Mid-century furniture describes tables, chairs, dressers, and desks marked by their clean lines and lack of fussy detail. While many people associate Mid-century Modern with the years 1945 to 1965, one of the earliest examples of mid-century furniture was actually designed in 1934, when Kem Weber conceived his Airline armchair. A precursor to the flat-pack products sold at IKEA, Weber’s Airline chair streamlined the rigid geometry of Art Deco, had a retail price of just under $25, and was meant to be shipped to customers in a cardboard box, unassembled. Only 200 or so of the chairs were ever produced, though, and even fewer were shipped.

Another designer whose work bridged Art Deco and modernism was Alvar Aalto, whose own armchair, model no. 397, was introduced in 1932. Aalto’s armchair, which is sometimes referred to as the Springleaf, was made of bent and molded birch plywood. Aalto’s techniques and materials would be employed even more famously by Charles and Ray Eames, a married couple who, in 1945, figured out how to create strong compound curves in plywood. One of their first products was a birch child’s chair and stool manufactured by the Molded Plywood Division of Evans Products. The Eameses were more successful than Weber, but the run was still limited to 5,000 pieces, and only 1,000 of their LCW (Lounge Chair Wood) chairs were made.

The Eames’ partnership with Herman Miller was more fruitful. With Miller, the Eameses created the DCM (Dining Chair Metal), a two-piece chair whose plywood sections were attached to a chromed frame. They also produced the DAR chair, which had a rigid fiberglass shell that could be molded in a rainbow of colors and set on a variety of metal bases and legs, including a rocker. With Miller, in 1956, the Eameses also produced the Lounge Chair and Ottoman, which featured molded rosewood plywood and leather upholstery. Though mass-produced, examples of these pieces from the late ’50s and early 1960s are staples of mid-century furniture auctions.

Other mid-century furniture designers of note included Harry Bertoia, a sculptor whose wire-frame Diamond chairs, made by Knoll, are sometimes mistaken for the work of the Eameses (Bertoia’s goblet-like Bird chair is less easily confused). Another sculptor, Isamu Noguchi, is probably best known for his glass-top, wood-base coffee table, manufactured by Herman Miller. Noguchi also designed biomorphic sofas for Miller and circular and oval Formica-topped tables for Knoll.

In addition to Danish Modern stars such as Arne Jacobsen (his chairs had names like Ant, Egg, and Swan), Finn Juhl (the arms of his throne-like pieces were often made of polished mahogany or teak), and Hans Wegner (Nixon and Kennedy used his furniture in one of their 1960 presidential debates), one of the leading furniture designers of the mid-century was George Nelson. For very different reasons, his fanciful Marshmallow sofa and minimalist Coconut chair, both manufactured by Herman Miller, are icons of 1950s style.

Rounding out the era is George Nakashima, who combined the mid-century aesthetic with the rough-hewn naturalism of the 1960s. In a wood Nakashima day bed from 1963, the base and upholstery almost resemble a piece by George Nelson, except for the strategically placed unfinished edge at the top of the bed’s back. Nakashima desks and coffee tables also feature unfinished edges or unrepaired blemishes, with surfaces made from single planks of thick walnut and other hardwoods.


Best of the Web (“Hall of Fame”)

The Mid Century Modernist

The Mid Century Modernist

Stephen Coles' really visual blog dedicated to the Modernist era of design from 1940 to 1970 (aka Mid-century Moder… [read review or visit site]

Buffalo Architecture and History

Buffalo Architecture and History

Chuck LaChiusa's wonderful guide to the architecture and history of Buffalo, NY, also happens to host an impressive… [read review or visit site]

Herman Miller Consortium Collection

Herman Miller Consortium Collection

This website showcases several hundred pieces of furniture, held by thirteen museums, that were designed for Herman… [read review or visit site]

Chipstone

Chipstone

This beautiful site showcases the collection of Stanley and Polly Stone of Fox Point, Wisconsin, consisting of earl… [read review or visit site]

EamesCollector.com

EamesCollector.com

Steven Cabella's personal homage to Charles and Ray Eames. This site is as clean and visually appealing as the Eame… [read review or visit site]

Kentucky Online Arts Resource

Kentucky Online Arts Resource

This huge online database from the Speed Art Museum is a rich trove of beautiful photos and reference information o… [read review or visit site]

Work of Charles and Ray Eames

Work of Charles and Ray Eames

This Library of Congress microsite is an overview of the postwar modern design work of Charles (1907-78) and Ray (1… [read review or visit site]

Classic Modern

Classic Modern

Get a taste of how homes were lit in the 50s, 60s, and 70s with the Danish retro-style lighting designs featured on… [read review or visit site]



Other Great Reference Sites

Most watched eBay auctions    

Wing Chair & Ottoman Light Grey Divina Melange Hans J. Wegner Carl Hansen ModernShell Chair Walnut Ivory Thor Leather Hans Wegner Carl Hansen Midcentury ModernVintage Fritz Hansen Danish Modern Arne Jacobsen Egg Chair Original Leather NrGrand Prix Chair With Wood Legs Dark Grey Set Of 2 Arne Jacobsen Fritz HansenVintage Mid Century Tiffany & Co Sterling Silver 925 Italy Zippo Table Lighter5 Herman Miller Fiberglass Shell Chairs Mid Century Modern Eames Vtg Orange GrayMatching Set: Plycraft Chairs Bentwood & Padded Mid CenturyEames Aluminum Management Chair Black Leather Pneumatic Lift DamagedGeorge Nelson Tray Table - Herman MillerRisom Side Chair Maple/flax Jens Risom Knoll Design Within Reach Mid CenturyPair Legs George Nelson Herman Miller Basic Cabinet Series Hardware OriginalVintage Mid Century Paul Mccobb Planner Group Legs Nightstand Table Winchendon3 Vintage Herman Miller Eames Fiberglass Eiffel Chairs RareVintage Mid Century Paul Mccobb Nightstand Bedside Table 1 Drawer Planner GroupEames Lounge Mid Century Modern Replacement Steel Swivel Chair BaseModern Danish Design - Small Teak Table By Hans J. Wegner/ Andres TuckMid Century Modern Teak DeskTwo Laura Davidson Soho Mid Century Modern Ribbed Office Chairs - Minor Blemish Mallod Mid Century Modernist Bentwood Teak Ply Desk Filing In Tray Vintage RetroVintage Mid-century Modern Vinyl 33 1/3 Record Cabinet Case Alan Insulated MfgVintage Chrome Kromex Bread Box W/ Cutting Board & Shelf Mid Century RetroVintage Mid Century Metal And Walnut Table Sculpture Curtis Jere Era Modern Mid Century Tea Coffee End Table Dovetail Top Small Danish Modern2 Milo Baughman Barrel Back Lounge Swivel Chairs - 1967 Vintage 36" Mid Century Danish Modern Slat Bench / Coffee TablePair Vtg 50s Grundig Wood Cabinet Speakers Mid Century Modern Retro Atomic EraRob Pruitt's Flea Market: Knoll Barcelona Chair Frame Mid Century ModernHerman Miller Charles Eames Aluminum Group Chair Mid Century Modern Knoll EraAtomic Age Bamboo Rattan Round Child's Chair Mid Century Modern 18" X 17.5 X12.5Lot 44 Vintage 1950s Chrome Ribbed Drawer Cabinet Pulls Handles Mid Century Mod West Elm Mid-century Expandable Table And Four Spoke Chairs Mid Century Modern Lounge Chair Mid Mod Mcm Milo Baughman 1962 Broyhill Brasilia Dining Room Table W/leaf Eames Mcm Nr Best Deal On EbaySet Of 2 Mid Century Danish Modern Lounge Chairs Cushions Teak Nice!Vintage 1970's Mid Century Aluminum Macrame Folding Lawn Chair -wooden Arm RestsMid Century Modern Laurence Peabody Wing Chair PairSet 6 Vintage Mid Century Modern Leg-o-matic Folding Dining Chairs White SeatsMid-century Modern ChairLucite & Chrome Office Chair Swivels Tilts Mcm Eames Mad Men $10 No Reserve!!!Vintage Mcm Charles Eames Orange Herman Miller Fiberglass Side Shell ChairArtedi Travertine Pedestal Base Glass Top Mid Century Modern Dining TableVintage Mid Century Wooden Traditional Spool Thread Cabinet Sewing Table ChestDesign Danmark 5+6: 1989 Hans Wegner ChairsVintage Mid Century Modern Metal Woodgrain Large Four Shelf BookcaseAmazing Danish Modern Mosaic Desk Light Mid-century Modernism Very Rare Mid-century Zenith Tube Racetrack Table Radio * S 17697bakelite For PartsLot Of 6 Vintage Mid Century Art Deco Chrome Cabinet Drawer Pulls HandlesHerman Miller Charles Eames Fiberglass Side Shell Chair Light Yellow Free Ship2 Matching Vintage 1960's Mid Century Chairs Floral Upholstered Lounge Chairs Vintage 1950s Slat Bench Table Mid Century ModernCalorator Mid Century Orange Swivel Barstool Chairs Danish Mod Eames Nelson EraCharles Pollock Knoll Executive Office Swivel Chair Mid Century VintageVintage Mid Century Aqua Black Folding Aluminum Table In Box 24x60 Exc Cond!Vintage Mid-century Teak Desk Organizer Desk Caddy Pencil File Holder Japan AsiaVintage Mid Century Modern Retro Child's Turquoise Chair6 Vintage Mid Century Modern Chrome Trim Black Cabinet Pulls Knobs HandlesTeak Danish Modern Armchair /dining ChairVintage Table Panel Eames Era 118' X 21' Atomic Mid Century Fabric,teal And GoldMid Century - Post Modern - Weiman - Dining Set - 8 Chairs - 2 Extra Leafs - VgArt Deco Anchor Hocking Green Mid Century Dresser Jewelry Perfume Tray