The original 1964 cabinetry was never intended to be high-end, but the homeowner wanted to bring the new cabinetry to that level. So Torbit hired a master furniture maker to create the fine detailing of setback doors to mimic the original sliding doors, and added cutout holes as an update to one-quarter-inch deep nail-breaking door pulls. They kept the original wall cabinets and refaced them with new sliding doors edged with Teflon so they moved as easy as possible.
To keep in spirit with the original snow-white Formica, Torbit updated it with a functional heat- and stain-resistant countertop in the brightest white re-composited stone on the market. “The solid one-and-one-quarter-inch thick counter balances nicely with the one-inch thickness of the dark trim detail on the cabinetry,” she adds.
Family heirlooms can become inspirations for design—and help make a house feel like a home. Sarah Shetter of SPI Design found this to be the case when she positioned two oversized and traditional club chairs in the middle of the living room of her mom Kim’s Palo Alto Eichler.
“My earliest modernist influence was the Eames Case Study house in Pacific Palisades,” Sarah says. “I remember that my mother and I went on a tour and were both struck by the easy livability of this mid-century icon. There were Kilim rugs on the floor, intricate fabric on the couch pillows, and artwork everywhere. The art and antiques were perfectly at home in the minimalist construction that defined the space.”
When Sarah, her partner Alison, and Kim began working on Kim’s Palo Alto home, they realized that the same situation prevailed there.
“I reupholstered two big club chairs that my grandmother had brought from Europe with her that probably date from the ‘30s, using a rich blue-velvet fabric that has held up beautifully,” Kim Shetter says. The chairs now stand on a beautiful Moroccan rug that Kim brought back from Morocco in the ‘90s. Sarah then added a MCM table she found in Palm Springs. Against the wall stands her grandmother’s hope chest.
“All that this collection needed was a neutral space that would provide a supportive background,” Sarah says. “It seemed to be a natural combination of the ‘new way of living’ represented by Eichler’s interpretation of modernism and the ‘old way of living’ that had been assembled over the years through inheritance and collecting.”
Elizabeth Torbit also used a beautiful old chair she found tucked away in the back of one her client’s bedrooms as an inspiration. “When I asked about it, he told me stories of its lifetime, which covered the past four generations.” Torbit gave the chair a facelift, which included a good cleaning and a fresh cushion. And now the chair is a mainstay in a modern living room. “With just a little TLC, the chair is back on track for another four generations to come,” she adds.
Flea market hunters have a knack for creating interesting living spaces. Robert Perry and Dennis Vasquez, who purchased their 1963 Palm Springs Alexander in 2009, scoured Craigslist, eBay, and garage sales for original MCM pieces to furnish their home.
“We chose carefully and astutely for a true modern feel,” Perry says. Their approach to décor accessories is that less is more. In their living room, the couple decorated sparingly with a few well-chosen pieces of art, an iconic mid-century modern starburst clock, and some retro lamps.
“As homeowners of a mid-century Alexander ranch in Palm Springs, we felt it was fitting to furnish the house in a period-appropriate décor,” Perry says. “We both absolutely love the aesthetic appeal and innovative use of materials of original mid-century furniture, and we put a lot of effort into finding the perfect furniture pieces.”