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]

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]

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]

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    

Stunning 1978 Eames Herman Miller Brazilian Rosewood Lounge Chair & OttomanVintage 1970s Arne Jacobsen Oxford Chair For Fritz Hansen Danish Dining EamesMid Century Danish Modern Low Profile Sofa Couch Vintage Daybed Floating FrameVtg 60s Arkana Coffee Table Modernist Side Small Reto Post War 70s Eames TulipVintage Eames Herman Miller Side/occasional Table It 1 Chrome Folding Leg Ex! NrVintage Danish Modern Fold Teak Plywood Tray Table Fritz Hansen Illums Bolingus1950s Danish Modern Teak Sculptural Scissor Leg Writing Desk Vintage Mid Century1950s Vintage Danish Modern Teak Stool Chair Ottoman Kagan Pearsall Mid CenturyOriginal Eames Herman Miller Fiberglass Shell Chair - - Yellow1960s Danish Modern Teak Floating Nightstand Shelf Tables Mid Century VintageEames Herman Miller Lounge Chair Ottoman Base - Original. Rosewood 670 NrHerman Miller Select Eames Wire Base Low Table Cobalt Blue Design Within Reach2 Mid Century Danish Modern Walnut Dresser End Table Nightstands Eames EraMid Century Danish Modern Walnut Credenza Dresser Sideboard Eames Era1960s Danish Modern Teak Preben SEames Upholstered Molded Fiberglass Dowel-leg Side Chair (dfsw) Parchment/navyOriginal Eames Herman Miller Fiberglass Shell Chair - - YellowEames Herman Miller 670 Ottoman Lounge Chair Shell - RosewoodEames Herman Miller Lounge Chair Lower Rosewood Shell W/ Shock Mounts Nr1970's Mid Century Modern Ekornes Stressless Leather Recliner Chair & OttomanEames Herman Miller 670 Bottom Seat Lounge Chair Shell - Rosewood W/ Shock MountEames Herman Miller Lounge Chair Base - Original. Rosewood 670 NrEames Herman Miller Lounge Chair Shell - RosewoodOriginal Eames Herman Miller Fiberglass Shell Chair - - WhiteMid Century Modern Teak Entry Console Corner Table Danish VintageEames Herman Miller Back Brackets Lounge Chair Rosewood 670 W/ Shock MountsEames Molded Plastic Eiffel Side Chair (dsr) Red Orange Set Of 2 Herman MillerVintage Teak Bentwood Mid Century Danish Modern Hanging Teardrop 4 Shelf PlantEames Herman Miller Lounge Chair Black Leather Arm Cushions - Original 670Tom Daft Punk Habitat Radius Dixon Mid Century Retro Modernist Table Art Print5 Charles Eames Herman Miller Mid-century Modern Shell Chair H Bases-nr!Eames Herman Miller Authentic 50th Anniversary Aluminum Management Group ChairEames Herman Miller Lounge Chair Leather Cushion - Original 670Vintage Herman Miller Eames Style 1970s Mid-century Lounge Chair & Ottoman Vintage Folding Spider Leg Indian Brass Tray Coffee Table Mid-century ModernEames Herman Miller Chair Mid Century Modern Naugahyde Burgandy Rust Dark RedEames Herman Miller Lounge Chair Leather Arm Cushion Metal Brackets Original 670Vtg 1970's Danish Mid Century Modern Teak Wood Teardrop Hanging ShelfBauhaus Herman Miller Kandya Habitat Mid Century Retro Modernist Table Art PrintPaul Mccobb 10 Drawer Jewelry Cabinet Rare Planner Group Mid Century ModernEames Herman Miller Lounge Chair Base - OriginalSuperb & Rare Hans Wegner Teak Rocking Chair Danish Modern Denmark Mid CenturyEames Herman Miller Lounge Chair Seat Cushion Plastic Lining W. Zipper 6704 Original Eames Herman Miller Parchment White Chairs Dining Set Mit Knoll Era Mid Century Kids Woven Hoop Chair, Acapulco Chair Style Land Of NodRobin Day Forum Sofa Chair Art Habitat Mid Century Vintage Design Classic RareKnoll Intl Florence Knoll 54" D Teak Desk/table Mid-century Modern/med Wood TonePair Mid Century Modern Milo Baughman Barrel Club Lounge Chairs Walnut Eames EraMid Century Modern Arthur Umanoff 3 Legged Side Triangle Coffee Table Eames EraOriginal Eames Herman Miller Fiberglass Shell Chair - - YellowHerman Miller Embody ChairEames Herman Miller Chair Mid Century Modern Naugahyde Medium Earth BrownOriginal Eames Herman Miller Fiberglass Shell Chair - - YellowEames Herman Miller Lounge Chair Screws Original 670Vtg Mid Century Hollywood Regency Decor Ornate Turner Wall Hanging Sconce ShelfVtg Mid Century Scandinavian Modern Alvar Aalto Bentwood Stacking Table Stool42 Vintage Art Deco Drawer Pulls Cabinet Handles Chrome Mid Century 1930s 1940sVintage Eames Black Or White Ltr Table Herman Miller4 - Nos Vintage Tapered Table Legs Mid-century Modernism 10-1/2" LotHerman Miller Eames Art Deco Modern Vintage Fiberglass Chairs White 60's Era