Whether you grew up in the 1950s and ‘60s or are simply hooked on the TV show “Mad Men,” you’re probably aware that the style of those decades had a particular look and feel. The term “retro” is commonly used now to describe the furniture and home decor items from the mid-century period of the ‘50s to the ‘70s.
There were remarkable cultural shifts during this period, and these were reflected in the styles of that time, from fashion to home furnishings. Furniture had sleek and simple lines and, often, rounded forms, and fabrics were solid, often bold, colors such as reds and oranges. Teak and walnut were commonly used in furniture such as tables and credenzas. Molded plastics, chrome, steel and glass were also used. Some furnishings from this period have a “space age” look.
“Retro” is the most popular vintage style today, and shops with a mid-century focus have sprung up to serve those looking to add some sleek, modern pieces to their home decor. The mid-century modern look is very versatile, and its clean lines blend well with other styles to create an eclectic look.
Neal Kielar, owner of the MidModMen shop, notes that many of his customers are younger adults in their 20s to 40s who appreciate the clean style and simplicity of lines of mid-century furnishings. “They’re used to modernity,” he explains, “and they like that these are authentic, from another time when ‘modern’ was a new thing.” But Kielar also sees a lot of nostalgic empty-nesters redoing their home decor and drawing on the look they grew up with.
MidModMen, on University near Raymond in St. Paul, is one of a cluster of retro shops in this area, making it a great destination for shoppers on the prowl. Just around the corner on Raymond is Succotash, and farther east on University is Classic Retro at Pete’s. West on University in Minneapolis, Spinario Design is tucked onto the second floor of the Art & Architecture Building, shared by several antique shops and the Cupcake restaurant.
Most of these shops offer an array of furniture and other items, from cocktail shakers to couches. Typically, you’ll find upholstered furniture, dining sets, side tables, desks and hutches, along with an eclectic mix of lamps, ceramics, glassware and dishes. Spinario is the largest of the shops in this area, with a large collection of furniture and art. (Be persistent in tracking down the shop; signage in the building is minimal.) There’s no parking on University Avenue due to the upcoming light-rail service running down the street, so look for parking on side streets.
Another area to check out is northeast Minneapolis. Danish Teak Classics, on Jackson Street, features high-quality Danish modern furniture, which was very popular in the 1950s-60s. Its showroom has a large collection that includes both vintage pieces as well as some newly made furniture from a few Danish sources that still produce classic pieces from that period.
Also in northeast Minneapolis, Find Furnish on 5th Street has a good assortment of retro furniture, and they will also try to track down a particular type of item a customer is trying to find.
Most retro furniture is high-quality, and pieces in good condition are an investment. There are lower-priced things for shoppers looking for smaller decor items or some “kitchy” knick-knacks. Even if you’re just looking to get the sense of the retro look, it can be fun and inspiring to visit the shops; you may leave with decorating ideas for your home or apartment.
Plan your shopping trip: Most of the shops are closed on Mondays, and some are closed on Tuesdays and Wednesdays as well. MidModMen is open weekends only. Open hours are typically afternoon only.