“People were coming out of war and searching for something to believe in. They yearned for creativity, they yearned for good materials after being starved of them for so long – and they wanted something different from their parents.”
Midcentury modern furniture and design was meant as a break with the past, Lucy Ryder Richardson says. But the style possesses such staying power that its appeal is just as strong in the present.
“It was made in an era when designers believed you should give people things that last the length of their lives and beyond and be sold at a reasonable price,” says Lucy, of Modern Shows, which is hosting is first event in the north.
“This was a time when designers put their heart and soul into design and they drew it all by hand, made plaster casts in their garages and matchstick chairs at dinner parties, and turned their homes into laboratories trialling new materials. These pieces have lasted so long because they are beautifully constructed and the patina of the wood is amazing.”
Today there’s an added vintage cachet to seeking out sideboards, chairs, tables, ceramics, lamps and other items from the 1930s to the 1970s. Items in mint condition are now sought after and attract prices to match.
Designers such as Ray and Charles Eames, Arne Jacobsen and Hans Wegner were part of the movement, which spanned Scandinavia, Europe and the US. The familiar British brand G-Plan sold teak furniture inspired by Danish examples from the 1960s onwards.
Modern Shows, founded by Lucy alongside Petra Curtis in 2002, has teamed up with The Hepworth gallery in Wakefield for a two-day fair this weekend. The venue deemed the partnership to be a good fit as the midcentury era coincided with the time sculptor Barbara Hepworth was active as an artist.
Around 35 dealers will be taking part, and visitors from across Yorkshire and beyond are expected to make the trip to The Calder, the gallery’s converted mill. Lucy says the team had been looking for a big enough space in the north for some time. The search was complicated by the need to have the right amount of parking, and a desire not to charge sellers too much.
“You can scour second hand dealers and hunt down pieces online but most people who come to our shows prefer to see the pieces ‘live’, check them for authenticity, measure them and chat to the dealers. Fewer mistakes happen that way. We buy from the dealers at our shows because we trust them and we know they put more work into the pieces than they get back. It’s about passion.”
The TV drama Mad Men, largely set in the homes and offices of 1960s America, is credited with spurring on a midcentury revival in the last decade, but Lucy said there was already a cult following.
“People’s love for midcentury has lasted for more than the past 15 years or we wouldn’t have been in business for so long. It’s a vast subject with a fascinating history.”
Lucy is a collector. “I have kids so I stick to wooden chairs where possible. My Cherner chair is my favourite. It has pointed legs like stilettos and is sexy and curvy. I have an early one from the 1950s.”
And a show in Sheffield hasn’t been ruled out.
“If we found the right venue at the right price with loads of parking we would love to as Sheffield has such an amazing midcentury heritage as far as the production of stainless steel, pewter and silver are concerned.”
Midcentury Modern at The Hepworth runs from 10am to 4pm on Saturday and Sunday. Advance tickets £3 or £2 for members, entry £5 on the day, under-16s go free. Visit www.hepworthwakefield.org for further details.