REVIEW: Modern Retro

Front cover of the book Modern Retro

Modern Retro takes images of homes from the Côté Maison archives to illustrate how mid-twentieth century design can work with pieces of furniture and design from other eras. Written by Caroline Clifton-Mogg, the book is divided into three parts. The first part, “Retro Styling”, looks at how retro pieces of furniture and homeware can be used to create themes, there are sub-headings such as “In Classic Mode” and “Rustic Reclamation". Under each sub-heading there is a selection of case studies which show you images of individual homes, some information about the owners and the design choices they have made. 

image taken from p36 of Modern Retro

p36. Jean-Marc Palisse, stylist Alix de Dives, architect Marion Méchet
 "The first-floor living room, which looks over the street. On the left is a steamer chair with arms, which originated from the transatlantic liner France. There are African touches everywhere in the room are: by the sofa, a pair of stools, and on the opposite wall, a pair of 30s-style armchairs, all from the Ivory Coast."

Out of the three parts, this is probably my least favourite. The homes are interesting enough and 'some' of them are beautiful, but I found it hard to be inspired by what seemed to be a lot of loft spaces and apartments in France (mostly); it seems a world away from anything I could hope to aspire to in my own home. Having said that I still found myself swooning over chairs and sofas, the (one) little french cottage and all the geometric patterns. I particularly enjoyed the section on colourful styling, the homes were smaller and less lofty yet still managed to pop out of the page.

image taken from p41 of Modern Retro

p41. Patrick van Robaeys, stylist Stéphanie Boiteux-Gallard
"The room has been opened up to reveal the old staircase where the metal steps and rail have been replaced with oak. The sofa is covered with an old quilt, in front of which is a table from the 1950s. Behind an old work bench next to the door is a group of etchings and watercolours by Jean Hulin."

It was interesting to see how many of the homes shown in the case studies were owned by dealers or collectors, I personally found these homes masterfully exhibited but a little too contrived for my tastes; they weren't necessarily warm and welcoming. Many of the other homes were also holiday homes, and it is much easier to the follow the advice running throughout the book that less is more if you don't have to include all your worldly possessions.

image taken from p73 of Modern Retro

p73. Henri del Olmo, stylist Caroline Guiol, architects Henry Roussel and Eric Steiner

"In the living room, a no.71 armchair by Eero Saarinen from 1951 and a low, vintage, Danish table in teak. An oak sideboard/storage unit from the 1950s boasts sliding doors in lime-yellow, and the striking rug picks up all the colours used in the apartment, and more besides."

Part two, “Details that Count“, looks at all the different elements that make up a room, so you'll find detail on Furnishing, Lighting, Textiles, Surfaces and Decoration. There are some beautiful lights featured such as the Mante Religeuse by Rispal, and I would love a stunning pendulum light, apparently some rooms aren't complete without one, I just don't think it would be appropriate in my home, (I can touch the ceiling upstairs if I stand on my tip-toes and I'm only 5'2”). 

image taken from p80 of Modern Retro

p80​. Bernard Touillon, stylist Laurence Botta-Delannoy, designer Gérard Faivre
"Entirely rearranged and restructured, the reception rooms, dining room and office now all combine a melange of contemporary and vintage design. The walls are papered in a Sanderson re-edition of a 1950s design, and the ceiling has ​been lined with stripped cane. The sofas and chairs are by Cappellini."

“Room by Room” (part three) considers how to approach introducing retro style into each room of the house. I appreciated the simple guidance that could be found in the text: “The trick to mixing periods and styles... is to look first at the shape and then at scale and proportion”. However, I did get my feathers a little ruffled over less realistic advice for the bedroom: “The rest of the room (after the bed) should contain things that are pleasing to live with. There may be a small slightly delicate desk perhaps, a comfortable chair or even a small sofa...”

Do you know what I find pleasing to live with? Somewhere to hang my clothes, I found very little evidence of where these owners hang theirs. Now you'd think in an interiors book celebrating an era of design that revolved around form and function, that storage for clothes would be pretty high on the list. (Yes, I realise they probably all have dressing rooms – wouldn't that be lovely).

image taken from p181 of Modern Retro

p​ ​181​. Nicolas Mathéus, stylist Emmanuelle Ponsan,
"A serene sitting room furnished with vintage pieces of different styles that work together through colour and texture. Panelled wooden walls, which have been limed, and a painted wooden floor are the background for an intricate slotted table, an armchair and a classic Gras lamp."

So there are good bits and bits that aren't so good, but what I loved - yes loved – about these two parts of the book were how engaging they were compared to the first part, they made you think about what you were looking at and how it related to your own situation. Even though most of the same homes had been used to illustrate this as were seen in the case studies (but thankfully using different images, I only spotted one cropped repeat), detail is picked out that can be usefully adapted for any home. I also enjoyed the elements of history included, such as background on textiles and furnishings with a hat tip towards the Bauhaus, Anni Albers, Marion Dorn and Lucianne Day, as well as some history on how our use of rooms has developed over the centuries. 

Do I like this book? Yes. Would I recommend this book? Yes, it is well written, sounds quite poetic in places (and a little bit Loyd Grossman in others), and author Caroline Clifton-Mogg is clearly passionate about interiors; it is informative, it makes some excellent suggestions on how to incorporate retro style into your home and offers good examples. Just don't expect to come away with a bucket-load of enthusiasm on how to transform your home, do however, (if you are anything like me), come away with the overwhelming urge to own your own Eames chair! As the book suggests. “...if you find yourself drawn to this era then a good entry point might be to incorporate one of more of these smaller pieces – the accents, so to speak – into your current look”. I think a chair is fairly small, don't you?


Modern Retro: From Rustic to Urban, Classic to Contemporary
Caroline Clifton-Mogg

Published by Jacqui Small
RRP: £30

ISBN-10: 1910254169
ISBN-13: 978-1910254165