Designer for Hire

Eat, drink & be retro

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In Tucson, there are plenty of food and drink establishments that remain relatively unchanged since the 50’s and 60’s. Let 3 Story and Tucson Foodie be your guides. By Adam Lehrman and Gillian Drummond.

Photo by Kevin Breutzmann

Photo by Kevin Breutzmann

As Tucsonans and many out-of-towners gather for the third annual Tucson Modernism Week, we thought it was high time we directed all of you to mid-century places to eat and imbibe. And we don’t mean ’50s and ’60s style eateries and bars, with their try-too-hard checkerboard patterns and uber accessorizing. We’re talking the real deal: places that have remained relatively unchanged since the middle of last century. The neon signs. The retro fixtures. The kitsch and ephemera. The atmosphere. And, most of all, the reputation for good food and cocktails. All of these things keep people coming back.

The Shelter. Photo courtesy of The Shelter.

The Shelter. Photo courtesy of The Shelter.

Asked what makes a restaurant still popular close to six decades on, Michael Elefante, co-owner of Mama Louisa’s on South Craycroft, says simply: “Consistency.” Mama Louisa’s still gets visits from its original customers, some of whom are turning 90. Having one foot in the past and another in the future is a conundrum, though. Michael’s family has owned the restaurant since 1973, and Michael recently became joint owner along with his brother Joey and friend Michael Press. (Until recently the two Michaels worked together as chefs at the Ritz Carlton Dove Mountain.) They have plans for a new menu (fresh mozzarella and Margarita pizza are on their way) and they’re gently tweaking the interior. But Michael Elefante knows he can’t change things up too much. “I call her a fisherman,” he says of the restaurant he grew up in, washing dishes at the age of eight. “She reels us in. You start going too far out and she reels us in and reminds us of where we are.” Here, in no particular order, are the ones that reel us customers in:

1. Mama Louisa’s, 2041 S. Craycroft Rd

Photo by Gillian Drummond

Photo by Gillian Drummond

The style: Your baritone-voiced, chain-smoking Italian grandmother’s restaurant (although she quit smoking years ago.) It’s checked tablecloths, hand painted mural walls of Italy’s shore, formica, and vinyl.

Photo by Gillian Drummond

Michael Press, left, and Michael Elefante, the new chef-owners of Mama Louisa’s. Photo by Gillian Drummond

The story: Opened in 1956 on south Craycroft when it was still a young dirt road, Mama Louisa’s has been in the Elefante family since 1973. In August it came under the joint ownership of brothers Joey and Michael Elefante and friend Michael Press. All of the murals on the walls are the original paintings from artist Jose de la Flora, save for one added in the 1970s by artist Paul Sheldon. All pasta is made fresh daily. Expect new dishes and decor tweaks soon. Don’t miss: Joe’s Special. Hands down. Whatever you end up with at Mama Louisa’s, make sure it includes Joe’s Special – linguine with hot pepper seeds, garlic and sauce – in some way, shape, or form.

2. The Shelter, 4155 E. Grant Rd

Photo by Kevin Breutzmann

Photo by Kevin Breutzmann

Photo courtesy of The Shelter

Photo courtesy of The Shelter

The style: Cold-war era 1960s retro lounge. Think Austin Powers meets Hanna Barbera. Kitsch-filled from floor to ceiling with expertly curated Elvis and JFK memorabilia, lava lamps, velvet, and lavish lighting. If you’re lucky, the original Flash Gordon will be playing on the tele. The story: Though the rumors abound regarding The Shelter’s history as a 60’s era fallout shelter, the joint was originally built in 1961 by one of Arizona’s first female architects, Ruby Wren. Interesting enough, Wren’s grandson will open a brewery in downtown Tucson named Pueblo Vida. Don’t miss: Martini, White Russian, or Bloody Mary. Ideally, not in a row.

3. Mi Nidito, 1813 S 4th Ave

Photo by Gillian Drummond

Photo by Gillian Drummond

The style: Vivid. Very. There’s no subtlety here. It’s shameless south-of-the-border kitsch with no prizes for sleek MCM-ness. But talk to any of the patrons and they’ll tell you they come not for decor, but great Mexican food. The lines are out the door at peak times, when you can expect a wait of an hour or even two. The story: Ernesto and Alicia Lopez opened the restaurant in 1952 and named it Mi Nidito (“my little nest”) because of its small size. Additions and remodels have increased the number of tables since (it’s hard to think that what serves as a waiting area now was once the kitchen), but the atmosphere remains the same. Ownership has passed on to the Lopezes’ son Ernesto, his wife Yolanda and their son Jimmy Lopez.

Photo by Gillian Drummond

Photo by Gillian Drummond

Don’t miss: The most popular dishes are the President’s Plate (the spread Bill Clinton had when he came here in ’99), Birria (shredded beef) and Carne Seca. The latter is made with beef that’s hung to dry for four-and-a-half days, then deep fried, boiled and finally mixed with green peppers, crushed tomatoes, cilantro and green onions. We say anything that’s labored over that much is worth it.

4. Lucky Wishbone, 4701 E. Broadway Blvd 85711

Photo by fotovitamina

Photo by fotovitamina

The style: (Was) 1950s drive-in restaurant-meets-diner, sans the drive-in. Sadly, the historic, iconic neon starburst sign is the only remnant of the original location. The sign was almost lost during the recent rebuild.

Photo courtesy of Mark Morris

Lucky Wishbone’s Campbell location in 1956. Photo courtesy of Mark Morris.

The story: Opened in 1953 by Derald Fulton as an “easier-to-run” eatery, the original Lucky Wishbone opened at 4872 South Sixth at Irvington. Immediate success lent itself to opening more locations – including the one on Broadway  in 1954. Clyde Buzzard was made its managing partner. To this day, he still manages the restaurant and is the only surviving partner. Don’t miss: It’s hard to go wrong with anything at this fried-everything utopia. Standouts include Gizzards or Livers, Steak Fingers, Fried Chicken, and the Double Cheeseburger on Garlic Toast.

5. Kon Tiki, 4625 E. Broadway

Photo courtesy of Kon Tiki

Photo courtesy of Kon Tiki

The style: ’60s tiki/exotica. The bamboo, the masks, the flaming torches at the door: it’s all unchanged since this place opened in 1963 and is a tikiphile’s dream.

Photo courtesy of Kon Tiki

Photo courtesy of Kon Tiki

The story: Dean Short opened it in 1963 after being inspired by tiki bars on a visit to California. It changed hands twice more, and current owner Paul Christopher practically cut his teeth on tiki. He started working there as a dishwasher and busboy at 15 and worked his way up. The place has served the likes of Lee Marvin, Robert Wagner and Robert Mitchum.

Don’t miss: There’s an extensive food menu, and the Polynesian BBQ Ribs are a favorite. But let’s be honest: people come for the pack-a-punch cocktails. The Scorpion Bowl for two ($14), is a big, boozy, secret blend of rums, gin, brandy and liqueurs, ingested through long straws.

6. Pat’s Drive-In, 1202 W. Niagara Street


Photo by fotovitamina

The style: Vintage roadside Americana. From the neon sign to the simple functionality to the barber-shop-style  red and white stripes of tile out front, it’s humbly authentic – unlike so many modern places these days that are decked out to look like a ’50s diner. The story: Henry ‘Pat’ Patterson launched his chili-dogs-and-fries concept in the 1950s, expanded, then downsized. This last remaining Pat’s, just south of Speedway Blvd, has been around since 1962. In 1969, long-time employee Charlie Hernandez took over the business but kept Pat’s name. Charlie carried on Pat’s tradition of simple, inexpensive food: burgers, chili dogs, chicken, shrimp and fish. Don’t miss: It’s known for its chili dogs (choose the spicy version for an extra kick). Just before Pat passed away in 1999, he’s said to have turned to his wife and asked for a chili dog from Pat’s.  But even the staff prefer the Big Pat burger. Also try the shoe-string fries, hand-cut. Just remember to bring cash, because they charge extra for debit cards, and don’t accept credit.  

And lastly…

Chaffin’s Diner, 902 E. Broadway Blvd.

Photo by Vargas???

Photo by Gerardine Vargas

There was debate among 3 Story staff and contributors about whether or not to include Chaffin’s in this article. Some refuse to patronize the place because of stories surrounding its owner. Others just don’t think the food in this greasy spoon is even worth a mention. But, politics and iffy dishes aside, the place scores high for its looks. This is a real deal American diner, born in 1964.

* Tucson Modernism Week takes place October 2-10 in venues around Tucson. For tickets and a schedule, visit or pick up this free Tucson Modernism Week Collector’s Guide, at locations in and around Tucson.

My Space

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Sarah Tyler has wanted to cut and style hair since she was five years old. “I was braiding my dolls’ hair, cutting Barbies’ hair. They got real ugly, these Barbie dolls,” she laughs. This year she took over as owner of The Hive Hair Studio, located in Tucson’s Hotel Congress and known for its retro hair styling.

In this 3 Story short, Sarah explains why her space not only transforms her clients, but has transformed her.  Interview and photos by Gillian Drummond. Video by Ricardo Bracamonte. Model: Veronica Stice.


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Square Feet

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We’re as nosy as the next person about the insides of people’s homes. That’s why we bring you a hot property pick each issue. This month:  designers Mary Ann Hesseldenz and Scott Baker share their mid-century Tucson home. (Q: Do interior designers live the way they design for others? A: In this case, yes). Story by Rachel Miller. Photos by Rachel Miller and provided by Mary Ann Hesseldenz

MaryAnnScottFoyer   Dining room table by Baker + Hesseldenz, decoration skulls & orchid It was love at first sight. While visiting from New York, Mary Ann Hesseldenz drove past the Hidden Valley home and fell in love. Problem was, the house wasn’t even on the market. That didn’t stop Mary Ann from sharing her affection for the house with her real estate agent.

Just a few weeks later Mary Ann, now back in NYC, got word that the house was for sale. Without ever stepping foot inside, she bought the 1961 home. The gamble paid off for her and future husband Scott Baker; the views from inside the home are exquisite and the house had barely changed since it was built.

Over the past 13 years Scott and Mary Ann have maintained and refined the original mid-century elements and have created new elements that work in concert with the original. They insist they are not purists when it comes to the home’s era. They simply wanted a renovation that was the ultimate place to relax and to entertain, but somewhere that still celebrated its history.

Who they are: Mary Ann Hesseldenz and Scott Baker run Baker + Hesseldenz, a Tucson interior design firm. They’ve lived in their Hidden Valley home for approximately 13 years. Mary Ann Hesseldenz at home

About the home: Built in 1961 by Wes Miller (father of John Wesley Miller) as the model home for Tucson’s Hidden Valley neighborhood, this 2300 square feet home is in a prime location to appreciate views of Sabino Canyon.

Describe your style: “Eclectic/curated. While the foundation of our style for this house is mid-century because of the architecture, we have many treasures that are from varying eras and styles.”

Your fave thing about your home: “We love the layout and the view. It’s great for entertaining!”

Biggest splurge: “Hands down, our art collection.”

Best bargain: “We have so many wonderful bargain finds. I guess it would be our sheaths of wheat coffee table – Gold Leaf Italian mid-century.”

Sheaths of wheat table

Best bargain: the mid-century wheat sheaf coffee table.

My DIY moment: “We built a cabana that cantilevers over our pool for us to get married in. Scott worked every weekend for a year and it rained on our wedding day. But it turned out beautiful and it is one of our favorite places to hang out.”

Favorite resources: “Estate sales, antique stores (Adobe House, Lionsgate, etc..), auctions.”

Tucson treasures: “See above!”

Take-away lesson:  Curate. You don’t have to have everything on display at all times. Mary Ann and Scott both love to collect, but don’t have everything out at any one time. They curate their art throughout the year. This approach allows you to enjoy each piece and avoid cluttering items that might distract from one another. It also means you can regularly switch up your surroundings.

* Mary Ann and Scott will be hosting this year’s Tucson Modernism Week Cocktail Party at their home on Friday October 10th, 7pm. More details and tickets at

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Are you digging these digs?

Get the look locally

  • So many of the pieces of furniture that sparkle in this home are custom designed by Mary Ann and Scott, meaning that the ultimate place to tap into these sleek designs is at Baker + Hesseldenz.
  • If custom furniture isn’t in your budget, check out Copenhagen for new pieces or Adobe House for original era pieces with simple, sculptural elements and modern sensibilities. Add a little bit of funk and fanciful elements – animal skulls, lamps and ornaments – at estate sales and antique stores.
  • Top this off by including choice pieces that may have an emotional history. Scott and Mary Ann have done this by including furniture made by Scott’s grandfather, and his father’s doctor bag.

And try these lookalikes we found  (contains Amazon Affiliate links):

From left to right: Italian Gilt Metal Wheat Sheaf Table, $875 from Chairish; White Flokati Area Rug 8×10, $489.28 from Amazon; George Nelson Classic Wooden Sunburst Clock, $134.94 from Amazon; Hans J Wegner Style Wingback Chair, $815 from RetroFurnish 3 Story Magazine is a participant in the Amazon Services LLC Associates Program, an affiliate advertising program designed to provide a means for sites to earn advertising fees by advertising and linking to


Ground Floor

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boxhill logo boxhillmidmodcopy

 Clockwise from top left: Vertical planter from City Planter; Modern Raw concrete benchModern Muskoka concrete chair; Modern Cube plant pot.

 Every issue, landscape designer Darbi Davis digs deep to bring you stories for your outdoor space. This month: how to spot a mid-century yard.  Plus (above): cool product picks from Boxhill.

Darbi Davis. Photo by Jen Long Photography

Darbi Davis. Photo by Jen Long Photography

Mod-scaped gardens surrounding 1950’s and ’60s homes are dotted throughout the west, and Tucson has a few time capsules not to be missed, some of them in their untouched, over-grown glory. Here’s the low-down on the mid-century yard, and how to spot one:

1. Inside/outside living: The gardens of atomic times were inspired by architectural styles that flowed inside to out. Material continuity, unobstructed views, geometric lines, shifts in elevation, and a connection to the outdoors were aesthetically essential. What was once a fireplace hearth on the interior projected straight out onto the patio and terminated as a planter box.

The architecture, built in planters, plant cut outs, and historical plants.

The architecture, built in planters, plant cut outs, and historical plants.  Photo by:  Darbi Davis

A hedge wall and pom pom's lead to the front door.

A hedge wall and pom poms lead to the front door.  Photo by:  Darbi Davis

2. Plants as architecture: Plants propelled architectural elements into the garden, forming living walls or partitions. An evergreen shrub was meticulously sculpted and maintained as a voluminous, boxy hedge for suggested privacy, while a large specimen plant made a statement, or became a landmark. Plants were sculpted into pom poms or plates, creating a visual interplay of mass and void and visually dictated direction or movement within the space.

3. Gardens were for the people: The Atomic times called for outdoor spaces that were comfortable and accommodated the average American family living in suburbia. Form and function were integral. Hardscapes consisted of concrete, exposed aggregate or stone arranged in organic and/or angular geometric patters. Coupled with plants, their placement and form directed movement within the space, and established a scale that spoke to the comfort level of both children and adults.

Exposed aggregate pavers are staggered to reflect the angles of the architecture, lead to the front door, and allow for edge plantings.

Exposed aggregate pavers are staggered to reflect the angles of the architecture, lead to the front door, and allow for edge plantings.  Photo by:  Darbi Davis

 4. A limited plant palette: A typical mid-century landscape would be comprised of a few different plant species. In Tucson, trees such as Eucalyptus, Bottlebrush, Cyprus, Pines, Palms, African Sumac, and citrus created the classic vertical forms. Mock Orange, Pineapple Guava, Privet, Xylosma, Heavenly Bamboo, Natal Plum and Myrtle were planted in masses and sculpted into varying heights and shapes as architectural compliments.

Remnants of vintage midcentury landscapes can be spotted across Tucson. Here are a few more of our favorites:

Get the mid-century look now:

Don’t be a purist Many of the historical plants listed above are hardy and have adapted to our harsh climate – some like us too much (ahem, African Sumac) – and some require way too much water to look like they “like” where they live. So use naturally sophisticated natives.  Many of our natives are simply sleek and allude to the vintage aesthetic.

  • These sculptural plants create a vertical element in a Mid-Mod way.  Don't block the arches!

    These sculptural plants create a vertical element in a Mid-Mod way. Don’t block the arches!  Photo by:  Darbi Davis

    Round or Sculpted:  Use a Desert Spoon or one of our native barrel cacti.

  • Specimen or Allee:  Plant a Native Mesquite.  Its lovely canopy looks stunning in an allee or as a multi-trunked specimen.
  • Vertical Element:  Ocotillo and Mexican Fence post can offer a dramatic vertical element, while aloe and agave species can create a sculpted effect, or become the landmark.

The hedge  Similar to the social norms of the 1960’s, our local shrubs allude to a more hedonistic lifestyle.  With the aid of power tools, Creosote, Little Leaf Cordia, and Leucophyllum species can be coaxed into a more streamlined shape or simulated structure.  (Hedging any of these plants can be quite humiliating – to the plant – and I would never recommend it outside of this forum).



Aloysia gratissima Darbi’s Plant of the Month: Aloysia gratissima, or Fragrant Bee Brush
Bee Brush smells divine and the flowers are adorable. A rough and tough plant has tiny leaves while one well watered has slightly larger ones. Place in a location where it’s easy to get your nose near the flowers!
* Find Darbi Davis at Red Bark Design.

Pleased to Meet You

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Celia Bertoia, daughter of iconic furniture designer Harry Bertoia, dishes on her famous father. By Joan Calcagno.


Celia as a baby with her father Harry. Photo courtesy of Celia Bertoia.

Early bird or night owl? “Definitely I am an early bird. My morning is very important to me. It’s when I do my meditation, I get some exercise, I have my cup of tea, and a substantial breakfast. I have about two hours’ worth of personal routine before working.  I do my best work in the morning also. My husband likes to rise later, so it’s my private time and very valuable.”


Celia today, author of a new book about her father Harry. Photo courtesy of Harry Bertoia Foundation.

Favorite accessory? “I may be kind of boring, but I love my landline phone. I can hear better and it’s stable. I’m right at my desk so I can take notes or look on the computer if I need to. You know, it just works well for me and I don’t think I’m going to give it up for years.”

Favorite faux pas? “Of course I can think of many errors I’ve made throughout the years, but, probably one is calling people by the wrong name. Sometimes l look at someone and they just look like a Linda or a Mark and that just keeps coming to my brain. Of course they’re usually so polite that they don’t say anything and I don’t realize it till later. But it makes me vulnerable and that’s always a good thing.”

Who is your dream customer? “My overall mission is to further the legacy of Harry Bertoia. So what comes to mind for me is someone who loves Harry Bertoia’s work, who is a big fan, who has brilliant ideas about marketing and promotion. Someone who would support the Foundation and help with their expertise and finances. That’s my ideal person.”


Harry Bertoia’s Diamond Chair. Photo courtesy of the Harry Bertoia Foundation.

If I could change one thing I would… “That’s so tough to put into one synopsis. But I would want it to be something like requiring people to be honest and loving. If they could do that, so many other things would fall into place. If we could just be right where we are in life – and not try to make it sound better or different – just be who we are – and be kind to each other – what a different world that would be.”

Tell us something about your dad we didn’t know.  “He was very humble and had a sort of eastern philosophy where the self was not that important. He didn’t even sign his work – or title them. He felt the viewer was more important than the creator – the viewer looks at a piece of art and finds meaning for themselves But he did have quite a temper. His anger would come out in interesting ways. If he was mad about something he would come home and he would do yard work with a vengeance. He’d cut down trees or dig huge holes or throw rocks around. That was his way of venting his anger.”


Harry Bertoia was known for his ergonomically designed furniture. Metal was a favorite material. Photo courtesy of the Harry Bertoia Foundation.

* As part of Tucson Modernism Week Celia will giving a lecture, The Life and Work of Harry Bertoia, Saturday, October 4th, 11:30 to 12:30, Faith Lutheran Church, 3925 E. 5th St. Tickets available here.

Her book The Life and Work of Harry Bertoia: The Man, the Artist, the Visionary is due out in March 2015. Find out more about Harry Bertoia and his work on the Harry Bertoia foundation website.      

Dear Tucson…

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Love-Letters-to-Tucson-logo Each issue we link up with Rachel Miller’s Love Letters to Tucson blog for a letter from a Tucson inhabitant about why they love this fair city. This month: for Scott Matlick, the colors of Tucson’s mountain ranges spell home. Photos by Rachel Miller

“Dear Tucson,

Tucson is home.

One of my first jobs in Tucson required a drive north on Houghton Road, above the river, early in the morning. When I started in the short days of early January, it first presented itself as yet another dark, quiet trip on a lonely road. Serene and relaxing, but perhaps unremarkable. As the year inched forward and sunrise began to creep into my morning commute, the majestic colors of the young sunlight rebounding off the towering Santa Catalinas straight ahead silently, but definitively,  convinced me that Tucson was my home.

Scott Matlick #thisistucson Houghton Love Letter to Tucson

There is something deeply personal about the proximity of the Tucson mountain ranges. Rather than a monstrous geological feature at the outskirts of town, there is a certain detail of character that one feels climbing the ever changing flora and climate of Mt. Lemmon Highway. They are not “the” mountains, they are our mountains.

Similarly, there is an oddly juxtaposed unity between the vastness of 1,000,000 residents and the singular smile owned by one of the Contrerases at El Guero Canelo.

We all bleed red and blue, care about green on all levels, and wake up and go to sleep to infinite shades of orange and magenta. Tucson is family. Tucson is opportunity. Tucson is local. Tucson is passion. Tucson is home.”

– Scott Matlick

Santa Catalina Mountains from Houghton Road #thisistucson Scott Matlick love letters to Tucson

Scott Matlick Love Letter to Tucson #thisistucson

Scott, wife Annie and daughter. Photo courtesy of Scott Matlick.

Scott generously shared his letter (first shared on Tucson Young Professionals) with Love Letters to Tucson as part of TYP’s #thisistucson campaign. The campaign’s mission is to attract and retain young professionals here in Tucson. Earlier this year TYP launched a city-wide social media hashtag campaign in order to promote pride and positivity in our city. That’s something we can all get behind. Scott is the Development Manager for Ronald McDonald House Charities of Southern Arizona. 

Do you have a love letter for Tucson? Visit Rachel’s blog to submit one.

Building by numbers

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It was born out of frustration when the owners were remodeling their home. Now Modern House Numbers  has orders coming in from all over the world.

Photo courtesy of Modern House Numbers

Photo courtesy of Modern House Numbers

When Brandy and Rick McLain began remodeling their 1950 house in Tucson, it wasn’t their intention to spin a business off from it. But when it came time to attach house numbers to the outside, they couldn’t find anything to satisfy their modern and mid-century tastes. So they created their own.

Numbers in Palm Springs. Photo courtesy of Modern House Numbers.

Numbers in Palm Springs. Photo courtesy of Modern House Numbers

Photo courtesy of Modern House Numbers

Photo courtesy of Modern House Numbers

After a few experiments on thin sheets of aluminum, they settled on a thicker sheet and took their design to a firm with a waterjet cutter that could slice through it. Some time later, after numerous comments from friends and visitors, and a few orders from their friends, the couple realized they might be onto something.

Photo courtesy of Modern House Numbers

Photo courtesy of Modern House Numbers

Modern House Numbers is a business that grew out of design frustration. Home-based for years and originally Brandy and Rick’s labor of love on evenings and weekends, it has grown so popular that Brandy quit her job for a Tucson planning company. They are about to hire a second full-time employee. The company now operates out of a midtown Tucson office and ships up to a hundred items a week, with orders coming in from all over the world. Apart from the USA, Canada is a significant market for them, and orders also come from Japan, Australia and Europe.

The house numbers come in a package that includes waterjet cut recycled aluminum numbers, peel-and-stick vinyl mailbox numbers and curb stencils, all in the same font. Prices start at $21 for packages and $1.50 for vinyl numbers. They also sell customized plaques (these cost around $150) and hotel room numbers to boutique hotel clients.

Photo courtesy of Modern House Numbers

Photo courtesy of Modern House Numbers

Designs, based on  Helvetica and Ultra fonts, carry names like Palm Springs, SoCal and SoHo. Colors include brushed aluminum and powder-coated white and black. Red and antique bronze finishes are coming soon. The website has been set up so that clients can preview their order before they buy.

Brandy McClain. Courtesy of Brandy McClain

Brandy McLain. Courtesy of the McLains.

Brandy has a bachelor’s degree in architecture and a masters in urban planning, while Rick, an architect, is a partner in the Tucson firm Repp + McLain Design and Construction. Although he leaves much of the running of Modern House Numbers to Brandy, he is still hands-on after hours and on the weekends. Both of them try to talk on the phone with every customer. Brandy checks and hand-wraps every order that goes out. “Quality control is still our top priority,” she says.

The daughter of ranchers, Brandy grew up in northern Arizona learning sewing from her mother and welding from her father. “My brother and I spent our childhoods outside,” she says. When she decided to pursue architecture and not agriculture at college, her parents were more than a little surprised, she says.

Rick Mc Clain. Courtesy of the McClains.

Rick McLain. Courtesy of the McClains.

Rick, originally from Boston, moved to Tucson in 1995. He met Brandy at the University of Arizona, and their design tastes seemed as compatible as their personalities. Both share a bent for modern and mid-century lines.  The couple now rents out their first home, and have since renovated a 1960s ranch house in midtown Tucson. They have kept the original adobe exterior the same, and left exposed adobe walls in some rooms inside. Also inside are the original wooden beams on the ceilings.

Photo courtesy of repp mcclain design + construction

Photo courtesy of repp mcclain design + construction

But much has been ripped out and renovated. The kitchen cabinets are a mix of IKEA bases and custom. A deep kitchen island features raw steel. Throughout the house there is a concrete floor overlay. The simple lines, the hints of Atomic Age style and the pops of color show a love for the new and an appreciation of the mid-mod.

Photo courtesy of repp mcclain design + construction

Photo courtesy of repp mcclain design + construction

Brandy believes that, like her and Rick, Modern House Numbers’ customers are looking for something out of the ordinary when it comes to their home decor. “I would say the majority of our clients have either built their homes from the ground up or have remodeled. They’re looking for something a little bit more than the standard [things] you get at Home Depot.”

Photo courtesy of Modern House Numbers

Photo courtesy of Modern House Numbers

Next for Modern House Numbers is its own home. Brandy currently works out of Repp + McLain’s office. Soon she hopes to buy and renovate a separate office building. “This is not where I expected myself to be,” she says of her move from architecture and planning into home decor and e-commerce. “But I always wanted my own business. I’m excited to get up every day.”

* Find Modern House Numbers online at

Mid-century modern for kids

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Here’s how to spread your MCM habit to the little ones, one stylish piece at a time. By Gillian Drummond

Photo courtesy of Knoll

The Risom child’s side chair from Knoll features brightly colored webbing. Photo courtesy of Knoll.

The principle behind mid-century modernism – that less is more – would seem to go against everything that kids stand for. Try the less is more line on the parent of a teenager, or a toddler, or a LEGO lover, and you’re liable to be laughed at.

But then again, maybe not. When you really think about it, the looks we associate with the MCM style –  sleek, simple, functional, bright – could be the perfect antidote to the stresses and messes of life with children.

Photo by Rachel

Heather Wuelpern chose this acrylic coffee table for her daughters’ playroom. Photo by Rachel Miller

Heather Wuelpern describes her Tucson home as “rustic, hacienda-style, old Mexico.” So when it came to furnishing her two daughters’ bedrooms and playroom, Heather deliberately went the mid-mod route. “It was to have some balance. I felt it should be more bright and colorful and crisp and clean,” she says.

Photo by Rachel Miller

Heather’s customized tulip-based chair. Photo by Rachel Miller

Heather, an artist and freelance interior designer, says her daughters’ favored style is shabby chic. But they have, by and large, stuck with the mid-mod look created by their mother. Heather admits she didn’t give them much choice. “I went in that direction before [my eldest daughter] had an opinion or a say,” she laughs.
Heather has had fun sprucing up old vintage pieces for her daughters. A 1960s desk she bought from a neighbor for $20 many years ago was painted turquoise. The desk’s chair was a Brush and Bulky roadside collection find. Heather sanded it down and painted it from grey to white.
On the wall of the same bedroom is a mural painted by Heather that continues the mid-century theme. It features an Arne Jacobsen Egg Chair – an iconic mid-century furniture piece – and a table similar to those by Japanese mid-century architect and designer Isamu Noguchi.
Photo by Rachel Miller

A 1960s desk in one of Heather’s daughter’s bedrooms. Photo by Rachel Miller

Photo by Francine?

Vintage accessories can add a mid-mod look to a kid’s room too. This clock and monkey are available on Hot Cool Vintage’s Etsy site. Photo courtesy of Hot Cool Vintage.

In the girls’ playroom, the mid-century modern theme continues with an acrylic table bought from Overstock for $150. Heather also added one of her own customized furniture pieces: a chair with a tulip base that echoes the shape of Eero Saarinen’s chairs. She painted the base of the chair metallic silver and covered the seat in melted records. And yes, she says, you can actually sit on it.
One little girl who may not have much choice but to follow the MCM path is Nova Mae Fletcher, daughter of Casia and Eric Fletcher. The couple, owners of Purple Nickel Studio photography, have scored some beautiful mid-century modern furniture for their home and office space, much of it from thrift stores and Craigslist.
But when it comes to buying MCM for kids, Casia is disappointed by what’s on offer. “It’s slim pickings out there. A lot of it is inspired by mcm and are reproductions. I haven’t ever really found a vintage piece here in Tucson,” she says.
Photo by Casia Fletcher

Baby Nova Fletcher’s mid-mod-style space. Photo by Casia Fletcher

Nova still sleeps in their bedroom, in a crib by Nursery Works, a Los Angeles-based company that has given a modern twist to the traditional baby crib. Nova’s, in WHAT WOOD and white, is used (they bought it at  Little Bird Nesting Company in Tucson) but in great condition. A changing table is integrated into the crib. Nova’s other furniture includes a black Harry Bertoia chair (bought on Craigslist) and a leather pillow from MAST in Tucson. A Mexican blanket, bought from a street vendor in California, a rug bought at a flea market, a desert mobile by Mimo Projecta woven IKEA basket, and a few bright plants finish off Nova’s corner of the bedroom.

Photos by Francine???

MCM for kids needn’t stop at furniture. These vintage accessories are available on Hot Cool Vintage’s Etsy site. Photo courtesy of Hot Cool Vintage.

Eric Lin, designer with Nursery Works in Los Angeles, says MCM for kids is growing.  “In the past few years, as parents have started to recognize that the design of the nursery can complement the design aesthetic of the rest of the home, we’ve started to see an increase in the availability of more modern and mid-century modern cribs on the market.” Parents like Casia and Eric are recognizing that “the nursery doesn’t have to be defined by the traditional ‘baby’ aesthetic”, says Eric Lin.

Electron Pendant Lamp, $69. Photo courtesy of  Land of Nod

Electron Pendant Lamp, $69. Photo courtesy of Land of Nod

One of Nursery Works’ designs, the Vetro Crib, takes the ‘less is more’ theory to its limit. The Vetro is a clear acrylic crib, 100% recyclable and non-toxic, that gives unimpeded views in and out.
It’s not only a style departure from the traditional wood, it has positive effects on a baby, says Daniel Fong, Chief Executive Officer at Nursery Works. “It’s an attempt to eliminate the visible barrier of the usual spindles separating the inside and outside of the crib, reminiscent of a cage or a fence. The real effect to the baby is that he or she cannot see the barrier. It’s as if there’s direct contact with all those outside the rib, creating a calming effect,” says Daniel.
Photo by Noah Webb

Nursery Works’ Vetro crib. Photo by Noah Webb

Buyers of the Vetro include Robert Downey Jr, father to two-year-old Exton, and Beyonce and Jay-Z, parents of Blue. Its celebrity appeal comes with a suitably high price: $4500.

Photo courtesy of Knoll

The kid version of the iconic Diamond Chair, designed by Harry Bertoia, priced at $723; and kid’s Saarinen side table, 16″ round, $597. Photo courtesy of Knoll

Over at Knoll, purveyors of modern furniture since the 1930’s and a company that boasts Harry Bertoia (see our interview with his daughter in this issue), Eero Saarinen and Jens Risom among its designers, mini versions of some of its iconic pieces are available for kids. The Risom child’s side chair, priced at $262 and pictured top, is a scaled-down version of one of the first ever pieces designed for and manufactured by Knoll.

Kids’ MCM pieces need not be pricey, though. In fact, finding bargains may be a much more practical way to go. That’s as long as you’re not precious about your find, of course.
Photo courtesy of????

Jo Herbst’s remodeled desk. Photo courtesy of  Jo Herbst.

When Jo Herbst bought a vintage cabinet for just one Euro on eBay for her young son, she chose to re-paint it bright blue. “It was made out of dark brown wood, a little dull looking to me,” says Jo, who lives in Berlin.  She believes it dates back to the 1960s or possibly ’70s, and comes from the former GDR. Luckily for Jo, “they stuck on that mid-century style much longer than in western countries”.
As well as repainting it, Jo also covered the inner back of it with fabric. Sadly, her son broke the table one day by sitting on it. “And I told him so many times not to do this,” she laughs. Which is one reason buying used – and scoring bargains – is not a bad idea for mid mod parents of little ones.

“Anything super nice we had is not nice anymore,” says mother of two Amanda Domergue, a.k.a. blogger MODG. When she came to decorate a nursery for her baby, she mixed up finds from IKEA, Overstock, Craigslist, Etsy, Walmart, CB2 and West Elm. The changing table is a $30 find on Craiglist (plus a case of beer to persuade her husband to sand and re-stain it), with a changing pad holder on top.

Photo by

Amanda Domergue has mixed vintage, new, Etsy and Craigslist finds. Photo by Amanda Domergue

Photo by Amanda Domergue

Amanda Domergue’s customized changing table. Photo by Amanda Domergue

“I wasn’t necessarily going for MCM,” says Amanda. “I really prefer to mix styles. I like a little MCM, a little rustic, a little glam, and mix it all up.”

Parents like Casia Fletcher believe there is a market for something in between the high-end mod kids gear and the thrift bargains, though. “There is a market and a need for it. Many of us would prefer clean simple well built wood pieces over the plastic, fake wood stuff.”

Lastly, there’s a question – one that’s screaming (high, pitched, toddler-like) to be asked: How do you deal with clutter when you’re a streamlined MCM-loving parent? “You have to just deal with it. Mess happens. Embrace it,” says Amanda Domergue.
Heather Wuelpern admits that mess in a child’s room is par for the course. But she says having a mid-mod style can offset that clutter more than another design aesthetic might. “If you at least have furniture that isn’t heavy and dark, if you have the likes of white and birch, it’s going to give the room a light feel,” she says.
In other words, mid-mod parents can close the door on the mess at least knowing it’s a mess that’s got style.


* For mid-century modern furniture and accessory finds in Tucson, visit Tucson Modernism Week’s Mid-Century Furniture Marketplace, 2903 E. Broadway Blvd, October 3-5. More details at

* 3 Story Magazine is a participant in the Amazon Services LLC Associates Program, an affiliate advertising program designed to provide a means for sites to earn advertising fees by advertising and linking to Within this post are some affiliate links.