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    

Vintage Sewing Box Table Eames Danish Mid Century Modern Teak Art Deco 50s 60s1950s Danish Modern Teak Floating Nightstand Shelf Tables Mid Century Eames Era1960s Danish Modern Teak Storage Table Mid Century Vintage1950s Vintage Danish Modern Teak Stool Chair Ottoman Mid Century Wegner Juhl EraVintage Mid Century Mcm Herman Miller Eames Shell Zenith Rope Chair Fiberglass Mid Century Danish Modern Walnut Teak Poul Cado Royal Wall Unit Desk Eames Era 50s Danish Modern Teak Small Scale Dresser Chest Drawers Entry Table Mid CenturyTom Daft Punk Habitat Radius Dixon Mid Century Retro Modernist Table Art Print1950's Mid Century Modern Pink Plastic Philco Table Top Radio Working Vintage1960s Danish Modern Teak Clausen & Son Credenza Sideboard Mid Century VintageVintage Mid Century Mcm Herman Miller Eames Shell Chair Fiberglass Wire BaseVtg Mid Century Modern Lounge Chair Danish Style No ReserveVintage Danish Modern Mid-century Walnut Lounge Chair Selig/eames Era No ReserveMilo Baughman 1188 Chair Ivory Leather/bronze Frame Design Within Reach ModernEames Walnut Stool Style B Side Table Vintage Herman MillerEames Molded Fiberglass Wire-base Side Chair (dfsr) Red Orange Herman Miller4 Vintage Herman Miller Side Fiberglass Side Chairs Bright Yellow Mid CenturySet Of 8 Vintage Hans Wegner Style Mid Century Modern Rope Seat Folding ChairsTwo Vintage 1960’s Herman Miller Eames Shell Chairs In Good ConditionVtg Danish Modern Finn Juhl Diplomat Teak Side Table For France & SonOriginal 1950s Teak Sewing Box Table Sideboard Storage 60s 70s Mid-century RareMid-century Modern Eames Era Scoop Chair Molded Plywood Lounge ChairAuthentic Arne Jacobsen 3320 Swan Lounge Chair By Fritz Hansen2 Danish Teak Mid Century Mobler Chairs By Folke Palsson Denmark 50's Herman Miller Eames Sea Foam Green Side Chair Eiffel Wire BaseSelig Ib Kofod-larsen Danish Modern Walnut Pair Lounge Chairs Hans Wegner Era Original Green Mid Century Herman Miller Fiberglass Eames Era Shell Arm Chair Vintage Mid Century Kofod Larsen Selig Walnut Danish Modern Lounge Club ChairOriginal Parchment Color Herman Miller Mid-century Fiberglass ChairVintage Danish Modern String Wall Mount Shelf Telephone Table Nisse 50s 60s 70sTwo Herman Miller/ Eames Fiberglass Stacking Chairs Original Off-white 50/60"s!!Set Of 4 Original Herman Miller Orange Fiberglass Eames Shell ChairsOriginal Eames Herman Miller Chairs Seafoam Green Black BaseVintage Albany Table Lighter The Orb Sperical Mid Century Eames Era Cigarette(2) Vintage Herman Miller Alexander Girard La Fonda Shell Chair Mid Century ModEames Herman Miller Chrome/black Swivel Chair Base Exc. Cond. Spins SmoothVintage Danish Modern Folding Chair Rope Hans Wegner Wels EraVintage Mid-century Modern Kinetic Atomic Ball Tree Table Art Sculpture 17"Eames Wire Chair With BikiniHerman Miller Original Sqare Table Stamped Mid Century Modern Vintage Mid Century Modern Slat Bench. Coffee Table 60" Made In Yugoslavia. TeakMid Century Pair Black Metal Mesh Hanging Shelves Double Shelf Retro BathroomHerman Miller Eames Zenith Seafoam Green Rope Edge Shell Chair X Base 1st GenKoefoeds Hornslet Teak Dining Chair Set - Ladderback "liz" Mid-century ModernEames Wire Base Low Table White - Authentic Herman Miller Free ShippingVintage Mid-century Modern Wood Chrome Acrylic Chess Checkers Table Eames EraMid Century Mcm Danish Style Bent Wood Kitchen Dining Table And Chairs KodawoodPair Mid Century Danish Modern Space Frame Chrome Cube Tables EamesVintage 50s Cole Steel Machine Age Industrial Mid Century Eames Era Office ChairVintage Westinghouse Am/fm Stereo Table Radio Model Rtf3030a Mid Century Modern4 Vintage Mid Century Table Legs Tapered Wood, 4 1/2 Inches50's Mid Century Modern Rattan Ficks Reed Lounge Chair Ottoman Asian PatioMid-century Modern Knoll Burke Dining Tulip Table Base Mid - Century Modern Eames Style Plycraft Lounge Chair Vintage Eames Club Knoll Vintage Mid Century Modern Danish Viko By Baumritter Chair Eames Era Kipp Stewart Declaration Drexel Mid Century Modern End TableVintage Herman Miller/eames 4 Star Table Aluminum Base Mid Century Modern Overman Egg Chair With Swivel Base And Ottoman Mid Century 60's Mod Pumpkin!Vtg Mid-century Ottoman/footstool For Lounge Chair Possibly Plycraft Eames EraVintage Danish Modern Oak Teardrop Hanging Shelf. Bentwood Slat. Eames Era.