Pictures: Maynard Parker Invents Mid-Century Style

Tipped by a review in TLS of a new monograph, I learned for the first time about Maynard L. Parker, House Beautiful‘s resident residential photographer, and perhaps the person who created the idea of what the mid-century middle class American home should look like (much like Julia Child invented, or at least curated, what should be for dinner).

From the review (paywall, sorry):

The dust jacket of Maynard L. Parker: Modern photography and the American dream shows, under a flawless sky, a young woman opening a low gate in a white picket fence to enter a rose-bordered garden overlooking the ocean. Paving stones lead to a a patio with a table surrounded by yellow and blue chairs under a large, tilted parasol. There’s a white scottie dog sitting quietly in the middle distance and, beyond that, a sun-lounger in the shade, next to a clapboard summer house. The woman is wearing a white blouse with red stitching. In one hand she has a small leather purse, in the other some fresh-cut hibiscus. There’s nobody else around. It’s like heaven.

“M. Chaffin residence, Emerald Bay, Laguna Beach, California, 1948” is one of almost 60,000 negatives, transparencies, black-and-white and colour prints forming the magnificent Maynard L. Parker archive at the Huntingdon Library. Parker (1900-76) worked for magazines like Better Homes and Gardens, Architectural Digest and Good Housekeeping, but it is with House Beautiful, edited by Elizabeth Gordon, that he is most associated and for which he did his best work. Parker’s images – dramatically lit, carefully styled and powerfully seductive – set the agenda for American domestic design for generations, and his influence persists. This monograph, the first study of his life and work, is as wonderful as it is overdue.

The Huntington Library has all (or at least a vast amount) of his collection online, with an interesting video slideshow introducing it. Screen Shot 2013-03-23 at 11.11.01 PMA point that struck me was how powerful the “anti-modern” stance of the magazine (and by implication a whole raft of designers and patrons) was. No Farnsworth House for them.

Most of it dates pretty poorly, but a couple, this kitchen which must have been aggressively modern once, and the odd angles of this the living room below, seem practically like short stories. In the case of the living room, by John Cheever, and not ending well.

Screen Shot 2013-03-23 at 11.27.12 PM

I can’t say that the collection counts as design inspiration exactly, but it is a weirdly engaging way to waste an hour or two. Did anybody really live like this?

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