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]

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]

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]

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    

Vtg 60's/70's Guzzini Chrome Table Lamp Pat Tested Mid Century Modern HabitatEames Elephant Child's Chair Stool VitraRare Eames Cowhide Lcw Select Edition Chair 2008 By Herman MillerBurnished Brass Cantilevered Lounge Chair & Ottoman By Milo BaughmanMid Century Modern Swan Armchairs By Arne Jacobsen For Fritz Hansen Georg Jensen Mid Century Danish Modern Teak Rocker Rocking ChairArne Jacobsen Series 7 Chair Fritz Hansen DenmarkAdrian Pearsall Mid Century Modern SofaVintage Mid Century Modern Walnut Wall Shelf Unit Poul Cadovius Era Herman Miller Lounge Chair And Ottomam Mid Century Leather Rosewood Beige Rare Eames Children's Chair By VitraSayl Task Chair W/ Tilt Limiter - Slate Gray - Design Within Reach Herman MillerHerman Miller Eames Art Deco Modern Vintage Fiberglass Chairs Parchment 60's EraEames Aluminum Lounge Chair W/ Headrest By Herman MillerHerman Miller Side Shell Olive/ Green Fiberglass Stacking Chair 1956Vint. Paul Mccobb Planner Group Mid Century Modern Table Top & 2 Leaves No LegsMid-century Stressless By Ekornes Brown Lounge Chair Metal Frame #n-6222 NorwayAlvar Aalto Y-leg Occassional Table Model Y805 Danish Modern Hvidt Juhl WegnerMid Century Danish Modern Eames Era Teak End/side/lamp Table Vintage 1960s-1970sVintage Mid Century Modern Thaden Jordan Bentwood Plywood Chairs- 2Danish Modern Teak Cado Poul Cadovius Wall System Bookshelf Credenza Mid CenturyKaiser Leuchten Desk Lamp Teak Idell Mid Century Modernist Bauhaus 50s 60s EraHuggy Mid Century Arm Chair & Ottoman Set By Ceets 36" H X 28" W X 30" D1960s Mini 2-seater Danish Modern Couch Loveseat Sofa Eames Knoll Thayer Teak NrMid Century Eames Herman Miller Fiberglass Scoop Chair Student School Desk Fiberglass Herman Miller Eames Shell Chair Orange Mid Century Chair Fiber GlassVintage Mid Century Danish Modern Walnut Planter With Legs Rare Will Ship...Fiberglass Herman Miller Shell Chair Eames Mid Century Shell Chair Fiber GlassMcm Rabami Stole Swivel Kevi Desk Chair~jørgen Rasmussen Danish Modern PlywoodMid Century Modern Chair By Charles And Ray Eames For Herman Miller Herman Miller Fiberglass Shell Chair Grey Light Gray Color Mid Century Eames EraBruno Mathsson Annika Table By Dux Eames Herman Miller Knoll Era Danish Modern Danish Modern Teak Wood Portable File Cabinet Poul Hundevad Design Nr2 Vintage Mid Century Danish Modern Lounge Arm Chair Selig Style(1)vintage Mid Century Modern Retro Homecrest Round Medium Size Coffee Table.Mid Century Coffee TableVtg Singer Mid Century Modern Sewing Machine Cabinet 301 401 500 Rocketeer Vintage 1960s-70s Herman Miller Red/orange Fiberglass Shell Swivel Chair! Vintage Mid Century Modern Wood Side Table Plant StandVintage Herman Miller Aluminum Series Task Table BaseVintage 1960s Mid Century Modern 3 Leged Bowl Table Plant Stand Free Local PuVintage Mid Century Lou Van Album CabinetVintage Mid Century Modern Bernard Buffet "matador" 1958 Box Frame PrintDanish Modern Walnut Tapered Table Legs Set Of Three 20.5 Inch Mid Century Modern Lime Green Abstract Pink Purple Tablecloth Card Table SizeVintage Rosenthal Netter Inc Table Lighter Italy Ceramic Porcelain Mid Century 1Vintage Mid Century Black Metal Hairpin Leg Stool/ottomanRonson Senator Cigarette Table Top Lighter Original Box & Felt Bag Mid Century Lot Vintage Antique Porcelain Brass Mid Century Cabinet Drawer Pulls Knobs WhiteMid Century Modern Solid Brass Drawer Pulls/handles, Lot Of 22, 4"x 1"Fine Vintage Mid Century Modern Art Pottery Dresser Box By David Frith With MarkSet Of Four Vintage Mid Century Modern 14 1/4" Tapered Wood Furniture LegsStylish Mid Century Eames Style Dining Side Chairs Fabric With Wood Legs