December 10, 2023“We look for in our houses what we look for in our friends,” says interior designer Susan Yeley. “We want them to be fun and colorful and interesting and tell good stories.”
That philosophy guided Yeley, whose firm is based in Bloomington, Indiana, during a recent whole-house renovation. Her client, a native of the midwestern college town, had moved to New York City decades earlier but wanted to return to Bloomington part-time. She bought a circa 1958 ranch house and asked Yeley to brighten it up with pieces that were meaningful and witty. Yeley looked for icons that would emphasize the house’s mid-century modern pedigree and wanted to include works from a variety of times and places. Which is why she purchased more than 50 items — from large case goods to small accessories — via 1stDibs.
The anteroom, an important connector in the center of the house, is “all 1stDibs,” says Yeley, adding, “One of the client’s favorite designers is Piero Fornasetti. But if you know Fornasetti, you know that a little goes a long way.” So she chose a table lamp from Pushkin Antiques with colorful Fornasetti butterflies on its translucent shade.
That piece is paired, visually, with a Lotus chair from Hunt Modern, designed by the husband-and-wife team of Erwine and Estelle Laverne. Yeley loves the chair but doesn’t find it comfortable to sit on. “It’s more of a sculpture,” she admits. She placed it alongside a spectacular brass-legged chest of drawers made by PH Furniture & Pianos from a design by Danish creator Poul Henningsen (for whom the company is named). On the floor, the yellow stripes of the custom rug continue into a long hallway toward the bedrooms.
The dining room, behind a slatted divider designed by Yeley, is another 1stDibs showcase. The room’s key elements are roughly the same age as the house. It’s possible to search 1stDibs by year — entering “1958 table,” for instance, brings up more than 300 offerings — but Yeley didn’t feel the need to be that precise. “We’re not absolutists,” she says. “We were going for a ‘mid-century modest’ feeling.” In other words, this isn’t a museum.
Still, nothing says late 1950s like a Sputnik chandelier. Yeley chose one from Glen Leroux Antiques to hang above an ebonized dining table by Paul McCobb for Calvin, purchased from Avery & Dash Collections. The walnut bar cart, designed by Arthur Umanoff for Cavalier Corporation’s Dimension Group and bought from Warehouse 414, is another perfect evocation of the era.
The living room, with its angular south-facing windows, owes its accessories to 1stDibs: the seabird vessels on the mantel are from Modern50. Furniture is mostly custom — Yeley designed the daybed so you can “cozy your feet up near the fireplace.” And she bought the Papa Bear chair locally.
The primary bedroom is part of a recent addition to the house, but Yeley used vintage furniture to ground it in the 1950s. Among the key pieces is a model 23-22 credenza by the Scandinavian polymath Finn Juhl, sold by Danish Modern LA. Behind the piece’s teak exterior are drawers painted yellow and white. Yeley paid homage to Juhl by giving new wooden cabinets throughout the suite similarly bright interiors.
The room’s Harvey Probber mahogany-and-teak bedside tables were purchased from Lobel Modern. At the foot of the bed is a 1950s John Stuart three-seat bench, bought from ModTiques and covered in a brownish mohair. An Edward Wormley cube chair, designed for and built by Dunbar (fittingly, an Indiana-based company), was reupholstered in a Holland & Sherry wool. Original works by Juul, Probber and Wormley can be pricey, but that wasn’t a concern for this client, says Yeley. “Her priority was collecting a mix of beautiful pieces.”
Yeley grew up near Bloomington but moved to Chicago to study design. After working for a large design firm there, she returned to Bloomington with her husband, an administrator at Indiana University. Seeking flexibility while raising three children, she started her own company, Susan Yeley Homes, in 2005. Now a team of six women, the firm doesn’t hew to any one style. “We like colorful mid-century houses like this one,” says Yeley. “But if someone asked me to do a Victorian, I’d say, ‘Heck yeah!’ It’s more about the process than about any one look.”
The basement of this house reflects her determination to make the most of any setting. Yeley rebuilt the stairway to let light pass through the risers and changed the windows and the cabinetry. But what makes the room feel like more than an afterthought is the quality of the furnishings. These include a white leather Eames lounge chair and ottoman and a Hans Wegner PP52 chair, bought from Sum Furniture and placed alongside an Eero Saarinen pedestal table. “To have so many things at your fingertips, thanks to the World Wide Web, is just invaluable,” says Yeley, adding, “I guess we could have done this job without 1stDibs, but I really don’t know how.”