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The Jet Age Returns: PAN AM and the Resilience of Modern Design

Modern Design | Fortune Magazine

This vintage Fortune Magazine cover evokes early interest in air and space travel

Did you ever travel by air back in the sixties? In those days, flying was an elegant affair. Passengers dressed in their finest clothes and dinner was served on china plates. The new television series PAN AM is set in the Jet Age of 1963, and the producers have gone to great lengths to replicate the design of the period, including clothing, cars, and interior sets.

I’m wondering how PAN AM will affect collecting and design trends. Television certainly has an influence on what’s hot and what’s not in the design world. In my last 20th Century Design auction, everyone wanted the chair that was last seen on the set of MAD Men. Will PAN AM usher in renewed interest in the bold colors and lines of Mid-Century Modern design?

In my opinion, great design knows no time boundaries. If you fall in love with an item that has great design, go with it! Life will revolve around it. Here’s an example:

Imagine it’s around 1930 and you’re relaxing in a Paul Frankl inspired streamline design Art Deco chair, like the one pictured here, and you’ve picked up a copy of Fortune magazine to read. Perhaps your walls are adorned with fan motif wallpaper and a Margaret Bourke-White photograph of the Zeppelin.

Paul Frankl Chair

Streamline design leather chair attributed to Paul Frankl

Fast forward to 2011, and you could easily be sitting in the same chair opening an app on your i-pad. Instead of wallpaper, the walls are painted a muted gray, and the window treatments complement the contemporary artwork and ceramic pieces in the room.

The technology changes, and so does the overall design composition, but the chair remains a powerful design element in the room.

When I was a child, traveling in an airplane was a grand adventure for me and my family. I also lived in a home layered with styles representing decades of design. My childhood home was a bit of a 20th century time capsule capturing the allure of each decade. Rather than being purists, we mixed up elements of Art Deco, Mid-Century Modern, and other periods.

I’m sure most of us do not sell everything we own and start fresh when the urge comes to redesign. Instead, we hold on to favorite items and find ways to make these elements (like the Paul Frankl chair) shine in a new context.

If you are feeling inspired by a show such as PAN AM to revisit great designs of the past, there are many ways to incorporate these pieces in with what you already own, even if your other items are not from the same era.

How would you incorporate an item from the Jet Age into your home?

Margaret Bourke White  | Photography

Margaret Bourke White (American, 1904-1971), Bryantville Auto Service Third Annual Goodyear Dealers Zeppelin Race Winner

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