It’s that time of year and Fall is peeking around the corner. Why not replace those outdoor barbeque and pool parties with warmer, cozier gathering spaces that are comprised of your favorite Modernist design elements in which to entertain and hang out in?
The Art of Conversation (Pits)
With the brisk change in the air comes the urge to curl up in a cozy space. There isn’t a cozier image that comes to mind than lounging in a conversation pit, which allows for intimate seating and evokes a casual, laid back vibe. One of the earliest appearances of the conversation pit was The Miller House, a Modernist Masterpiece designed in 1958 in Columbus, Indiana, by Eero Saarinen for J. Irwin Miller, an American Industrialist. The conversation pit, a square shaped depression located within the open plan living room, was lined with pink carpeting, bright red couches and patterned pillows designed by Alexander Girard. A few steps down and you enter an intimate space for guests to mingle and hold conversation around a centered glass coffee table and spots for cocktail glasses and ashtrays.
For Modernist Architect Paul Rudolph, known for his use of concrete and complex designs, the conversation pit was actually a signature element. Bruce Goff, another architect of the time, used them in his house designs spanning from the 1920’s through the 1960’s. However, due to safety issues with accidental falls and uncomfortable conversations with those standing in the main area of the room, the conversation pit eventually fell out of fashion by the 1970’s and gave way to the less dramatic design of the sunken living room. But today, influenced by the popularity of mid-century design and spurred by the enormous success of shows such as Mad Men, (Hello, Don Draper’s Manhattan apartment anyone?) indoor as well as outdoor conversation pits are once again experiencing a resurgence in popularity. In our fast paced and technology based world, having a designated area in which one can entertain and hold conversations, in a setting that allows for better face to face interaction is most desirable.
Curl Up In Front of the (Retro Inspired) Fire
Unable to add a conversation pit to your indoor or outdoor space but still want to add a retro inspired cozy element to your home? Well look no further than a freestanding retro cone fireplace!
Post World War II, the idea of the fireplace underwent a stellar transformation. Before the war, practical cast iron wood stoves and built-in fireplaces were the main element for heating homes. After the war, as life was resuming back to what it was before, architecture and design underwent a metamorphosis which resulted in modern, futuristic designs in furniture, interior design, and architecture. The NASA inspired design of the freestanding cone fireplace arrived on the scene in bright and bold colors which were mounted on pedestals or feet. Three manufacturers are recognizable as the most popular producers of these iconic fireplaces: Preway, Majestic, and Malm.
Preway fireplaces, designed by Seattle architect, Wendell Lovett in the 1950’s, combined a modern form with futuristic appeal to create a freestanding spaceship shaped freestanding cone fireplace with pedestal base. Unfortunately, the Preway Company has been out of business for around 20 years.
Majestic fireplaces, found in similar retro shapes as the Preway and Malm models, began in 1894, and has since been producing wood burning and gas fireplaces. You can still find retro Majestics if you hunt around carefully!
Malm, which began producing fireplaces in 1960 in California’s Sonoma Valley, is still in production today, with new models and designs, as well as custom made fireplaces that are available to purchase as well. Malm touts, “Traditional masonry brick fireplaces take hours to heat the mass of bricks and waste much of the heat. Malm fireplaces heat up rapidly and radiate heat efficiently in all directions. Unlike traditional wood burning fireplaces our fireplaces allow you a clear view of your fire from any angle and are available in a range of designer colors.”
So, where can one find these iconic midcentury gems? Look no further than Craigslist, Ebay, thrift store, or your local yard sale. Just be prepared for one that might need a little work to get it looking gorgeous again. If you are searching for an authentic retro cone fireplace you won’t have to spend time or money refurbishing, look to places such as The Retro Burn or 1stdibs.com to purchase an authentic mid-century one in pristine condition.