Mad Men fans are often just as enamored with the design, architecture, and furnishings used to set the backdrop for the show as they are with Don Draper’s dramatic exploits. The early ’60’s setting reflects the simple lines of architects Frank Lloyd Wright and Eero Saarinen -- the definition of the Mid-Century Modern movement.
The ghosts of Mid-Century Modern architecture are around every corner in Fort Lauderdale and throughout most of South Florida. Built out in the ’50’s and ’60’s, our city is rich in repeated geometric details, glass, stone, and retro-futuristic curves of the time. Southern California and most of Florida are home to many examples of the style, which lends itself well to places where people want to invite the surrounding subtropical climate indoors. Design purists would point out much of the Mid-Mod style around town is actually more in the Googie and Atomic Age movements – think the Fabulous Las Vegas sign – but over time those movements have been lumped in to Mid-Century Modern. Examples lovingly maintained in Technicolor include the swirling Hyatt Regency Pier 66 tower and the tile-clad Citibank building at Oakland Park and Federal.
The overall style isn’t limited to commercial buildings and exteriors; prospective homeowners looking for a single-family residence in eastside neighborhoods such as Poinsettia Heights and Victoria Park will find streets lined with homes built in Mid-Century Modern’s heyday. Though there is dispute among design scholars about the exact dates of the movement, Mid-Century Modern is typically defined as a style of architectural, interior, product, and graphic design from roughly post World War II through the mid ’60’s. The style’s clean lines, open areas, and industrial materials such as concrete and metal were a rejection of the ornate Victorian style.
Some of the most charming features of the style, like durable and easy-to-maintain terrazzo floors, have fallen victim to ‘80’s renovations, often covered in cheap tiles or carpet. According to retrorenovation.com, a site specializing in Mid-Century Modern home renovation, other “endangered features” from this period include jalousie windows, colorfully tiled vintage bathrooms, and window shutters.
Renovating these homes with reckless abandon may not be the wisest choice, because many of the features – solid wood cabinets, original flooring, tiled countertops – were built to last, unlike many of today’s “made to break” materials.
"Some buyers of single-family homes in Fort Lauderdale are seeking out original Mid-Century Modern features, such as terrazzo floors, which are relatively easy to restore and are very durable,” said Samantha DeBianchi, owner of DeBianchi Real Estate. “Additionally, Mid-Century Modern style can be found at a lot of trendy SoBe hotels, and people like to incorporate those elements into their own homes."
As a Mid-Mod mecca, Fort Lauderdale is also home to endless antique and furniture stores that specialize in original or replica furnishings from the Atomic Age. Jerry Marino – owner of Decades, with locations on 4th Avenue and Federal Highway – suggests peppering Mid-Century Modern style in a home. “Mid-Century Modern is at an all-time high now in popularity, but when you try to decorate with all one style, it looks forced. It’s all in the art of the mix. Trends are trends, but classics never go out of style.”
Other stores in town which carry Mid-Century Modern furnishings include 50s 60s 70s Living on Fourth Avenue, Space Modern on 26th Street, and White Glove Antiques on Wilton Drive in Wilton Manors. Another option to bring home a period piece is to hit the many thrift stores around town, or check out craigslist and yard sales in older neighborhoods.
Though tastes may change, timeless light-filled open areas, clean lines and indoor-outdoor sensibility make Fort Lauderdale’s Mid-Century Modern style more than just a chapter in a design book – or that episode when the Drapers visited South Florida.