Home Cover Story Lexington still loves mid-century modern

Lexington still loves mid-century modern

by Kevin Nance

“My personal obsession is orange, mustard and brown, as well as greens and teals,” Lucy Jones says in an interview of one of her two Lexington homes, both of which she has decorated in high, wall-to-wall MCM mid-century style, almost all of it vintage.

She plans to offer her first home, where our interview took place, as an AirBnB beginning next month; her second home, a large ranch-style house across town, is in the late stages of an extensive renovation. “That’s the world in which I live,” she says.

She has spent decades amassing a large collection of higher-end mid-century modern furniture and decor at estate sales and stores around the country, much of it in her signature palette of rich earth tones and flamboyant pops of bright colors. 

Jones, the daughter of former Kentucky Gov. Brereton Jones, is also a passionate preservationist with a particular interest in mid-century modernist commercial and residential architecture. She founded the Mid-Century Design League of Lexington in 2016 as part of a campaign to save People’s Bank on Broadway from demolition. That effort was unsuccessful, but she remains a huge fan of the modernist homes of the pioneering Lexington-based architects Richard Isenhour and Herb Greene. (Greene’s non-residential forays into “organic” modernism include the spaceship-like Unitarian Universalist Church of Lexington on Clays Mill Road.)

But Jones lives and breathes MCM interior design and decor. And although she owns many pieces by big-name designers, the look and the aesthetic of the pieces in her homes matter more to her than their provenance. The centerpiece of her first home is a large sofa that she bought on eBay, designer unknown, that she had reupholstered in brilliant orange.

“Sometimes I think that it’s a past-life thing,” she says of her attraction to the architectural style. “The real story is that I grew up in the country, pretty isolated, so I watched a lot of television from the ’50s and ’60s with great mid-century style, and there’s something safe to me about that. So that’s the environment that I grew up in, even though I didn’t.”

Jeff Perkins of Scout Antiques

For years now, Jeff Perkins has been waiting for the other shoe to drop. “I keep thinking that the end of Mid-Century Modern is going to happen soon, but it seems to not be slowing down,” he says one recent morning, reclining on a yellow mid-century chair in the window of Scout Antiques & Modern, his carefully curated shop that opened in 2009 and remains one of Lexington’s busiest marketplaces for vintage furniture and home decor. “When you see places like Home Goods and Target starting to design new furniture that looks like MCM, that’s usually a good sign that the end is near, but there’s still a huge demand for authentic pieces, especially for higher-end things. The top names, the top designers — those are always going to stand the test of time.”

But it’s not just the top-level Eames lounges, Knoll chairs and Saarinen tulip tables that are so prized in Lexington. Crowds of college students and hipsters, stylish young professionals and nostalgic middle-aged folk still scour the city’s vintage and antique resale shops, thrift stores and online retailers like eBay for mid-century pieces. These shoppers may not know or care about designer labels, but they recognize and appreciate classic MCM style when they see it: simple, clean lines, minimal ornamentation, a utilitarian emphasis on functionality, and a certain optimistic sense of what the future might have looked like in the late 1940s to the early 1970s. 

“We go out of our way to have MCM vendors,” says Troy Lyons, co-owner of Subject Matter, a Lexington vintage mall. “I used to be in Philadelphia years ago and it was already starting to cool off there, but in Lexington, it just keeps growing. I think it’s because we have so many college students, and a lot of those stay in town as young professionals. They don’t blink an eye at a $1,000 mid-century credenza that four years ago would have sold for $400.”

Many MCM fans are eclectic decorators, mixing mid-century pieces and MCM-inspired design (along with licensed mid-century designs produced and/or sold by companies like Herman Miller and Design Within Reach) with antiques, Deco, postmodern design from the ’70s, ’80s and ’90s and contemporary furniture. “In our home,” Perkins says, “we have authentic MCM pieces like a rosewood cabinet that look beautiful mixed with 18th- and 19th-century furniture, French Deco chairs from the ’30s, and so forth. It looks perfect, and I think it gives you a feeling of being collected, as opposed to having a decorator come in and do the whole room in a particular style.”

This article appears on pages 10 & 11 of the March 2023 issue of Ace.
To subscribe, click here.