Dumpster Diving and Judy Jetson: What Every Mid-Century Modern Enthusiast Should Know and Love

Long, slender legs. Blonde. It was love at first sight. I eyed those lean legs sticking up out of the ginormous dumpster, and what could I do? I had to go in after her. So I scaled the side of the rusty, seven-foot tall dumpster, and, with my tip toes balancing on a thin metal brace, I reached in, grabbed a leg, and pulled Judy out. Much to my disappointment, the rest of Judy was not so…appealing. But I’m no snob. I tossed Judy into my backseat and drove home, satisfied I’d saved another mid-century modern side table from a grisly death.

Judy sat in my screened-in porch for many months. She had no table top (it was possibly left shattered in the bottom of the dumpster), so I placed part of an old, exterior split door on her, sort of as a temporary, make-shift top. For a while I sat drinks or garden tools on her, trying to determine how to fix her up. I liked the idea of keeping her on the porch—she was a good size for that space, and I figured her style was well suited as a companion to my metal lawn chairs.

Her “body” was particle board with a plastic coated, fake, wood grained veneer, so I was confident the extremities wouldn’t harm it. But those legs…thin, golden, solid wood—maple or birch I guessed—I knew moisture and extreme temperatures would eventually take their toll on her four limbs and very modern brass ferrules. So as I accumulated more metal lawn chairs and fret over how to store them, my fears for Judy’s legs gave in, and I relegated her to the garage. I felt terrible.

In late June I was rearranging furniture in my living room, and a spot opened up next to a mid-century sofa which is—I swear—only a temporary part of my collection. But the sofa wasn’t so useful without an end table. While relaxing on the 1950’s sofa, guests need somewhere to sit their martinis, right? So I mentally searched all the tables in the house, until I remembered poor Judy in the garage. Unfortunately, she was a wreck.

It was a Saturday morning and the kids were on a canoeing/camping trip, so I afforded myself some “crazy Mom time” to re-analyze my treasure. I pulled Judy out of the garage and wiped the dust off.  Unfortunately, a long strip of her veneer had pulled away and needed re-glued and clamped for twenty-four hours. While being forced to halt my creative energies, I took that time to considered how to redefine her body, and cleaned-up and applied a golden stain to her worn legs. It took nicely.

Poor Judy. Weathered legs, peeling veneer, no top. She had such awesome modern styling with deteriorating and ugly surfaces. But I had no doubts!

Poor Judy. Weathered legs, peeling veneer, no top. She had such awesome modern styling with deteriorating and ugly surfaces. But I had no doubts!

The next afternoon I pessimistically released the clamp from Judy’s side, relieved to discover the glue held. Her cute mid-section was so unique, with four rounded, triangular cubbies underneath the missing table top. But the plastic coated, dark wood grained, laminated veneer was unattractive and clashed with her golden legs. The styling was fun, practical—very mid-century modern, but it was so ugly I’d couldn’t imagine sitting anything pretty or interesting on it.

The only solution…paint. I was kind of experimenting with a taupe and cream look on the living room walls, and since the table would sit against the taupe color, I thought I’d try cream paint. Also, the cream is light, fresh, and clean—a neutral that would not overpower the golden blonde legs but compliment their warmth. In the first moments of applying the paint I knew Judy was going to be more beautiful than ever.

Immediately I knew the cream paint would take Judy out-of-this world!

Immediately I knew the cream paint would take Judy out-of-this world!

However, while I was painting, the artist in me realized that this piece needed some pop—a little “Punch” for my Judy. So I considered color accents, such as painting the surface quadrants an alternating turquoise and coral. Although those colors are quintessential to the atomic era in which this table originated, when I imagined this paint scheme the results leaned to a piece of furniture better suited to a baby nursery, not a living room.

But the idea of coral lingered in my head. And to be honest, while I cleaned her up I imagined my silver aluminum Christmas tree perch on top of her. Also, given that her golden brass ferrules cleaned up so well, my mind started to play with metallics and the coral, somehow mixed about.

About a week before I started this project, a friend commented on a skirt I was wearing. I took a close look at the details of its tiny print and realized they were little triangles turned in all directions. My mind immediately flashed to a mid-century image, and I replied, “It’s my George Jetson skirt.” I was referring to the introductory scene of The Jetson’s when the earth explodes into a jazzy, abstract, array of dancing, multicolored triangles.

This brief sliver of animated television history is classic, mid-century, abstract art juxtaposed with classic, mid-century, swinging jazz. Think Paul Rand meets Frank Sinatra. Donna Mibus meets Michael Bublé. Neil Fujita meets Dave Brubeck…oh, wait, that one’s been done. Anyway, this all too short moment of TV nostalgia is a consummate spark of mid-century modern pizzazz. And it’s forever burned on my brain.

Courtesy CartoonsIntros

The same week that I discovered my skirt mimicked the Jetson’s animation, a friend of mine posted a sweet image of Judy Jetson on Instagram. Sadly, it was a thoughtful tribute regarding the death of the woman who voiced Judy Jetson, Janet Waldo. These two references continued to dance about in the back of my mind for quite some time.

When I seriously focused in on how to incorporated a coral color into my table, the entire Jetson’s party sprang to the forefront of my thoughts, and there was Judy, decked out in the cutest coral and pink, 1960’s, futuristic getup. Suddenly, everything aligned and was right in my world. This was the point when my blonde, leggy table secured her name—Judy.

 

Fresh, fun, flirty, and decked-out in pink and coral, Judy Jetson was a mid-century delight.

Fresh, fun, flirty, and decked-out in pink and coral, Judy Jetson was a mid-century delight.

So I examined the triangular Jetson’s image on YouTube, stuck with the metallic color contrasts idea, made four triangular stencils, and sponged on the paint. It was a bit of quick and dirty fun.

Cutting stencils from thin cardboard.

Cutting stencils from thin cardboard.

Stenciling on the triangles.

Stenciling on the triangles.

Last problem: Judy still had no top…as in, no table top. Just for fun, I cut a piece of heavy cardboard to fit perfectly inside the rounded top part of the body, because there was a lip there and it just made sense. I spray painted this new make-shift top gold, thinking it would make for a nice contrast, giving three gold layers to the piece:  the ferrules, the triangles on the nook surfaces, and the top.

With a mock gold painted top. Interesting, but blocks the downward view of the triangles.

With a mock gold painted top. Interesting, but it blocks the downward view of the triangles.

It looked okay, but this solution for a top cast shadows down on Judy’s triangles. Only one thing made sense at this point: glass. I painted the edges of the cross braces gold and a thin strip around the top ring gold to maintain the three layered consistency,  and had a piece of glass cut to fit inside the lip. At $40, this was my only real monetary investment in the piece.

Complete with glass top.

Presenting Judy…complete with glass top.

One last thought…Did you notice how my table resembles the buildings in the Jetson’s intro video above? Large, round, layered structures held up by long, thin posts (legs)? Kind of seals the deal, doesn’t it. I love it when everything falls together. Just like how my mid-century aluminum Christmas looks smashin’ on my mid-century end table which was inspired by a mid-century cartoon character.

As I suspected and hoped--a lovely stand for the aluminum Christmas tree.

As I suspected and hoped. Judy is a lovely stand for the aluminum Christmas tree.

 

 

 

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