthetic sensibility. I use to love watching the accountants and lawyers all dutifully writing in their notebooks 'Buy Art'!

When we moved into the new house I put a California landscape done by Rod Newhall over the fireplace. Given to me by my mother in the late 1970's I liked the space being filled with SOMETHING even if it didn't exactly express the ideas I had for the room.

This weekend while walking through an estate sale in Terra Linda I found an impressionist piece from the 1960's that works a little better in our MCM living space. The piece called 'Fanciful Flowers' by the Marin Artist Ann Hardy was first sold at the Terra Linda Art Show back in the day. It is an multi-media impressionist piece that with orange/red flowers, gold accents and black netting background fits well with the dining room. The bill of sale and some notes from the show are taped to the back of the piece.

Fanciful Floral by Ann Hardy

Great Colors and Texture 196? 

A sunday Estate Sale with many mid century artifacts I think this just got overlooked as many, many beautiful pieces were sold that day. I took it home late in the afternoon for $20.

I am curious if anyone else knows of this artist as very little is on the web other than a few references to her work in the Art & Leisure section of the old Daily Independent Journal from San Rafael California on May 3, 1962 when she displayed some pieces at another show. Another article (September 25, 1963) describes her life with husband Barry and his passion for restoring old cars. Anyone seen her other works?

Thursday, July 9, 2015

Living Room Clock

I had my dining room and Kitchen clocks and thought that I needed to keep my eyes open for something for the living room.  So many beautiful and interesting clocks were marketed during the mid-century. I spent about 3 weeks browsing the web and Ebay checking out the European and American clocks, as well as, looking at many of the recent Chinese knock-offs; reading the reviews and trying to decide between Electric, Battery, or Wind-up and Vintage, Licensed Reproduction or just plain copies.
Looking at Mid Century Clocks for the Living Room 

I loved many of the vintage starburst clocks (Lux, Elgin, Verichron, Welby, Seth Thomas and of course Howard Miller) but really didn't like the idea of an electrical wire hanging down the wall from my clock to a plug (or worse an extension cord!). I found that clockworks sold modern battery driven works to replace the electric motors on many of the vintage clocks and had fairly strongly decided on getting a big, old vintage Lux and putting a modern battery driven clockwork in it when I walked into the Consignment Store in Corte Madera and saw laying flat on a table what looked like a Howard Miller (Herman's son) / George Nelson Designed starburst.

I had looked at many, many of the various Nelson designed clocks and loved the playful colors and designs but the modern knockoffs were quality challenged (!!!) and the vintage one's I had seen on auction sites, Ebay and 1stDibs were going for over $1,000.

Howard Miller Model # 4755 Ball Clock Retail 1964: $30.00

Electric Nelson Ball Clock in Black and Gold Retail 2015: $1,200
Here was a modern re-production made under license by Vitra that wasn't $640. The design was one that I had seen but really hadn't considered for our living room as, like most people, was enamored by the colored ball model that really stood out but because of my budget constraints I had to take a closer look at this clock.

In his book "George Nelson: The Design of Modern Design" Stanley Abercrombie describes an evening at Nelson's where, as remembered by Nelson, he was joined by Buckminster Fuller and Isamu Noguchi and through an evening of drinking and playing with ideas for clocks on a roll of butcher paper, each trying to 'best' the other, when the men woke up the next day and looked at what they had drawn the now Iconic ball clock was in the mix. Nelson and Bucky both comment they think Isamu drew it first as "...[he] has a genius for doing two stupid things and making it extraordinary...out of the combination." A great story of the creative process and how synergy creates a whole that is greater than the simple sum of its parts.

Looking through Nelson's catalog I found the model in the consignment store was Howard Miller Model # 2239 Spool/Spindle Clock Diameter: 22.5" with a Retail value 1957: UNKNOWN.

I made an offer on the clock and two days later the store owner called me back and said the clock was mine. It will look great on the living room wall. 

Vitra Nelson Spindle Clock 

Monday, July 6, 2015

Melting Clocks

Goodwill Novato today and found copy of a melting clock originally designed by George Nelson based on the well known painting by Salvador Dali "The Persistence of Memory". There is a little write-up on the various styles produced over on the InfoBarrel website, along with some pictures and how to find re-productions. At a whopping $2.49 I was ready to take the chance it still worked and took it home.

A new battery and it has kept great time ever since. I put it on the wood pillar between the kitchen and the dining room of the house, adding some iron dancers I found at the local hospice thrift ($15.00) and have been smiling every time I glance at it since.

Melted Clock by Verichron - George Nelson design

Friday, July 3, 2015

Something Old / Something New

Dinnerware picked up at goodwill over the years resulted in an eclectic mix of colors and patterns coming together is a colorful splash when laid out over Tuscan table cloths from Williams Sonoma. This worked well and was worry free with the kids in their younger years, however ...

Moving into our new home, the kids and I thought with them getting older, an 'Adult' house - a place to relax, unwind, get our homework (and work) done in a non-stressful environment was where we wanted to live.

We dispensed with all things 'Kid-Like' such as playrooms (we wanted a war room for our gaming and software development activities), sippy cups and plastic dishes (GONE! we want something 'intentional') and yes, we know how to use the dishwasher and clean up after ourselves. So, as we look at dinnerware options for our new home we knew we wanted something MCM and yet FUN!

A few years ago, I had visited an estate sale in Marin and was looking for some oversize bowls to eat pasta out of (we had chipped/broken most of our existing large bowls) and picked up 3 Russel Wright American Modern dual lugged serving bowls thinking they were the same size as the now chipped or broken Italian knock-offs we had been using during the kids younger years. It was (of course!) Sunday, the prices were discounted and there was a table covered in Chartreuse and Black Chutney Brown dishes with weird shaped handles and shapes. I thought it would be FUN to have these around though they fit in with absolutely nothing we owned or I could even imagine ever owning since we were living in the country house and going for the Rustic, Shabby Chic look throughout.

I picked up the serving bowls and then selected about 20 pieces of mixed American Modern and Iroquois serving dishes, cereal bowls and a pitcher for the total price of $22.

I had no idea what I was buying but liked the colors and the shapes and thought we could use these for casual meals outside on the deck as we often dined Alfresco during the California summer months.

Now enlightened to the history of the uniquely shaped dinnerware, the kids and I decided we wanted to use American Modern dishes in our new house even if it meant washing them by hand because they aligned well with our value of 'FUN!'

Collectors Weekly starts out describing Wright's work by saying he produced the dinnerware with Steubenville Pottery Company of Ohio, was introduced in 1939 and had sold some 250 million pieces by the end of the 1950s. The original colors were Seafoam Blue, Coral, Chartreuse, Grey, White, and Bean Brown. A second set of colors included Cedar Green, Cantaloupe, Glacier Blue, and Black Chutney. Today the line is produced by Bauer Pottery of Los Angeles, for whom Wright designed after World War II.

We had a small mix of Black Chutney and Chartreuse bowls and serving dishes and started watching Ebay and Etsy for necessary additions so we could set a dinner table. During this time I also saw his Morgantown glasses that were color coordinated with his dinnerware ... if possible, I would try to get 8 of these as well though at the asking price of $23 a glass at I had to find some via another avenue.

Today, I found a Seafoam dinner plate, salad plate and a cereal bowl for $12 on Etsy. The seller was fairly local so shipping was $5 and 1 day later I received our first lovely blueish/green place setting for our new home. At about $5 a piece (delivered) I thought I had gotten a pretty good deal on dinnerware that typical goes for $7-12 for the small pieces and $10-18 for the dinner plate (PLUS Shipping) on EBay or Etsy. I have not seen many Russel Wright pieces on Craigslist and when I do they are usually at the premium Etsy / 1stDibs pricing levels. 

Interpur Flatware and Russel Wright American Modern Seafoam Place setting 
I'm liking what is happening and will continue my search for American Modern dinnerware, thinking a mix of the Chartreuse and Seafoam would look great with our table cloth!