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Photos via Patricia Chang
Walking into Wes Mitchell's Inner Sunset one-bedroom feels a bit like stepping into a time capsule, or perhaps a midcentury furniture catalog. Aside from the large Apple monitor parked on one wall, the oak-paneled living room done up in shades of mustard looks ready to sell you on the modern conveniences of 1960. Mitchell, a 27-year-old graphic designer, is OK with that comparison, with reservations. "I'm not a freak about it like some people are," he says. "Some people fetishize that era a lot, and I just love the spaces. This place made it easy to do that because it was right for it."
On the desk-slash-wall unit sits an all-in-one Braun SK 61 record player from around 1961.
The building, a multifamily built in 1959, hasn't changed much since it was constructed. The original oak paneling, oak-plank floors, and globe lights are all still intact (right down to the exceedingly tiny apartment numbers on each door). Until a new owner restored the building a few years ago, the place hadn't been in great repair, because a prior landlord wasn't big on making improvements, Mitchell explains. "Luckily, that led to most of the period details still being here," he adds. "Sort of a bad landlord for the previous tenants means amazing period details for me."
The all-in-one record player helps save space and keep the room from being all about music. "If you have a giant TV, you start to create a room for TV," says Mitchell, who adds that he was inspired by old furniture catalogs, "where you tried to create this space in the living room rather than this one-sided TV-watching arena."
Mitchell, who as a kid imagined becoming an architect, brings a designer's exactitude to decorating, which he does just for fun. (Sample observation about his walls: "The original oak has a much tighter grain than the stuff you see now. It's not as streaky, which is why I think that the paneling on the walls feels not overpowering—something to work with rather than something to fight.") And so you can imagine Mitchell's delight when he drove out to see a desk in Moraga and confirmed firsthand that its notched back legs were carved to perfectly grip baseboard molding, thus warding off the indignity of wall gap. "If you didn't have those, it wouldn't sit flush," he says. "I could see it in the Craigslist photos, and I was like, 'Is that what I think it is?'"
Mitchell frequently finds pieces on Craigslist and at estate sales, and he's got the roomy car (a Toyota 4Runner) to enable the habit. Occasionally, he hits the jackpot with a good source. After responding to a Craigslist ad for a couch and lounge chair, he found himself standing outside a warehouse in Union City. The couch and chair were just sitting in front of the door, so he asked the seller if he had anything else. "He just rolls up the door and it's this huge warehouse full of midcentury furniture that he's been collecting for 10 years," recalls Mitchell, who bought the couch and chair for his living room. "Now I have that guy's number."
Mitchell shares the apartment with his two guinea pigs, Oliver and Ira. "They make a great room divider," he says.
Mitchell enjoys the hunt for good pieces at good prices, and he's also not hung up on big names. "Name-brand-type things are still selling for tens of thousands of dollars, but there are a lot of pieces that have no designer that are in the style of something else that are actually of really high quality," he says. "Finding those pieces is fun, too, because to me it's not so much about any one piece as it is about the whole home."
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