Living as a Mod in the 21st Century

Saturday, May 26, 2012

Mod inspired decor: the mezzanine

In a previous post, I described in detail all the work that went into planning and building a mezzanine for my loft. Again, I have to acknowledge the time and skilled craftsmanship my father provided.

That post might have lacked in the Mod department but this will surely make up for it. Now we enter my terrain: the decorating. This is what lights my fire and gets my creative juices flowing. I love this stuff and luckily I have the most accommodating wife that pretty much gives me carte blanche. How wonderful is she?

Most of the apartment is inspired by mid-century modern and Scandinavian design. I will sometimes dwell a bit in the 70s. Sleek teak furniture is preeminent throughout the pad so I was looking for something different for the mezzanine. I was aiming for the Pop / Space Age  / Mod look of the sixties. I started making the rounds of my local flea markets and antique shops looking for anything Atomic, futuristic, mainly made of plastic. White furniture would guide my color pallet with splashes of bold color thrown in.

One of the first new pieces I acquired was this Treco credenza. Made in Canada in the early 70s, it’s something that you can still find second hand relatively easily today. The drawers came in a multitude of colors: white, yellow, lime green with red being one of the more popular choices. I have a certain fondness for that design because my younger sister had a red and white set in her bedroom while I was growing up. In fact, my godfather still has it in his basement.

Next came the dream chair. I always fantasized of having my own Eames lounge chair. If there is ever an iconic piece of modern furniture, this is it! Now since I don’t have a spare 6000 to 7000 dollars lying around for an original, I had to settle for an accurate, well-made, rose wood vintage copy. I have to thank my friend Stephane from Du Design, Du Retro et du Kitsch for seeking it out for me. Be aware of the cheaply made Chinese facsimiles currently invading the market.

I did manage to put my hands on an early example of a real Eames DWC chair. The more common model has the wooden legs, slanted seat and is often seen in a light teak. The late 50s model has chrome legs. It matches perfectly with the existing tubular steel railing of the mezzanine. I was fortunate to come across the chair in black. The dark grain makes it stand out and ties it in with the lounge chair.

The other pieces surrounding the lounge chair include a white, plastic, vintage accent Kartell table and its sister magazine rack. Again, if you are a purist, you’ll go for the original piece even if Kartell still produces them. Like the popular expression states: “They just don’t make them like they use too”. The newer ones are made, you guessed it, in China and are, in my opinion, of lesser quality. I guess it’s the equivalent of buying a Northern Soul record on the original label or buying a perfectly acceptable re-issue. For some reason, if the price is right, I’ll always go for the original. I prefer a piece that has history, character and even a few flaws. 

The Dynamite 8 Panasonic 8-track player is widely recognized as a classic piece of the era. With its plunger like channel selector, it’s a real blast to use. Next to it is a perfect example of timeless modern design with this Braun ventilator.

The lighting was mostly flea market finds and easy on the pocket book. This small chrome lamp was a steal at 25$ and fits the overall look.

This modern Scandinavian wall sconce helps create a soft, groovy atmosphere.

To serve as a reading lamp, I found this 50s atomic chandelier. (Thanks again Stephane!) All the lamps are connected on a circuit that is controlled by a dimmer. I have dimmers on every outlet I possibly can in the loft. With them… voilà!... instant mood. Next to it  is the Christmas present I got from my wife. It’s an oversized artistic oil-on-canvas replica of the classic Mod anthem My Generation by The Who with the painted sleeve. You can find a wide selection of other titles, like the 2-Tone favorite Gangsters by The Specials at the Super Size Art website.

A few accessories complete the lot like this sought-after Panasonic TR 005 Orbitel television reminiscent of a flying saucer. 

I also had the rare opportunity to buy this Weltron 2005 turntable from a fellow Mod who was moving back to his native Helsinki and couldn’t pack it in his suitcase. I’m looking to incorporate it in the decor but haven’t found a suitable table to put it on yet. 

Weltron is a Japanese company that flourished in the 70s and was praised for its innovative design. This table model comes with integrated speakers but it can be hooked up to a separate set of speakers.  It also came in a flashy yellow color.

The bedroom section is meant to be warm and cozy that’s why mid-century modern teak furniture was chosen.  I always loved my bed’s vintage headboard for its practical feature. It has two sliding squares that can glide on the main frame to accommodate a queen or king size bed.

I was looking forward to finishing the mezzanine to finally hang my new wall art. First is this beautiful painting on a recycled record made by Texas native, Patricia Rodriguez. Make sure to have a look at some of her work at Tiger Bee Arts. You will definitely find some Mod friendly themes. Fancy a painting of you on your Lambretta? She will even accept commision work.

Finally, there’s this minimal and modern painting of the female form that I had for a while. The final touch to our little Mod retreat.

Thursday, May 17, 2012

You could own this Mod pad

My friend Stéphane isn’t a Mod. He doesn’t ride a scooter. He is not a huge fan of Soul or Beat music and I’ve never seen him wear a tie. But by looking at his incredible loft, it would be easy to think otherwise. One thing is certain. He has great taste and an impeccable sense of style. Plus, he’s a really nice guy.

I met him years ago, before he became my neighbor and friend.  He sells mid-century modern furniture, retro collectibles, vintage accessories and all that other cool stuff. Over the years, I must have bought him 15 major pieces. One of them was featured in an earlier post.

I have to be honest. I would rather keep his business a secret. I prefer keeping all the good stuff to myself but since he has been so good to me over the years, I think it’s time to let everyone know. He just started a new venture called Retro Mobile. He will post pictures of his new finds on his Facebook page and if you live in the Montreal area and you are interested in a piece, he’ll put it in his truck and go and show it to you. How’s that for service? He has shipped items by mail before, so all you UK and US readers out there, there is hope.

His loft is situated in the famous Viau cookie factory, built in 1906. And no, before you ask, it didn’t smell like chocolate or vanilla when he first moved in. As luck would have it, it’s for sale!

Marvel at the sight of the 13’ high ceilings, exposed brick and original wood columns. And it could all be yours!

This fine example of a Braun SK 4 Stereo, designed by Dieter Rams, also known as Snow White's coffin, is not for sale. And if it was, I would be the first one on the list to buy it.

Do you picture yourself in this loft, martini in hand, Jimmy Smith playing in the background? It's only a phone call away.

For more info:

Saturday, May 12, 2012

When Mod hit the mainstream: The Carnaby Street style

Some say that the original Mod movement died somewhere in the mid sixties. Once it hit the popular consciousness, it had lost a lot of its appeal. I tend to agree. When I arrived on the scene as part of the Mod Revival, it was once again an underground movement. I always felt like I was part of an exclusive club.

But at one point in the 60s, the word “Mod” was applied to everything that was new, hip and mainly British. Fashion, art, music and design were hit by the Mod wave.

Here’s an example. I managed to put my hands on a 1967 spring/summer mail-order catalog from the Canadian retailer Simpsons-Sears. The “Carnaby Street style” had reached the American continent and was now sold in major, large surface chain stores. Since I wasn’t born in 1967, it’s hard for me to judge how close it was to the styles seen in a John Stephen window display that year. I can only assume. But from what I can see, it approaches more a caricature than what the “real” British Mod would wear. 

You do find a few Mod conventions that have stood the test of time. First is the Sta-press or Perma-press. To have a pair of trousers that always looks like it has just been ironed is classic Mod wear. 

The Tee Kay 'Mod' trousers

The slim fit hip huggers also kept their appeal. With the leg perfectly tapered, it’s something I would see myself wear. I also like what they call the “military pockets”. I’m considering adding flaps and buttons to my next pair of custom trousers.

"The all new 'Mod' trend... A real revolution!"
Notice how the leg is worn especially short.

Then there’s the ever-present button-down shirt. Paisley patterned garments had reached our shores in ’67 and still seems to be relevant today. Take this blue and rust polka dot shirt for example. I love the high collar and large cuffs with 3 buttons. I could probably do without the epaulettes. If I found it in a vintage shop, I would grab it.

The shoe section also offers a few Mod staples. Have you ever seen a pair of these? In this case, they are called “Sahara” boots.

The Chelsea boot or Beatle boot is still desirable footwear today. At $11,98 a pair, I’ll take 2 please!

A few pages seemed to have missed the mark. Take this Carnaby West page for instance. How hard was it to find a Vespa for a photo shoot in 1967? A motorcycle… I don’t think so. And what is up with that laced up shirt? Plus, I’ve never seen any self-respecting Mod wear what looks like an oversized denim suit. I might be wrong. I did find it amusing that they felt the need to advertise the belt as being “Mod”.

Now, as if the full on denim look and laced up shirt weren’t enough, why not combine the two?

You have to give them credit for pushing the boundaries a bit on this page. I’ll let you be the judge. The tartan short sleeved button down shirt is actually very nice and I own a few Ben Sherman’s that are very similar. 

'Mod' style
There you have it. Mail-order Mod circa 1967.  Shop at Simpsons-Sears and be part of the in-crowd!

Wednesday, May 9, 2012

Just like the Small Faces

Who hasn’t, at one point in his life, stood in front of a mirror and wished he were a rock star? And what about a Mod legend?

In a previous post, I revealed that I added a “check” off my Mod wish list when I started learning to play bass. My mate Daniel was kind enough to lend me his very well preserved Hoftner club bass guitar until I found my own. Daniel is not only a skilled teacher and musician but also happens to be a guitar maker. He designs electric guitars for the world-renowned manufacturer Godin. So who better to have as an adviser when looking to buy a guitar?

A couple of months after we started jamming together, he sent me a link to the Heritage Auctions website. The site based in Texas is the equivalent of eBay but specializes in high-end collectibles. He had come across a 1966 Harmony H22 bass that was going up for auction.

Even if he wasn’t the one looking to buy the instrument, he seemed more excited than I was. “Pat! This is THE dream bass! You have to get this one!” he told me. “It’s the exact model that Ronnie Lane used when he started with the Small Faces.” That’s all I needed to hear.

In the sixties, Harmony guitars were known as being affordable, reliable instruments but also very well made. That might explain why a lot of soul players and garage bands adopted the brand. Since they were the workingman bass, to find one that hasn’t been used and abused, is getting harder to do. Daniel hadn’t seen one in this shape on eBay in over a year.

I wasn’t going to let this opportunity pass me by. Long story short, I’m now the proud owner of my very first guitar.

It’s one thing to look like a million bucks having one strapped to your body but it has to sound good too. For that authentic, rich 60s sound, this bass is hard to beat. Don’t take my word for it, just check out Muff Winwood from the Spencer Davis Group wailing on it in their cult classic hit Gimme Some Lovin’.

Daniel was also kind enough to do a complete tune up on it. When he took it apart, he found the manufacturing date on it: April 28 1966.

Hidden behind the pick guard was also a store sticker indicating where the ax came from.

It’s fun to imagine that some small band from Pontiac, Michigan might have used it to pound some killer garage tunes or that some obscure Soul was composed on it.. But when you inspect the guitar closer, you can tell it hasn’t been played much and probably sat in a closet for the last 40+ years. Daniel told me sad stories about how a lot of these untouched American guitars came from young soldiers that bought them just before leaving for Vietnam and never made it back home.

Here’s Daniel giving me my homework for the week. He’s showing me the basic bass line for Don Gardner’s My Baby Wants to Boogaloo, one of my favorites. 

Now that I look the part, it’s time to go practice. I know that owning a cool guitar doesn’t make you a musician but at least now I have a fighting chance. Who knows if this bass will ever make it to a stage but it won’t be because it never saw the outside of a carrying case.