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Mary-Margaret is an Award-Winning Creative Director and ‘New Media’ producer. She has provided art direction, research & writing, illustration, interactive & online development, marketing & project management for the likes of Mattel, Dreamworks, IBM, Canon, Intel, Toshiba and Xerox. She is a native Californian and received her Bachelors in Design from UCLA with a minor in Marketing.
As a respected archivist of the Mid Century Modern landscape, Mary-Margaret has been interviewed for televison, radio and print about historic Pop Culture and architectue. She has lent her talents on preservation battles such as the Cinerama Dome in Hollywood, produced and led tours for MONA the Museum of Neon Art, and produced, wrote and managed the critically acclaimed tour, “How Modern Was My Valley” for the National Trust for Historic Preservation and the Los Angeles Conservancy.
Mary-Margaret is intimately connected with the subject matter experts needed to produce Lotta Livin’. A former Los Angeles radio personality, Mary-Margaret produced and hosted On the Town, a weekly half hour drive-time radio show on a local NPR station that featured topical music and interviews about pop culture events. This show and her love of the MidMod community eventually led to the development of the Lotta Living website which through grass roots support alone gets thirty thousand (30,000) unique visitors and over three (3) million hits per month!
Please enjoy this recent article which explains the lure of the past and where Ms. Stratton explains her views on the Retro Lifestyle…
Mistress of Mid-Mod
By Kirk Baird
Ask most any fan of mid-century modernism why he or she enjoys the ultra-cool look and lifestyle from the ’50s and ’60s, and the answer is usually the same. The optimism.
“Everything had an optimistic feel to it and that’s so attractive,” said Mary-Margaret Stratton. “The clothing, the music, the furniture, the objects, the kitchenware they all express that optimism to me.”
That optimism was an outgrowth of World War II. The United States was established as a superpower. The post-World War II economy was booming. And other than the looming threat of nuclear annihilation by the Reds, life was pretty, well, swell. Naturally the fashion, style and art of the times mirrored the feeling that anything is possible, especially when looking to the future.
From the clean, simple lines of the architecture to the bright, bold colors of the art, mid-century modernism emerged as the adventurous new aesthetic to match the can-do spirit of the time. It was all part of that “great, big beautiful tomorrow,” as Walt Disney said at the 1964-’65 World’s Fair in New York. Five decades later, however, the world is still waiting for that promise to come true.
There are no rocket cars or robot servants. The minimalistic approach has been replaced by cookie-cutter boring or eye-gouging obnoxious. And the color palette has changed from bright and bold to generic tans and whites at least in Las Vegas. The end result? Corporate homogeneity has replaced the stylized imagination of individuality.
But not for all Las Vegans. True to form of the era’s optimism, many in Las Vegas cling to the old ways and are confident of their return.
Stratton could easily be defined as old school. Really old school. The kind where courses on Rat Pack hip and Elvis chic go hand in hand with classes on mid-century modern architecture and fashion design. Her 1957 house in the south end of the Huntridge area has been refurbished to its mid-century modern glory, with a dash of ’50s Las Vegas kitsch thrown in.
The walls are white, peach and green. There’s a small bar with leopard-skin prints covering the vinyl on the rim and matching stools in the lounge. One bathroom has a pink flamingo vibe, while the other is devoted to Elvis. There are gold-sequined fabric curtains covering a dining room wall, and bright sparkles on the ceiling.
Her decor is a mix of ’50s and ’60s original furniture and recreations, including butterfly and bertoia chairs, floating shelves, case study day beds, faux furry rugs, a Chenille bedspread and retro light fixtures and lamps. There’s also a Rat Pack altar in the living room.
Oh, and the outside of the home is themed to match the sea-foam green and bright white colors of the El Rancho Vegas, the first casino on the Strip in 1941.
The 39-year-old Los Angeles native, however, is quick to dismiss notions that she’s all retro. “I don’t want to get pegged that it’s all about the past, because it isn’t,” Stratton said. “It’s about what’s good.” What’s “good” to Stratton are the looks, styles and fashions of mid-century modern.
“I’m a designer and I like good design. Whether it’s old or a new, I don’t care as long as it’s a good design,” said the freelance art director, Web designer and writer. The style of things from (the mid-century modern) tend to be of a higher quality than from this era.”
The modern look of her ’50s home is what attracted Stratton to it last summer. After moving in in July, she quickly began the renovation work, ripping up old carpet and restoring the natural hardwood floors, knocking out walls and painting all the walls, some in retro colors such as avocado green.
Her love of ’50s and ’60s culture, however, didn’t happen overnight. It was a gradual evolution. Stratton first took notice of the “mid-mod” era (as she calls it) in the mid-1980s, when she bought one of her first cars, a ’63 Falcon Futura convertible. Several years later Stratton began investing in other retro artifacts.
Her first piece of furniture was a glass coffee table she bought for $15 from the Salvation Army. She keeps the table in her San Fernando, Calif., home, which was also built during the mid-mod era, with a U-shaped design and lots of large windows to allow plenty of light. Since buying the coffee table she’s found many items at stores, flea markets — even on the streets and alleys after they had been discarded by the owner.
“You have to be more creative, maybe a little more discerning and maybe a little more willing to put elbow grease into something,” Stratton said of collecting mid-century modernism pieces.
She also frequents Wal-Mart and Target for period pieces as well. In fact, the yellow, green and peach colors of her kitchen were inspired by a Target dish towel. “Target and Wal-Mart are amazing places. You can even find cool stuff at places like Lowe’s and Home Depot,” Stratton said.
Whether as a statement of individualism or a wish for the simpler times, mid-century modern is becoming popular again, decades after it fell out of fashion.
“Most of the designers nowadays are just copying and reproducing old trends from the ’50s and ’60s and bringing them back,” said Mario D’Loe, owner of House of Style, 220 E. Charleston Blvd., a vintage clothing and accessories store.
“Myself, as a designer, I’ve always liked the ’50s post war. That period of time up to the late ’60s are some of my favorite designs and designers.”
D’Loe said he appreciates the form fit of the styles of the time, such as tailored shirts with coats for men and women’s dresses with small waistbands and flared skirts.
“They were more like an architect for the body,” he said. “They tried to make the women more feminine and the men more masculine.”
Even more noticeable than the fit, though, are the use of colors and material: space-age metallic fabrics in gold and silver, copper belts and large silver purses; dark green beaded dresses; red, black and white checker-board outfits with matching gloves, purse and hat; and the wild mixes of oranges, greens, grays and Earth tones — often on the same outfit.
“Everything is like you’re going to the moon,” D’Loe said.
It’s also his most popular style of clothing.
“People want to be different,” he said. “I remember going to vintage stores when I was younger because I wanted to be different than everyone else. I see kids doing the same thing now. They want to get away from the Gap. And I think that’s important. Being different is cool.”