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Mid-century modest digs + retro planters

dream studio
(Faith Blakeney, via Old Brand New)

I am a big sucker for Californian/desert mid-century modern. Yeah, me and lots of other people. What can I say, I love these streamlined, un-fussy spaces that still feel cozy. I like the use of raw materials like timber and stone; all-white, ultra-sterile spaces kind of give me the willies. Learning about this era of design and its influence also makes me powerfully homesick for the things I miss about desert life: the openness, the otherworldly landscapes, the warmth.

I’d definitely feel at home in a house like this:

(Redneck Modern)

But really I live in a house like this.
weatherboard exterior

Our house fits into that era – 1947, in fact. Houses like these are the Australian version of what Retro Renovation would call “mid-century modest”: simple, postwar homes for the middle class. There are thousands of these plain old weatherboard houses around Australia.

This article – ‘Suburban classics with a lot to like‘ – gives a spot-on description of the classic ‘50s weatherboard house. Key points:

  • They were built en masse after the war ended, to accommodate a growing population bolstered by immigration.
  • Designs were limited in scope; there’s not much variation from one house to another, and all the period details from earlier builds were pared down to just the basics.
  • They exist in a middle ground between the laboured craftsmanship of period homes and no-frills contemporary builds: 9ft ceilings rather than 10 or 8; seasoned hardwood floors rather than concrete slabs; quality joinery in the trims and windows.

I agree with this: “They have a simple, unadorned quality with clean lines that are very conducive to contemporary design.” That’s what makes our house a blank slate, and I love it for that. It’s not strictly aligned with a specific period or style, but the high ceilings and timber trims still give it a bit of character. Our house may look like a blank white box right now, but I know it has lots of potential.

So I’m feeling the Californian mid-century vibe a bit, because it’s what makes me happy in our modest little rancher. That’s good, because I came home with two planters that couldn’t scream atomic fifties any louder if they tried.


mishka investigates

There’s a local secondhand shop I check out very occasionally, once every few weeks. On two separate occasions, I gawked at retro planters outside and had a look, and on those two separate occasions, the staff informed me that they were already sold. Bad luck. Well, I went back recently for a third try, and I walked away with my own cone planter. It’s concrete. It’s killer.

You can see that it got the once-over as soon as I brought it home. Thanks Mishka.

I still have to clean it up and give it a fresh coat of paint, but honestly, I don’t know what I’m going to put in this yet! It’s 20” across at the top, so it’s decent-sized, and it needs something tall. As much as I’d love a cactus, it won’t work at all here. This planter is also going on the south side of the house, so whatever goes in it needs to like shade. Bamboo, perhaps. Hmm.

1 / 2 / 3 / 4 / 5

More sexy planter inspiration. I dig the fiberglass bullet planters and the Modernica Case Study planter, but (holds up hand, rubs thumb against fingers) those bad boys are a little bit dear.


cone ashtray

Here’s my second planter! Okay, okay, this double-cone stand isn’t really a planter, it’s an ashtray, and it’s certainly one of the more glamorous butt buckets I’ve ever seen. You could really smoke in style when filling in keno tickets at the casino or the local RSL. A quick clean-up, though, and its unsavoury past was left behind.

I gave the whole thing a scrub, especially the inner section that used to be covered in cig butts. The aluminum was pretty scratched and rough-looking, so I taped off the chrome sections and gave the whole thing a fresh coat of copper spray paint, inside and out. It’s Dy-Tek, “metallic rust”, which falls somewhere between gold and copper – I didn’t want it super bright and brassy.

ashtray cone planter

ashtray cone planter 2

All done! Don Draper’s ashtray is now my new indoor planter.

I went with a classic houseplant: sansevieria, or snake plant. They’re meant to be indestructible. WE SHALL SEE.

ashtray cone planter 3

It’s exciting to get more furnishings in our house! The more I do, the more I want to do even more. Awesome how that works.


5 thoughts on “Mid-century modest digs + retro planters”

    1. Thanks – I’m fascinated by Australian homes and neighborhoods, maybe because it’s so similar yet different to ‘classic’ American suburban life.

      Thank you for the compliments as well, I can’t help tinkering around with my site 🙂

  1. That second planter looks amazing! And with sansevieria too! My wife lovingly refers to that plant as ‘Mother-in-law’s tongue’, maybe I’m missing something….. I’ve never really considered using it, however your pictures make me think otherwise. A very striking feature in your room. Great work!

    1. Thanks so much! And thank you for sharing it around, I’m really flattered. I won’t have much luck growing cacti here, so the snake plant will have to do 🙂

  2. Pingback: Retro Armchair Restoration | Saltbush Avenue

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