Mid-century manor: At home with Bill Johnson, co-owner of Retro Vegas

The original doors of the Bill Johnson’s Las Vegas home built in 1963, the owner of Retro Vegas, Monday, February 21, 2011.
Photo: Leila Navidi

Retro Vegas: Reliving through Relics

Retro Vegas home

The house: Built in 1963 by Jim Temple, the 4,500-square-foot home passed through the hands of poker legend Doyle Brunson and casino owner Jackie Gaughan, among others, before Retro Vegas owners Bill Johnson and Marc Comstock snapped it up in 2002. “They were updating it into what they thought a Summerlin family would want in Downtown Las Vegas,” Johnson says. “We were like, ‘Stop the destruction!’” Today, the 1,400-square-foot attached maids’ quarters have been converted into a separate apartment, while original features like the living room’s lava rock wall and stained-glass front door panels remain.

The store: In the heart of Downtown, Retro Vegas (1211 Main Street) has been selling mid-century modern furniture to local collectors since 2008. “It’s a museum where you can buy pieces,” Johnson says. “We go to estate sales, auctions; people call us. On Sundays, which is our day off because the store is closed, first thing in the morning we’re on Craigslist. If you find something, you drive to it. I don’t care where it’s at—if it’s in the Valley, it’s worth it.” Johnson swears that the home and store are separate entities, though he admits, “There’s been a few rare times where it’s like, ‘That’s coming home.’”

The steal: Though they didn’t recognize the designer at the time, Johnson and Comstock fell in love with the beautiful lines and rich wood of these Vladimir Kagan chairs and table ($125 at a thrift store). “The design is perfect,” Johnson says of the pieces by Kagan, who is still working at 84. They didn’t realize how good a deal they’d gotten until they found another pair of the chairs on “the Sotheby’s of mid-century modern,” 1stdibs.com. The price? $18,000.

Danish modern dining table and chairs at the Las Vegas home of Bill Johnson, the owner of Retro Vegas, Monday, February 21, 2011.

The dining room: The Danish modern table and chairs that now grace the dining room replaced another vintage piece: a set from the 1890s discovered in the underground tunnels of Needles, California. Comstock found this piece at Las Vegas resale shop Gypsy Caravan and swooned over its elegant design. A 1960s hanging light with “woven” orange and amber resin picked up for $4 at an estate sale, Danish modern candlesticks and a ceramic Lazy Susan round out the room.

The lighting: Made with brass, teak wood and screw-in glass shades, this lamp (one in a pair) evokes the country’s ’60s space-age obsession.

A C. Jere metal sculpture hangs on the original volcano rock wall at the Las Vegas home of Bill Johnson, the owner of Retro Vegas, Monday, February 21, 2011.

The art: One of the few contemporary pieces in the home, this large copper sculpture by artists Curtis Freiler and Jerry Fels, under the assumed name C. Jeré, is dated 2005. Picked up at the World Market Center, the piece has been slowly changing colors because of oxidation, something the artists intended, Johnson says.

The trend: Johnson evokes the “50-year rule” to explain mid-century modern’s re-emergence as the design trend du jour. It takes 50 years, he says, for people to really start appreciating furniture and architecture styles of the past. Which means we won’t have to deal with ’80s furniture until, oh, about 2030.

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