This Vacation Rental is a Living Museum of Midcentury Eastern European Design

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By Heather Corcoran / Published by Dwell
For your next vacation, why not travel through history to a time-capsule of an inn in the former Yugoslavia?

Yugoslavia is no longer on the map, but a tiny slice of the former nation still exists in a 1960s apartment building in Belgrade's historic Dorćol neighborhood. It's called Yugodom, and this "stay-over museum" is a curated shrine to midcentury design—and the power of everyday objects—created by local designer Mario Milakovic.  

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While collecting the objects that fill the Yugodom, designer Mario Milakovic was surprised to discover the love-hate relationship many Serbians shared with the products of the period. "For some people this furniture stayed around until nowadays, surrounding them their entire lives," he says. "That furniture is more like a monument, sort of like a witness."

Over the course of a year, Milakovic was able to transform his passion for design into the retro rental space, digging up forgotten treasures at flea markets, antique shops, and online marketplaces, as well as through his network of friends, before painstakingly restoring them with the modern guest in mind.

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"The credenza is probably my favorite piece of furniture, and in the Yugodom I set up one in each room," Milakovic says. The piece in the 1970s-themed bedroom features an array of period products that the former owner bought in Trieste, Italy, a favorite destination for buying "Western" goods during the socialist era. All of the objects except the fan are marked Made in Yugoslavia.

"Most people from abroad were actually surprised that socialist Yugoslavia even had midcentury modern furniture," says Milakovic, who opened the space in 2014 but is constantly evolving its collection. "There is even some ironically subversive truth in that. First of all, midcentury started later here, in the 1950s, and didn't get mass production until the late '50s, '60s, and even '70s. Secondly, for most ordinary people the style didn't even have a name—it was simply furniture." 

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Each of the three rooms references a decade and is named for a film from that era. The master bedroom, named for Dušan Makavejev's 1971 film W.R.: Mysteries of the Organism, celebrates films once banned by the government for dealing with taboo topics.

The resulting collection of furniture, books, magazines, music, and memorabilia isn't just a celebration of an aesthetic. It's also an art project that tells the story of a period in time and the people who lived through it. 

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The lounge also features bits of cinematic history, with a focus on the kitchy comedies of the 1980s that introduced queer themes to mainstream movies. "Working on Yugodom was not only a designer process, but also a historical research and curatorial creation," says Milakovic.

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Among the highlights in the Yugodom collection is a 1956 chair Lupina (Shell) chair from Niko Kralj, one of the few Yugoslavian designers of the era to receive international attention—including a spot in the MoMA collection in New York. But the project isn't just about turning a spotlight to Belgrade's design superstars. "The concept of Yugodom is not purely focused on aesthetics; it's dedicated to ordinary people," says Milakovic. "They are the ones who made it all in factories, lived with it in their homes, took care of it, and saved it all until today."