Is your design style traditional? Or was it?
If you haven’t realized it by now, modern has been moving into Kansas City.
Our preference for classical styles is shifting toward the clean lines of modernism.
Midcentury modernism is having a huge revival. Even traditionalists are shedding ornamentation and getting halfway there with eclectic or transitional looks.
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Midwesterners have been slow to warm up to modern, often describing it as “cold.”
“If you associate modernism with minimalism, that’s a valid point. That’s using the term as all-encompassing for empty, bare and sterile,” says Steve Maturo, co-founder at furniture shop Museo, 3021 Main St. “Modern design incorporates leather, wood and stone, not just glass and chrome. It can be as colorful or cluttered as you like.”
Designer Alejandro Lopez, a Miami transplant, recognizes the hesitancy in his Midwestern customers to go modern and invites them to his design immersion studio, which combines a showroom, art gallery, event space, and soon a branch of a Chicago architecture firm, at 3601 Main St.
“I believe my clients know what they’re looking for, and they’re ready, but they don’t know where to start,” Lopez says. “It takes time to show them and educate them what’s out there.”
What does it mean to go modern? The definition takes many directions. For Maturo, it represents a style that will be relevant for decades or even centuries.
“In my book, it’s timeless, not trendy,” Maturo says. “My definition is good design, good proportions and it has to function. ‘Form follows function’ is such a cliché, but it makes a lot of sense to me.”
Lopez says comfort and function are critical, but defines modern as “now” and draws inspiration from fashion, especially colors.
“We see what happens on the runway and 18 to 24 months later, it gets to the Midwest,” he says. Eggplant, aqua and mustard are huge — “happy colors,” Lopez says. His studio displays deep purple bedding and lagoon-blue acrylic dining chairs.
Both designophiles agree that modern is flexible.
“I like eclectic design,” Lopez says. “Everyone has some pieces that have to be incorporated — things that mean a lot, whether they’re a family piece or attached to a memory. Nothing happens in a vacuum.”
Asian pieces work well with modern and even antiques. Lopez points to an ornate, obviously antique wood chair in his showroom with new upholstery. “Modern doesn’t mean you can’t take a 180-year-old chair and add ‘Monkey Eyes,’ ” he says.
Maturo’s 1958 Roeland Park home is another good example of mixing modern pieces with antiques, including a perfect-condition discarded 1950s office credenza; a toolbox he uses as a side table next to a Corbusier table; and a primitive farm table mounted as a sideboard.
“Old works with new; good design goes with good design,” he says.
Lighting is a huge category for creating modern style.
“If illumination is wrong, you lose the colors and materials,” Lopez says.
“Lighting is a good example of how design changes,” Maturo adds. For instance, 10 years ago, LEDs were considered a specialty fad, but they’ve allowed the industry to re-engineer its products. Designs that were not possible became reality, such as the Herculean chandelier hanging at Museo.
When buying modern pieces, think long term.
Museo carries about two dozen items featured in the Museum of Modern Art. This museum-quality style fits the store’s name: “museum” in Italian. “What we do here is curate a package of the very best-designed furniture brands in the world,” Maturo says. “This is furniture you’re going to pass down to your son or daughter.”
Lopez says the big pieces should be timeless, but you can have fun with the details, like wallpaper. His fast and flirty design sense always incorporates some element of surprise.
Alejandro Home Design is the exclusive Kansas and Missouri dealer for Italian manufacturer Calligaris, a line Lopez says has high-end quality but affordable pricing. He also has created his own line of home furnishings called Alejandro Home Couture.
“It’s imported from Kansas City,” Lopez says proudly.
Modern furniture often is criticized for a high price tag, but the cost covers a designer’s hours to develop a product as he or she intends it to be, not as cheaply as it can be made. Many well-known designs have been ripped off and sold for considerably less by big box retailers, but Maturo says you get what you pay for.
“A chair could look similar on the outside but the difference is in the upholstery and how the foam is done on the inside,” he explains. “In order to get that shape, a form has to be die cast, which costs $150,000-$200,000 to make. When they inject the foam, it’s going to be perfect, crisp, and won’t sag or have any lines. And most of it’s made with a steel frame, so it’s stronger.”
But Maturo and Lopez agree that good, inexpensive design can be helpful. For instance, Ikea’s presence in our market has been a gateway to exploring modern style.
“They’ve found a niche to market to,” Maturo says. “Ikea has fun, inexpensive things that aren’t meant to endure, but they work for a first apartment or home. I’m guessing that their customers will become ours when they earn more money and their design sense evolves.”
Maturo says most of his customers collect art, and an appreciation of all the arts can hone your design style. He recommends visiting Kansas City’s many offerings: Go to the Nelson-Atkins Museum of Art and the Kemper Museum of Contemporary Art to view art; attend theater and listen to music at the Kauffman Center.
But you don’t have to leave your armchair to learn about design, he says.
“We’re such an immediate-information society that we have exposure to design everywhere,” Maturo says. “We have the ability to go to Pinterest and put in ‘Mackintosh’ and all these instances come up and give you a crash course in design.”
Kansas City is evolving at its own pace, but doing so carefully and well.
Museo has been in business since the 1990s, staunchly adhering to its ideal of classic modern design, while an ever-increasing number of architects and designers are making their marks on a modernizing home front.
“I’ve lived in all the big cities,” says Maturo, “but I’m a big advocate of Kansas City. I think it’s lovely. People outside think Midwesterners are honest and kind, but simple. I think they’re some of the most sophisticated people I know.”