USA Today, March 11, 2005
by Diana McKeon Charkalis
SOUTH PASADENA, Calif. — Jim Brown and Michelle Gringeri-Brown live in a cozy 1923 bungalow. But their new passion is for a more recent era.
Last year, the couple launched a stylish quarterly magazine focusing on midcentury architecture and design. Atomic Ranch, at 30,000 readers and growing, celebrates the beauty of the casual one-story homes that sprang up en masse across the country from the late 1940s to the mid-1970s.
Although they both grew up in ranch houses, it was only in recent years that they came to fully appreciate the aesthetic.
"Just like our readers, we had to educate ourselves and come to the realization that, yeah, ranches are kind of cool," says Gringeri-Brown, 52, the magazine's editor.
The couple bought their home 20 years ago when the resurgence of bungalows was just beginning. But it wasn't purely a style decision.
"Primarily, we bought this for the same reason youngish people are buying ranches now," says Brown, 53, a professional photographer and the magazine's publisher. "It was affordable and in a neighborhood built for modest, middle-class families."
They decided to focus the magazine not on the work of name architects but rather to "showcase outstanding midcentury homes of regular people with good taste."
That philosophy of getting a great look at an affordable price is echoed in their home. They have filled it with family treasures, thrift-store bargains and things from Restoration Hardware.
"We couldn't afford a Stickley, so we thought, 'What kind of looks like it?' " Brown says.
Some rooms now double as office and conference space. And their passion for midcentury style is evident in recent purchases. "We're buying more clean-lined Scandinavian types of things," Brown says.
Editorial assistant Cheyenne Wortham, their daughter, sits at a new green Formica desk tucked in the corner of the dining room. They traded an antique treadle sewing machine for a vintage Sonrisa steel credenza (circa 1960) where files are kept.
"It made sense, and we just thought it looked cool," Brown says.
To save space, they've swapped Windsor chairs around the dining/conference room table for $89 lightweight Danish modern office chairs from Ikea.
Comfort is key in their green-and-brown living room. The hope chest in front of their couch doubles as a proofing table for magazine pages. An antique kimono hangs above the 1940s-style Crate & Barrel sofa.
"There's a Japanese tie-in with the Arts & Crafts bungalows, so to me it was sort of a different way of reflecting that," Gringeri-Brown says.
They hide electronics in two Stickleyesque storage units joined with glue. "No one makes what we wanted, so we had to cobble it together," Brown says.
They're too busy these days to do much cooking in the kitchen, but it does double as a photo studio where Brown shoots product stills for the magazine. They maintained a cool vintage look by keeping the original cabinetry and installing similar Ikea cabinets for additional storage.
"Most people would walk in and say, 'OK, I want to gut it, I want granite, stainless steel,' " Gringeri-Brown says. "A modern kitchen doesn't fit a modest bungalow."
Jadeite-green kitchen clocks match the original yellow-and-turquoise counter tiles. A new green Muller refrigerator is the showpiece of the room. At $4,000, "it was a splurge," Gringeri-Brown concedes.
It stands beside the '50s stove they bought 25 years ago for $45. To complete the look, Gringeri-Brown turned 1950s fruit-patterned tea towels into curtains.
Once avid gardeners, their roses have grown wild, the vegetable plot lies fallow. Growing a magazine takes all their energy.
"For us personally, launching this magazine has been very good," Gringeri-Brown says. "At this stage of being together, it gives you a really interesting new focus."
They look forward to a time when they'll have a separate office and a more spacious, light-filled home. Brown dreams of an open floor plan and sliding glass doors. "Our next house will definitely be a ranch."