Mid-century Modern describes an era of style and design that began roughly in the mid-1940s and continued into the mid-1960s. It is an organic offshoot of Modern design that’s often associated with the casual furnishings and carefree look of Eichler tract homes in suburban California during the 1950s.
In addition, the Mid-century Modern era is noted for the mass-production of household objects, from furniture to clocks to lamps to radios, because many of its chief designers (Charles and Ray Eames foremost among them) made it a requirement that their work be affordable to the average homeowner rather than the wealthy elite.
The United States, Britain, Japan, and Scandinavia were centers for the Mid Century Modern aesthetic. In the U.S., Herman Miller produced plywood, fiberglass, and wire-mesh chairs for Charles and Ray Eames (the metal chairs with covers designed by Alexander Girard are highly collectible), as well as the famous Marshmallow sofas for George Nelson. Knoll made insect-like wire chairs for Harry Bertoia and cool, white-and-red fiberglass-and-aluminum Tulip chairs for Eero Saarinen.
In England, Ernest Race produced handsome sideboards and economical folding deck chairs in the Mid-century Modern style. Fellow Brit Robin Day worked with Hille Ltd. to create everything from convertible beds to tables and chairs. He is also credited with designing the first polypropylene stacking chair.
Japanese designer and sculptor Isamu Noguchi, a giant of Mid-century Modern, designed for both Knoll and Herman Miller. His three-piece wood and glass table from 1948 has been a mainstay of the Miller catalog for more than half a century, while the bases on his tables for Knoll used metal rods in a way that was very similar to some of the Eames’s chairs. Japanese-American George Nakashima, who was interred during World War II, designed for Knoll but also brought a woodworker’s sensibility to his furniture, often using the natural and even deformed shapes of his raw materials to lead him.
And then there were the Scandinavians. Børge Mogensen designed chairs of elegant simplicity that harmonized form with functionality, while his Sleigh Chair was as whimsical as its name suggests. Arne Jacobsen’s Swan chair held its users in a palm-like embrace. Finn Juhl took a more sculptural approach for his wood-frame seats — even a Juhl coffee table looks like a work of art. As for Hans Wegner, he made a chair that was so highly regarded it was used by Nixon and Kennedy in a 1960 presidential debate and has since become known simply as The Chair.
Furniture was not the only product of note to come out of the Mid-century Modern movement. For some reason, clocks, especially wall clocks, became a design force to be reckoned with. When George Nelson wasn’t designing furniture for Herman Miller, he was working with the Howard Miller Clock Co. on a series of marvelous modern wall clocks. He made clocks whose hands pointed to colored balls on the ends of slender shafts; clocks that resembled sunbursts, sunflowers, and asterisks; and even a clock that suggested a human eye...
Nelson and Miller were also responsible for the Bubble Lamps, which were made of steel and translucent plastic and were designed to hang from the ceilings of Mid-century Modern homes, either as individual globes, ellipses, and cylinders or in clusters. Other lamps popular during this period, and produced by a wide range of designers and manufacturers, were the pole-tension lamps that lit up corners of livings rooms and the "atomic" boomerang lamp shades designed for table lamps.
Nothing escaped Mid-century Modern, from transistor radios to lava lamps, which had yet to be associated with the psychedelic 1960s still a few years a way. It was perhaps the last time that design drove the look and feel of popular culture. Soon, the roles would be irrevocably reversed.
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Recent News: Mid-Century Modern
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Vintage modern pieces skyrocket in popularityJournal and Courier, July 19th
When it comes to vintage furniture trends, Heywood-Wakefield, Danish modern and Herman Miller mid-century modern pieces bring in top dollar for dealers and retailers. Even reproductions are big business. Retailers such as Ikea, West Elm and Urban ...Read more
Sharp Mid-Century Modern by Byles & Weston Asking $1.7MMCurbed LA, July 16th
Featured in the May 1950 issue of Arts & Architecture, this Pasadena post and beam was designed by architectural partners Douglas Byles and Eugene Weston III. Sited on a quarter-acre lot in the San Rafael Hills, the updated residence features three ...Read more
Mid-Century Modern CrushCharlotte Observer, July 16th
The space called for mid-century modern. Or at least that's exactly the first thing that came to James Fedele's mind when he walked into the 800-square-foot flat overlooking East Boulevard in the heart of Dilworth. “The space has such great character, ...Read more
For Sale: Mid-Century Beauty in Forest LakesSarasota, July 10th
If you're looking for a mid-century modern home with good bones and lots of period touches that doesn't need too much work, you may want to check out this home in Forest Lakes. The exterior is rather non-committal—except for that wonderful wall of...Read more
Tour notable Seattle mid-century homeseattlepi.com, July 9th
Kirk was born in Salt Lake City in 1914, moved to Seattle at age 8, graduated from Roosevelt High School in 1932 and earned his architecture degree from the University of Washington in 1937, according to the mid-century modern architecture website ...Read more
Get a Deal on Mid-Century Modern at Wright's Mass Modern AuctionChicagomag.com, July 8th
Get a Deal on Mid-Century Modern at Wright's Mass Modern Auction. Estimated sales for the July 12 auction start at about $100, and previews are already going on. Make your bid! By Gina Bazer. Published July 8, 2014. Launch gallery. These circa 1955 ...Read more
The Market for Mid-Century Modern FurnitureMaine Antique Digest, July 4th
The event (“Collectors' Seminar: Collecting Mid-Century Modern Furniture”) was moderated by Lisa Tremper Hanover, director of the Michener museum. The seminar was in conjunction with Paul Evans: Crossing Boundaries and Crafting Modernism, ...Read more
$1.1 million for a rockin' Berkeley mid-century modernSFGate (blog), June 26th
On the market for only the third time since it was built by its first owners in 1950, 619 Vincente in Berkeley's Thousand Oaks neighborhood is sure to wow fans of the mid-century modern aesthetic. Many of the three-bedroom home's original design...Read more