Mid-Century Modern Style is a difficult term to define. Broadly, it has been used to describe graphic design, architecture and furniture from the middle of the 20th century - 1933 to 1965 - although some argue that the period is more specifically 1947 to 1957.
Regardless, like any age of design, it evolved from the 1939 World’s Fair in New York City when geometric forms and clean lines of the Danish and Bauhaus modernist movements were brought into the American consciousness. Really taking off in the late 1940s, Mid-Century Modern style lasted well into the 1960s when American style was focused on embracing the future.
Background to Mid-Century Modern Style
While American modernists were loving the industrial materials and the ability to mass produce, their Scandinavian counterparts were staying with the longstanding traditions of crafting furniture from the natural elements of leather and wood - handmade over mechanical processes. The result was beautifully crafted pieces loved as much for the quality as the simple, modern forms and curves. And, many of the exact pieces designed in the 1950s and 1960s are reproduced today.
Cara Greenbery who coined the phrase ‘Mid-Century Modern Style’ in 1984 is unsurprised that the style has stood the test of time, “it seems to appeal anew to each rising generation of young people. Mid-Century design hasn’t been bested by any other movement since, so it remains the style of our own time, not of some antique pasts. And it still looks cool!”
As summed up by Charles and Ray Eames on their design ideology, Mid-Century Modern style is “getting the most of the best to the greatest number of people for the least amount of money”.
This style remains popular due to its foundation that pieces be accessible and affordable.
Mid-Century Modern Influences
Originally influenced by new manufacturing techniques, a post-war lifestyle and new materials, Mid-Century Modern Furniture remains popular today. Why are these designs so resilient some 70 years later? Because Mid-Century Furniture was designed for a way of living that is still relevant. People still want chairs to curl up in, storage which is accessible and stylish, and everything on a smaller scale making it more mobile.
In the age of drones, Wi-Fi and Smartphones, the allure and influence of Mid-Century Modern rests in its ability to both transport us back to the past and propel us to dream of the future.
Notable Mid-Century Modern Designers
The most notable Mid-Century Modern designers would be Charles and Ray Eames with their original work fetching vast sums of money and designs still being reproduced today. Others include:
- Herman Miller
- Harry Bertoia
- Ludwig Mies van der Rohe
- Marcel Breuer
- Arne Jacobsen
Key Characteristics of Mid-Century Modern Style
Overall, Mid-Century Modern represents a combination of post World War 11 practicality, the 50s optimism, the 60s earthiness, and even the tones and textures of the 70s - all in a stylish nod to Scandinavian simplicity.
Mid-Century Modern is fresh, tinged with a retro vibe, dedicated to comfort and functionality, in a design that is beautiful and timeless. Streamlines in design, form follows function, highlighting the materials the pieces are made from rather than pretending to be something they aren’t.
This is a style defined by an understated and classic look with clean/sleek lines, limited ornamentation and minimal fuss. The curves are subtle, gentle and organic.
Mid-Century Modern Furniture is all about functionality - form follows function - and that form is organic and often geometric. Featuring a discovery of traditional and non-traditional, often contrasting materials, this is a style all about being as simple and practical as it is beautiful.
Other features include low streamlines seating, plastic shell chairs, cocooning lounges, hairpin legs on tables and dressers, matte finishes, and plain surfaces showing personality via design flourishes.
Mid-Century Modern Furniture design saw materials come into their own. No more hiding what pieces were made of. Plastic was used for its own qualities rather than to imitate wooden furniture. Plywood was no longer hidden away but highlighted.
There is a liberal use of traditional materials - wood - and non-traditional materials - metal, glass, vinyl, plywood, plexiglass and lucite. In fact, there is often the juxtaposition of different, sometimes contrasting materials.
Mid-Century Modern is more than shapes and materials - it includes distinctive color palettes. These five quintessential palettes which range from vibrant, earthy hues to pretty pastels.
- Orange and brown - both earthy and vibrant, these are a classic Mid-Century Modern color combination.
- Chartreuse and gray - cool, fresh and will instantly add a certain Mid-Century Modern chic.
- Teal, brown and white - a sophisticated palette which can impart a rich look, especially when combined with the right furniture shapes.
- Pink and brown - from pastel to deep pink and playful patterns or textures, it works particularly well with neutral brown or wood tones.
- White and wood - reflects the style’s simple flavor and allows the wood to shine.
Furnishing a Mid-Century Modern Home
When furnishing a Mid-Century Modern home, think no-fuss, anti-formal and follow these five simple steps:
Pick your furniture
Wooden furniture is big for this era. Look for furniture in shades of natural timber finishes, such as oak, usually with rounded shapes such as rounded chair backs, legs and edges. The timber credenza, rounded dining chairs and the Eames lounger chair are icons of this time.
Pick your colors
The mid-century colour palette runs the gamut from the bright colors to earthy hues so choose colors that feel right to you - color can be brought into your home through wall paint, accessories, window treatments, lighting, soft furnishing and furniture.
Pick your accessories
Look for pendant lighting or large architectural lighting fixtures that look more like a work of art than a light source, traditionally shaped candlesticks, simple round mirrors, drinks trolleys, plant stands and patterned rugs.
Arrange your space
A balanced space with a Mid-Century Modern flair will have a good mix of highs and lows. Consider a credenza at medium height, plant stands to give extra height and a low sofa and coffee table.
Dress your walls
Most mid-century homes have white walls and open-plan layouts but you can add some era-appropriate wallpaper or a piece of graphic artwork that reflects your chosen color scheme.
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