Thursday, January 21, 2010

Flashback, The American Home Magazine

My work schedule does not permit me to watch much television, so I don’t get to have those excitable conversations with other people about what we watched last night on T.V. I suppose if I got in line with technology I could TVO everything but really, I don’t think I could ever find the time to watch that backlog of programs either. I did however recently find myself stranded in a airport hotel caught in an ice storm in Iowa, holed up in a tasteless room made of total polyester and crusty carpet, there was not much to do but look out the window at the icicles forming at a an alarming rapid rate on anything that stood still for more than a few seconds. This was actually quite riveting for a couple of hours but then my attention was drawn to my shining DVD boxed set of “Mad Men” that I bought on a Minneapolis trip many months earlier but never had time to watch, Season 1 mind you! I had caught snippets of Season 3, but at last I had found just the right spot in time to view what I have come to discover is an amazing series – duh!

This overdue discovery of “Mad Men” coincided with the discovery of some old 50’s/ 60’s magazines at the antique markets in NYC the week before. I have to say I have always been a sucker for “The American Dream” A bandied around phrase that really had its peak in the era in which “Mad Men” is set. Of course I have come to discover with age and a cynical edge, that of course the whole concept is pure fantasy but I still love it and I still feed into it! I found copies of “The American Home” which was a magazine published by “Doubleday, Doran and Company” out of New York from 1928 to 1977. It attracted a peak circulation of 3.7 million readers a month in 1963 looked to “The American Home” for inspiration on everything from domestic architecture to landscape design and gardening. The copies I found ranged from 1955 to 1960, exactly the time frame Mad Men’s first series was set.

The thing that struck me mainly about the magazine was its amazing advertising, it really represented a golden age where women in ball gowns and pearls where draped over anything. “The American Dream” grew out of the dark period of the Depression and became a floodlight of totally the opposite, an affluent and glamour obsessed society who wanted to leave the bad times behind them. It soon became apparent that “The American Dream” could be purchased and that “more” is always better! These publications of the era made bored housewives feel meaningful in the mundane existence of Suburbia. The fantasy of being a proud accomplished housewife was pushed and polished. “Feminine mystique” became a huge selling tool in this era and even up to this day still pushes the notion that “sex sells”.

Having grown up in Australia and having been blessed by being given at an early age a whole pile of American LIFE magazines from this era by a friend of my mothers, these ads and publications left an early impression. Having also grown up for part of my life in Suburbia, I also was fascinated especially by the glamour and slickness they seemed to promote. There was crispness; even if a somewhat manufactured sophistication. To this day I am convinced my color palette is totally derived from the colors that bore into my retinas from that early age, That slightly dusty (maybe from obvious aging of those magazines) combination of pastels and almost clashing combinations of color chosen really resonated with me, Having grown up surrounded by my parents choice of decor that almost rebelled against the style of their childhood stylistically, I actually saw a freshness again in the modernity of that era. Some people have parodied the 50’s and early 60’s and hammed up its cheesy values, however if you look at a lot of the design still popular today you can see that a lot of the streamlining and simplicity of that era still has a huge influence on products manufactured today and the continued reissues of iconic pieces from that era designed by Eero Saarinen, The Eames, Alvar Aalto, George Nelson and Arne Jacobsen prove there is no hurry to sway away from the last century’s middle period of design, Let’s see if the next era of designers think so too?!

Watch for future posts of this exciting era of design. As a Stylist, collecting images from all era’s is a must and I plan to keep looking out for these often forgotten gems lurking in piles of discarded piles of magazines. It's a testament that even though magazines can often be seen as throw away medium, someone, one day somewhere will pick them up and see value in someone else’s work and maybe through the Internet we can appreciate these images all over again.


  1. Marcus, after reading this post you ignited a desire in me to go watch Mad Men. I had avoided it up until now. Then this post evoked all my curiosity and BAM! I am hooked.

  2. Isn't it wonderful, sometimes I get so caught up in the design I have to rewind to hear what they actually said! M.