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This season always brings to mind my favorite graphic icon from the mid-century modern era, the starburst. Whether joyously explosive, a bouquet of fireworks, or a quiet little twinkle, it always seemed to have the most  personality of any of the symbols of that era.

The starburst first pop and crackled into popular use right after WWII, thanks to some of America’s iconic designers like the Eames, George Nelson and John Lautner. It was a time of excitement and jubilation. We had just won the war, and everything seemed new and shiny again and full of promise. A wealth of new technology developed during the war was now being applied to our civilian lives. Everything was easier, more convenient and a whole lot faster. Radio became television and we all got powerful, shiny new cars and home appliances.

We now used our newly-freed up time to zoom about the country in these cars, and we needed places to eat and sleep. Fast food was born, along with a new form of architecture to house it that would quickly catch the eye of a speeding driver. Swoops, curves, and spires topped off with starbursts. John Lautner first used the style to design Googie Hamburger joints in the late ’40s, and the name stuck.holiday motel sign


park terrace II

The Park Terrace Movie Theater at Park Rd. Shopping Center. One Charlotte’s few remaining original starburst neon signs.


Now we’re talking icon! The original Welcome to Las Vegas sign, a Googie era classic? Have you ever noticed its starburst?

bowl sign


George Nelson made the starburst a must-have for every home with the design of the clever starburst clock. Lore has it the idea was conceived during a night of drinking with buddies Isomu Noguchi, Buckminster Fuller and Irving Harper. Fuller offhandedly scribbled the idea for the perfect clock on a napkin, and Nelson ran with it.


nelson clock2

George Nelson Ball Clock


George Nelson Asterisk Clock

welby clock

Starburst clock by Welby, one of the many clock makers that copied Nelson’s wildly popular starburst concept.

But the strongest force that fueled our love of the starburst was the Cold War. When USSR launched  the first satellite,

the starburst-like Sputnik in 1958, we became obsessed with regaining our star status in the race to conquer outer space. By the mid 60’s starburst was popping up everywhere, becoming one of the most popular design motifs in our homes. Because above all, the starburst stood for unlimited possibilities and our collective belief that the sky was the limit.

starburst plates

1950’s -60’s tableware, clockwise from upper left: Salem North Star, Taylor Smith Taylor Cathay, Franciscan Starburst, unmarked

turq star coffeetable
1950’s tile-top coffee table
drexel suncoast2

Drexel Suncoast credenza

jere? starburst

Freidle wall sculpture

jere stars

C. Jere wall scupture


american olean tile

1950’s mosaic tile by American Olean

sputnik tidbit tray


sputnik chandelier


Landerwood doors1

Landerwood doors2 If you’re a MCM archeologist like me, you can spot relics from the era still lingering here and there. Like on the fabulous starburst hardware on the front doors of a home in Charlotte’s Mountainbrook neighborhood.


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