Wednesday, October 13, 2010

The Saga of Our Mid-Century Sleepy Hollow Chair

This spring, we found ourselves a tad flush, which meant, of course, that the money must be spent ASAP. We decided to restore some mid-century pieces, one of which was this chair (the cat stayed home). Apparently, this is what's known as a "Sleepy Hollow" chair. Here's one definition: "An armchair of the mid-19th century, sometimes on rockers, having a single piece forming a high upholstered back and a concave upholstered seat." While it's clearly more from the mid-20th century, it's definitely got that cool "single piece" aspect going for it.

I'm showing it off because its fantastic looks are a stark contrast to the way it looked when we first saw it: The poor chair had sat out in the middle of a courtyard at an antiques shop, in the midsummer sun and through several rainy days and nights. Because it isn't an Eastlake or a Duncan Phyfe, the shop owners held it in such low regard that they wouldn't even bring it indoors.

Our furniture doctor of choice is always Hank Tosh of Tosh Mahal (see my earlier post to learn more about Hank and what he does). Taking stuff to Hank may seem like a weird way to get your kicks, but nothing is more fun than bringing a thing of beauty back to its glory. And Hank seems to feel the same way, because he is truly a master at it. And he's intrepid.

He had to be, as it turned out. He does a much better job at explaining exactly what had to be done to restore this chair on his blog. Check out the before pics and read Hank's blow-by-blow account of the surgery, if you're like us and you love to geek out on this kind of stuff.

Thursday, October 7, 2010

Vinyl Tile and Mid-Century Floors in Fort Worth

Lots of people struggle with what kind of flooring to put down in a mid-century-modern house. When we bought our house and renovated it in 2006, we decided to go with vinyl composition tile -- some people call it commercial vinyl tile, others call it vinyl commercial tile, VCT, CVT. It's basically the same stuff we all remember from school. One of the coolest things about it: There are scores of colors and limitless color combinations. (We had asked the installers to use a random pattern, but, as with so many things that happened during the renovation, he wasn't really listening ...)
I had to share these pics with you to show you how great it can look when it's stripped, waxed and buffed. We use a company called Jackson Quality Janitorial here in Fort Worth. We didn't get any kind of price break for sharing this info., we just like the work they did. And Lewis Jackson is hands down one of the nicest guys we've ever had cross our MCM threshold.

Monday, September 6, 2010

Elliott Erwitt, Fort Worth, Texas - 1962

Like many MCM aficianados, Sunday night is for Mad Men, Monday is for Mad Men analysis. One of my favorite Monday reads is the breakdown over at This week in special bonus coverage, a photo collection of period images, including this one from the great Elliott Erwitt taken right here in Cowtown. Hey, fur kills, baby, but you look great. Fab living room, too.

Sunday, August 15, 2010

4000 Hartwood Dr., Fort Worth, 76109, $247,500

A friend sent me a link to this house with the simple words "I want" in the subject line. This midcentury beauty just looks so cool and shady, sprawled out there in Tanglewood's forest. It was built in 1959 and is 1,664 square feet, with three bedrooms and two full baths.
It has beamed ceilings, hardwood floors and that pillowy saltillo tile. If you look closely at the living room pic, on the left you can see a built-in planter, one of those totally charming mid-cen touches that are so often ripped out. I want, too!

Sunday, July 11, 2010

Wayne Grubb and "The Brown Trail House"

Does the name Wayne Grubb ring a bell? I mentioned him in a previous post, the one about the fantastic pink enamel kitchen appliances. As cool as the appliances are, the real story turned out to be Wayne -- a local genius who in 1957 designed and built the home the appliances came from, this googie-licious house on Brown Trail in Hurst. The bad news: It is NOT on the market. The good news: The fourth generation of this WWII veteran's family lives there, and I'm told they've adhered to MCM style.

Wayne, who was also a philosopher and inventor, worked as a general contractor on large custom homes in North Texas until his death, in 1997. His daughter, a graphic artist named Revis Grubb Plemmons, has been extremely generous with text and photos so that I can share information about her father and the fantastic house she grew up in. "Inspired by the architecture of Frank Lloyd Wright, especially Fallingwater, my dad used various woods and crabstone to give the house an organic ambience," she says. I'd never heard of crabstone before, but it apparently has gorgeous coloration and texture.

The house also wreaked havoc with visitors' internal compasses: There are no square rooms in the 2,600-square-foot house except for the two bathrooms. "Dad told me that he would decide the square footage for a room, start with conventional right-angled shapes, then skew the shape," Revis says, recalling that it wasn't uncommon for people to forget which way the street was after stepping 15 or 20 feet into the house. The house is as dazzling and disorienting, says one of Wayne's bios, as a philosophy discussion with the man himself.

Wayne, a native of Bangs, Texas, had tinkered with objects ever since he was able to walk. His earnings from "Solar Windows," which he invented and patented, enabled him to build the house. The design featured screens and movable panes, which could be opened to various degrees to control airflow. They can still be seen in homes and businesses throughout Dallas-Fort Worth. Revis says she remembers her dad bringing home the prototype to the family's tiny duplex apartment in Fort Worth when she was about 4. (Later, Wayne invented a machine that automated the task of prepping doors for hanging. It's been estimated that at one time, 85% of all doors produced worldwide were cut on his machinery.)

People started talking about "the Brown Trail House." It wasn't unusual for strangers to pull into the driveway and get out of their car to look around, Revis says. Once, her mother opened the front door and sort of jokingly offered the visitors a tour, which they immediately took her up on! Photos that Revis sent me include these images of the interior, taken in 1959. Oh yum. Wanna take a tour, too? Let's go, kids! (This is a baby Sputnik light fixture in the living room.)

At left is the living room. When you look at touches like this divider, you can really see what a labor of love the home was.

Just off the living room is the dining room. Looks like grass-cloth wallpaper, which looks so smart and is so hot again. (On a TV redesign show a couple of years ago, I watched as designer Kenneth Brown suggested grass-cloth wallpaper to a well-heeled couple, who recoiled in horror -- bet they'd like a do-over on that one ...)

The kitchen is so stream-lined. Really well-done. Wayne designed special cabinets for maximum efficiency. The upper cabinets operate on a weights and pulley system. The lower area conceals drawers and cabinets. Many of the drawers and cabinets have spring-open catches.

And, of course, there are those fantastic pink enamel appliances.

At the back of the house is the den, which sported a long, low, lovely custom sofa. The Scandinavian look of the sofa along with the natural elements of the plants and all the stone ... good lord, what's not to love??
Behind the curtains are doors leading to the patio. The tray ceiling is really something special.
(Cool bottles -- and great chair!)

Isn't this the kind of image we conjure when we think about a tall stacked stone fireplace in a really fabulous, well-designed midcentury ranch house?
Lucky children!

Wednesday, June 30, 2010

7270 Baxtershire Drive, Dallas 75230 $799K

When you talk about mid-century modern neighborhoods in Dallas, the houses on the Disney streets usually come up first, and they certainly are among the googiest. However, I have a special place in my heart for the majestic, rambling ranches in the neighborhoods between Forest and Royal, between Preston and 75. Many of these houses were custom-built, high-quality homes in their time. Many of them have enjoyed a fantastic second life in the hands of owners who respect their heritage.

A great example: 7270 Baxtershire. This house was designed by Fred Tycher in 1961 for himself and his family. It's got great curb appeal and the inside features soaring vaulted ceilings with full length architectural beams. The current owners completed a major renovation and restoration in 2007. The results are stunning.

Monday, June 28, 2010

7341 Malabar Lane Dallas, 75230 $520K

Here's a very cool looking MCM built in 1958 that appears mostly undisturbed in a neat little mid-century neighborhood off Forest Lane and Central. Great lot and trees, lots of windows, washed wood paneling and brick floors. Is that a St. Charles kitchen? The deets and the pix are here.

Sunday, June 27, 2010

Mersman Surfboard Coffee Table For Sale

So much furniture, so little square footage. Anyone who is looking for an awesome MCM coffee table, check out our post on Craigslist for this sweet, sweet Mersman surfboard coffee table, just restored by the magic hands of Hank Tosh.

6840 Brants Lane, Fort Worth 76116 - $279K

Ridglea Hills is one of best mid-century neighborhoods in Fort Worth and this nicely remodeled gem is, IMO, something of a steal. I love this house. It's close to Luther Lake and has an Eichler vibe that you don't see all that often in Cowtown. I think curb appeal is a little bit of an issue, but if I were in market for a mid-century house on the left side of the Metromess, this would be at the top of my list. Click here for more details and lots of photo goodness.

The Graf Residence in Dallas

I picked up a fascinating book at an estate sale in Fort Worth recently -- The Super-Americans by John Bainbridge. Bainbridge was a writer for The New Yorker who moved to Texas for nine months in the early 1960s and produced a sociological portrait of Texas at mid-century that outraged many Texans at the time but still makes for interesting reading.

As I thumbed through the book in search of good Fort Worth stories, I found an interesting passage about Mrs. Josephine Herbert Graf, the heiress to a Fort Worth oil fortune that built the house pictured above in the Preston Hollow section of Dallas. The house, which was designed by Edward D. Stone, who also designed Fort Worth's current city hall building and the U.S. Embassy in New Dehli, has been meticulously renovated by current owners John and Jennifer Eagle and Dallas architect Russell Buchanan and earned an award in 2008 from the National Trust for Historic Preservation.

Mrs. Graf's back story is interesting reading. She married the son of a New York millionaire, John W. Herbert III, who came to Texas to get into the oil industry in the 1920s and succeeded quite nicely. The couple eventually settled in Fort Worth after a stint traveling in Europe, but with the outbreak of World War II, John Herbert enlisted in the Army Air Force at the age of 42. With her husband away, Josephine set about learning how to run the business in his absence. Unfortunately, she found out on Christmas Eve 1942 that her husband was lost on a combat mission over New Guinea. With that, Mrs. Herbert became principal owner of the Herbert Oil Company.

After the war, Josephine married again, a European by the name of Bruno Graf, and eventually moved from Fort Worth to Switzerland for several years before moving back to Texas and settling in Dallas and beginning construction on this house as a way to avoid paying capital gains tax on the sale of her $450,000 Fort Worth residence.

Stone's design was modern yet ornate and five to six dozen artisans working on the job steadily because everything is custom-made, including 54-inch squares of white marble veined with gold, seventy walnut doors and custom furnishings from T.H. Robsjohn-Gibbings among other touches. The coolest feature: a white marble island above a swimming pool where the dining area is located. Said Mrs. Graf in Bainbridge's book: "When you go into the pool, you push a button and the water level goes down six inches -- that's so it doesn't splash." Yeah, just like at my house.

Over the top? Yes. Accessible modern design? Not hardly. Cool as all get-out. You bet. I'm just glad that as we seem MCM landmarks going the way of the wrecking ball in the Dallas-Fort Worth area, some people have the commitment and the money to preserve some of the landmarks. I hope more people follow their lead.

Sunday, May 16, 2010

We're Still Here!

Rumors of our demise are premature. We have been off the radar a while, but we have lots of stuff we still want to share. Please be patient! More Dallas - Fort Worth Mid-Century goodness is on the way!

Wednesday, January 20, 2010

Wayne Grubb and the Midcentury Pink Kitchen Near Fort Worth

For months now, I've been meaning to write about a Craigslist experience I had in June, one that cost me nothing but was extremely cool. It started with this ad:

"We recently remodeled our parents home in Hurst. We have a very unique Westinghouse Refrigerator/Freezer, circa 1957 that we would like to GIVE AWAY, rather than see it hauled to the dump. It is a side by side, built in the wall unit. I have been told that there were only 15 of these ever made and that one is in the Smithsonian. I have only seen one like it and it was in Frank Sinatra's home in Beverly Hills. ... It has the original mid 1950's pink enamel paint and is in really good condition. We have the matching pink built in oven, which still works, also."

OK, what MCM freak WOULDN'T sit up and take notice? With nowhere to store it and a vintage turquoise double-oven already hooked up and working in my kitchen -- and it's not what I would sell at RetroMania -- of course I answered the ad to claim it! (I was under the influence of some powerful appliance porn, people!) Just look at these pictures and tell me you wouldn't have done the same. You'd have to be made of stone.

A woman named Revis Grubb Plemmons answered my e-mail and told me that the appliances are from the house of her late father, Wayne Grubb, a designer/builder/philosopher/inventor who worked as a general contractor on large custom homes in North Texas until his death, in 1997. He designed and built the home, which is on Brown Trail in Hurst, in 1957. Apparently, it was so unusual that it became known as "the Brown Trail House." Now, the fourth generation of the family lives there.

I'll delve into some detail about what made the house so awesome and what made Wayne even awesomer, in a separate post, with pics and news clippings, courtesy of Revis. The good news: The family did major remodeling to the house but adhered to MCM style, I'm told. To which I offer a huge PHEW! and a heartfelt "BLESS YOU, FAMILY."

Back to the appliances: I thought better of accepting Revis' generous offer after she told me that someone from Dallas who had answered the ad after I did was crestfallen to learn that he had been scooped, because he was actually redoing his kitchen retro-style, with pink enamel appliances. What kind of monster would stand in the way of a mission so pure? Incidentally, that's the fridge interior (above).

More to come on this talented local visionary, the late Wayne Grubb, as well as some of his projects.