The midcentury gave us a wealth of great design, but today “midcentury modern” is often a misnomer applied to a style that’s increasingly hard to define–and avoid.
Whether you’re looking for a bargain buy on fast-furniture fixtures like Article, West Elm, and Burrow, or at higher-end stores that stock the classics, like Design Within Reach and Vitra, there’s a sameness that permeates much of design today. What made the midcentury unique has been generically flattened to a mainstream aesthetic default that continues to dominate the furniture and product market across the price spectrum.
Midcentury modern fatigue is real, and it’s even hitting the retail giants that helped popularize it. In the past year alone, Ikea, the Swedish big-box brand long synonymous with affordable modern furniture for the masses, has taken note of the era’s waning appeal with collections that are arty, ugly, techy, and even extraterrestrial–anything but midcentury. At the same time, a growing batch of more adventurous brands, startups, vintage dealers, independent shops, and entrepreneurial designers are selling contemporary design online today. The pendulum is swinging back to a wider range of aesthetics (and not just Memphis-inspired stuff, though there’s some of that, too).
Here’s our guide to finding original design, with more than 20 online shopping destinations that are firmly rooted in the present.
Start with fabric, not furniture
Textiles are the perfect, low-stakes way to add a punchy graphic to an interior or give a second life to a bland or older piece. And luckily, an insurgence of independent designers specializing in the craft–and taking their wares online–mean they’re not hard to find.
Block Shop, blockshoptextiles.com
Los Angeles-based sisters Lily and Hopie Stockman bring a bohemian California spirit to their colorful and natural-dyed Kantha quilts, prints, and table linens, with oversized patterns produced by hand with a community of master printers, dyers, and weavers based in Rajasthan, India.
Dusen Dusen, dusendusen.com
Clothing and textile designer Ellen Van Dusen, whose dresses have been known to pop up on millennial chronicler Lena Dunham, recently expanded her popular geometric-pop designs with a home category that includes towels, upholstery, bedding, poufs, and shower curtains.
Nick and Rachel Cope, the husband-and-wife duo behind Calico Wallpaper, the bespoke wallpaper company that popularized the ethereal marbleized lewk, have also jumped into the home textiles game with Cope. The line of pillows, curtains, and throws feature a soft watercolor aesthetic inspired by art, science, and nature.
For rugs, look to Adam Sipe and Arati Rao’s Brooklyn-based label Tantuvi for handwoven ikats and dhurries made by women-run artisan collaboratives in South India that use centuries-old techniques. Sipe, a painter, and Rao, a fashion designer by training, pair to bring a keen eye to abstract compositions, and the duo also collaborates on high-street capsule collections with CB2 from time to time.
Look for budget options at Minted, the print-on-demand stationery and textile platform that crowdsources patterns and illustrators from a community of artists. And for the less adventurous, default to basic with essentials from Snowe, a house goods purveyor that cuts costs by nixing the middleman, or Brooklinen, which offers quality, mostly monochrome linens at decent prices.
Look to fashion designers
Interior design and fashion make natural bedfellows, and many fashion brands and retailers are moving into the home sector, introducing furniture and lifestyle products alongside clothing and apparel. From the buzzy, big-ticket collaboration between Kvadrat and Raf Simons to more accessible collections like Virgil Abloh’s Ikea line, you can come across some pretty sweet, unexpected finds thanks to today’s fashion designers.
Memphis Milano gift shop at Nordstrom, nordstrom.com
The teeming popularity and resurgence of the short-lived but highly influential Memphis Group, especially among young designers, can be seen as a reaction against the studious practicality of the midcentury modern ethos (though it may, too, have peaked and crested). Case in point: Nordstrom is hosting a pop-up of original wares from the 1980s Italian collective through the end of this month–and you can find most of it online for a pretty penny.
Need Supply Co., needsupply.com
The Richmond, Virginia, store opened in 1996 as a retailer of vintage Levi’s, but has since expanded into a full-blown clothing and lifestyle store with a mix of well-known brands and emerging designers, now complete with a curated set of home goods. Go to their “Life” page to find a stock of giftable items you’d be tempted to keep for yourself, ranging from geometric coasters from Areaware (itself a good source for fun gifts) to perfectly folding table linens by Issey Miyake for Iittala, more high-end scented candles than you can afford, rugs by Cold Picnic, and lots of stylish planters by Eric Trine, Yield Design, and more.
The Line, theline.com
Located in a second-floor showroom that’s styled as a lived-in loft apartment, The Line is a favorite for downtown Manhattan fashion types, though its online shop it just as good for those not based in the city. Its luxe mix of home goods includes minimalist furniture, art prints, antiques, vases, and tableware from a range of brands and independent makers; as well as textiles, tabletop items, and accessories from their own in-house collection, Tenfold.
Founded in 2013 as an online-only store that has since expanded to include a New York showroom, Trnk markets itself as a design retailer for shoppers seeking a “handsome home” with a “masculine point of view.” That feels tone-deaf in 2018, but don’t let that stop you from browsing the huge inventory of sleek, polished wares that make it a solid choice for midrange sofas, chunky armchairs, and an eclectic mix of designs that keep the midcentury homage to a tasteful minimum.
Dig into speciality stores and concept shops
Luckily, in the age of the internet, you don’t need to travel far to track down hard-to-find goods from concept stores with a razor-sharp aesthetic. You’re likely to find a prized keepsake and plenty of inspiration with a simple browse of these highly curated stores.
Tortoise General Store, tortoiselife.com
Founded around a philosophy of a “slow and steady” lifestyle, the Venice, California-based store Tortoise sells Japanese minimalist furniture and household wares, and carries the entirety of the Hasami Porcelain collection, so you can mix and match your own complete set.
Salter House, salter.house, @salter.house
Sandeep Salter worked as a cataloguer for Printed Matter–the nonprofit that brought us the massive, annual New York Art Book Fair–before moving on to be the art and design book buyer at the independent bookstore McNally Jackson, and eventually staking a claim in the retail landscape with two spin-offs: Goods for the Study, home to all of the beautiful pens, stationery, and office goods you could hope for, and Picture Room, a store of artists’ editions and prints that she’s since taken independent. She teamed up with her husband, Carson Salter, on her latest venture, Salter House, which opened last month in Brooklyn. Alongside vegan treats and tea, the shop serves up traditional and sustainable, everyday English, American, and Japanese goods that have a calming effect and are blissfully plastic-free.
Mociun Home, mociun.com
Trained in textile design, RISD alum Caitlin Mociun made her name in Brooklyn with her custom jewelry pieces. Her outpost for home goods is a treasure trove of both–plus a jaw-dropping collection of zeitgeist-y ceramics by independent makers like Bari Ziperstein, Risa Nishimori, and Workaday Handmade. Your best bet is a visit to the brick-and-mortar location in Williamsburg, though many pieces are listed online, and Mociun frequently shares new pieces on her Instagram account, @mociunhome.
Use Instagram for rare finds and independent design
Mixing in vintage pieces can add character to the rest of your stock Ikea finds, but navigating the listings of behemoth platforms like Chairish, Etsy, and 1stdibs can be a daunting challenge, if you don’t have a specific piece in mind. For a more casual browse, opt for specialized independent vintage dealers who sell directly on social media, and often share a wealth of archival eye candy between product posts.
Bi-Rite, biritestudio.com, @bi_rite
Brooklyn-based dealer Cat Snodgrass runs both a brick-and-mortar store and an online shop, but, with nearly 20,000 followers on Instagram, her wares are likely to get snapped up in the comments before they hit the showroom floor. Expect a mix of playful and highbrow PoMo furniture, lighting, and product finds in primary colors from the ’80s and ’90s, including wastebaskets by Gino Colombini from Kartell, telephones by Michael Graves for Target, first-edition books on postmodern design, and the occasional nameless retro gem, like a stool with oversized pencils for legs.
Coming Soon, comingsoonnewyork.com, @comingsoonny
The Lower East Side boutique is catnip for well-to-do hipster obsessed with interiors. You can browse products by color and astrology sign, in addition to the typical categories of price and genre, and it’s stocked almost entirely with works from up-and-coming designers and established independents like Chen Chen & Kai Williams, Anna Karlin Studios, and Group Partner. But don’t sleep on its incredible vintage furniture listings: With limited space in the packed-to-the-gills Manhattan storefront, the funky and glam ’70s finds often make their way online or on Instagram first, to an audience of more than 40,000 followers.