Walk into Miles Willis McDermott IV’s apartment in Central Phoenix and you might expect to find a groovy party in full swing. Women with blue eye shadow and men in flowered shirts would be dancing to the record player. The almost overwhelming hues of orange and gold that dominate the room would be made sexier from all the dimmer lights. And the cheese and crackers would be served fondue-style.
McDermott’s place isn’t a time machine to the 1960s, but it may as well be. The graphic designer has made his small space into a bona fide shrine to the late '60s, early '70s aesthetic, known these days as mid-century modern design.
While mid-century modern is a term thrown about loosely by ultra-cool hipsters flocking to Phoenix’s historic neighborhoods just north of downtown, McDermott insists that he’s the real deal.
“People want old homes but then they rip them apart, paint them white and put up Home Depot cabinets,” he says of flipping older homes so they look authentic on the outside but modern on the inside. McDermott, on the other hand, wants everything from the light fixtures to the toilet to stay the same.
This isn’t a particularly bad case of nostalgia. McDermott wasn’t even born in the 60’s. In fact, he’s only 22.
McDermott got interested in mid-century design while volunteering at The Arc thrift store in Tempe in his free time from classes at The Art Institute of Phoenix. One day a wooden hutch with illuminated glass-doored shelving came in the shop. It blew his mind, he says.
“That something could be so simple, yet so intricate, " he says. "It was just right.”
Growing up in suburban Mesa, McDermott says he was “‘chokeholded’ with oak and 90’s renovations with fake granite countertops.
”Discovering the fluid lines of '60s furniture was a revelation. So he started researching vintage furniture designers and got good at sniffing out the real stuff from the mass-produced. His best score? A Mingo lounge chair by renowned Swedish furniture designer Yngve Ekström.
McDermott moved into this apartment in the Medlock Place historic neighborhood, west of Central and Camelback, two and a half years ago when he’d amassed too much furniture to fit into his place in Mesa. By this time a Craigslist connoisseur, he spotted the run-down apartment’s potential from a photo of its turquoise vintage oven. The landlord said if any of the appliances weren’t working, he could have them replaced, McDermott recalls. “I said don’t touch anything.”
Being a renter, there’s only so much McDermott’s been able to change — though he has pushed the boundaries. In the kitchen, he replaced the stove with a vintage Westinghouse range with light-up, multi-colored knobs and restored a broken turquoise Admiral fridge.
“I sanded it, re-coated, re-enamled ... the floor was blue, I was blue, everything was blue,” he says.
Now everything in the kitchen looks straight out of Good Housekeeping magazine circa 1965 — from the chrome toaster to the Kit-Kat clocks.
In the main room, he opted for a clever renters’ trick — instead of installing actual wood paneling to give the whole place a swanky Mad Men feel, he stuck wood grain-patterned contact paper the wall. The whole thing cost less than $40.
In fact, much of the furniture in here wasn’t as expensive as you’d think.
The massive curved couch was left beside a dumpster, along with the brass chained lanterns hanging above it. He lucked out when his low offer for the cone fireplace was accepted by an eBay seller in Prescott. And he inherited the Kodiak bear rug and stag head wall mount from his dad.
The rest he found by diligently scouring Craigslist every day and visiting one or two local thrift shops most days after work.
Itching to expand his retro design, and truly have free rein over his domain, McDermott says he plans to buy a house one day. And wanting to curb people from knocking out the interior of Phoenix’s vintage homes, he started the website Save The Sixties. Akin to a Go Fund Me account, the page is billed as a “future non-profit” aimed at buying a historic home and “saving it from terribly-trendy makeovers.”
Instead, McDermott would expand on what he’s created here — a time capsule of a period when things moved a bit slower, furniture was a bit sleeker and design was far-out.
“I want to show the Valley ... that having a vintage home is a sexy thing,” he says.