Like a fine wine, mid-century modern design gets more stylish over time. Which is why, on this week’s episode of Bravo's Best Room Wins, we were especially excited to see how designers and would pull off the iconic look. Popularized in the 1950s, mid-century modern is defined by a juxtaposition of organic forms and sleek lines, with an undeniable appeal that’s kept it at the top of the design charts for decades. Coined the “” of interiors, mid-century modern strikes the perfect balance of sleek yet natural, cozy yet neat, organic yet sharp. Common materials include warm wood, stone, and glass, mixed with non-traditional elements like metal and vinyl. Because of its popularity over the years, mid-century modern pieces can be found anywhere, from luxury bespoke furniture brands to mass-market producers. "It's a very crowded design style, which is one of the biggest challenges," says host and judge Genevieve Gorder.
Unlike past episodes, which all included guest judges from within the interior design industry, this week featured fashion designer , who joined Gorder and Robinson to judge the rooms and weigh in on who took home the victory. Based in New York, Wu is best known for his ability to blur the lines between classic sportswear and elevated couture—a practice of indulgence and restraint that parallels the art of mid-century modern. Striking this balance is what this week's winner—Brooklyn-based designer Megan Grehl—believes is the secret sauce to great design. "I like to have harmony in my work, a yin and yang approach," she says. Having grown up in Beijing with a Taiwanese mother and American father, Grehl understands that there is beauty through dichotomy. And with a background in architectural and interior design, her work illustrates the importance of creating a unified language within each project, from commercial properties to bespoke homes.
Following her win, we asked Grehl—founder of her own —what it took to craft the winning room, and how her design expertise helped her get there.
Siweb: Tell us a little bit about your design style, and how it lends itself to the mid-century modern aesthetic.
MEGAN GREHL: My personal style infuses a mixture of classic and modern, East and West, with a touch of edginess. I like to think of it as fierce, unbridled femininity. And mid-century is a perfect era that embodied so many of these ideologies: female empowerment, understanding of structure, and conveying structure in its most honest and raw portrayal through design. The era really speaks to me, so I was thrilled to be selected for this style.
ED: What makes mid-century modern design so special?
MG: Mid-century modernism was really a reflection of what was going on at the time—in politics, technology, society, economy—it was an era of innovation. Creating forms out of new materials, unexpected scales and shapes, bringing the outdoors in. Mid-century modern was really one of the first design movements to truly try to demystify design and make it more accessible.
ED: Mid-century modern is all about juxtaposition. How does having skills in architectural and interior design help you strike a balance?
MG: Mixing Eastern and Western culture is what my design aesthetic is founded on. Isamu Noguchi (a personal favorite of mine) was a rock star of the mid-century era, and was someone who embodied all of these ideals. Like me, he was a mixed-race designer of Eastern and Western descent. In my design for Best Room Wins, I used one of Noguchi’s iconic lanterns that is playful in the way it had a very strong presence in the space, and yet was so lightweight and balanced on four delicate metal legs.
ED: What was the biggest challenge you faced when designing your room?
MG: Clients can really make or break your design. In this show, I had six clients: Whitney, Genevieve, Jason, Ann, Brendan, and ultimately myself. Each one of the clients had a very different take on the work and process so it was a juggling act trying to please them all, and then also feel happy with the design for myself.
ED: Best success?
MG: Last year I traveled to Milan, where I was able to exhibit “Moooi Through the Eyes of Megan Grehl” for Salone Del Mobile with Marcel Wanders. We had to design and construct a 2,500-square-foot space in less than a week for less than $250,000. [That experience] taught me how to create a big impact in a fast-paced construction environment with a good, but not amazing, budget. We had to keep track of both the construction and the spending carefully. That confidence in managing deadlines with so many moving parts enabled me to take the risks that I did on the show and the judges definitely noted that.
Take a look below for the before & after shots of both contestants' rooms:
Megan Grehl (left) and Stephanie Ballard (right)
Megan Grehl (left) and Stephanie Ballard (right)
"To me, the mid-century era was about honesty in the product and good spatial strategy, and I wanted to show that in my space," Grehl says of her room. "I spent a lot of time in my 3D model analyzing all the different angles and ways to maximize the proportion and experience in the space." Ultimately, it was Grehl's understanding of the mid-century modern time period as a whole that helped her take home the prize. Having written her senior thesis on key women of the modern design movement, Grehl appreciates mid-century modern for more than just its aesthetic appeal—and it showed. "Megan’s brutalist inspired fireplace-redo and her bold choice in choosing to rip up the floors and expose the poured concrete made her a winner in my eyes," Whitney Robinson says.
While the statement gray fireplace, concrete floors, fascinator lighting, and mid-century modern swing chair were highlights, it was her knowledge of mid-century modern as a movement, art form, and general energy that helped her win. To evoke all of that in one room, in four days, with $25,000 is why Grehl's work shined. “When I walked in the room, I felt really great energy," Jason Wu said. "It felt warm and inviting. I wanted to stay there.”
As for how it feels to have won, "I don't think it's fully sunk in yet," Grehl says. "I revealed the true architectural bones of the space, while many of the other designers hid the imperfections by covering them with more expensive materials."
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