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.

About our sources | Got something to add?

▼ Expand to read the full article ▼

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]

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]

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    

1950's Kelvinator Foodarama Fridge Refrigerator Retro Man Cave Mad Men McmHerman Miller Eames Lounge & Ottoman Black Vicenza Leather Walnut Midcentury DwrLrg Charles Cobelle French Modernist Cityscape Acrylic Painting, Chagall SchoolEames Molded Plastic Dowel-leg Side Chair (dsw) White Walnut Set Of 2 DwrKnoll Nakashima Straight-backed Chair Set Of 2 Design Within Reach MidcenturyEames Molded Plastic Dowel-leg Side Chair (dsw) Aqua Sky Walnut Set Of 2 DwrEames Molded Fiberglass Rocker (rfar) Red Orange/orange Herman Miller Modern DwrEames Aluminum Management Chair Black Leather Herman Miller Design Within ReachMatera Side Table Walnut Design Within Reach Mid Century Modern DwrGeorge Nelson Omni Wall Storage Unit Like Css. Mid Century Modern Knoll Bertoia Side Chair White Midcentury Modern Design Within Reach DwrCherner Armchair Walnut Design Within Reach Dwr Mid Century ModernHerman Miller Air Armchair Set Of 4 Orange Outdoor Design Within Reach ModernVintage Old 50s Gem Mint Zenith Mid Century Multiband Antique Transoceanic RadioHerman Miller Eames Lounge & Ottoman Ivory Vicenza Leather Walnut Dwr ModernVintage Psychedelic Space Age Antique Atomic Old Flying Saucer Transistor RadioVintage Sony Tr-86 Transistor RadioBeautiful Mid Century Steel Space Age Style Table Lamp Excellent Working Cond!Lrg Vintage Eleanor Arnold Clark Modernist Geometric Abstract Oil Painting NrVintage Rachel Gera Israeli Brutalist Sterling Star Of David Pendant & NecklaceEmbody Task Chair Graphite Base/frame Carbon Balance Fabric Herman Miller DwrEames Molded Fiberglass Wire-base Armchair (dfar) Black/chrome Herman Miller DwrVintage 40s Rca Victor Antique Mid Century Bakelite Radio Swirled Catalin ColorMid Century Modern Cathrineholm Norway Red/orange Pasta Pot RareEmbody Task Chair Aluminum Base Graphite Frame Black Rhythm Fabric Herman MillerLrg Orig Frances Jacobson Social Realist Oil Painting, Old Couple On Couch Nr1994 Authentic Jimmy Wright Modernist Pastel Drawing Painting, Sunflower No ViiiDrop Chair Black Arne Jacobsen Fritz Hansen Mid Century Modern DwrEames Molded Plastic Dowel-leg Side Chair (dsw) Java Walnut Set Of 2 DwrSayl Task Chair Adjustable Arms & Seat White/fog Herman Miller Dwr ModernEames Molded Plastic Dowel-leg Side Chair (dsw) Sparrow Walnut Set Of 2 DwrEames Molded Plastic Dowel-leg Side Chair (dsw) Pale Yellow Walnut Set Of 2 DwrTwo Peter Hvidt Danish Mid Century Modern Teak Tables Sold By John Stuart IncVintage Eames Molded Plywood Lounge Chair By Herman Miller Eames Molded Plastic Dowel-leg Side Chair (dsw) Red Orange Walnut Set Of 2 DwrVintage Mid-century Jaeger Lecoultre Rue De La Paix Lamp Post Clock 8 DayVintage Eames Era Modernist Matisse Renoir Black & Tan Enamel Copper NecklaceJens Risom Walnut Floating Side Tables Mid Century Modern Hard To Find Pair !!!!1966 Porcelain Coffee Table 18" Square Schultz Knoll Design Within Reach OutdoorVtg~lamp Shade~pair~fiberglass~small~mid Century~2 Tiered~trapezoid~boudoir~vgAuthentic Bertil Vallien Kosta Boda Swedish Modernist Glass Sculpture Face TrayKnoll Richard Schultz 1966 Set Of 4 Mid Century Modern Outdoor Lounge ChairsMid Century Vintage Chrome Light Ceiling Fixture60 Piece, Service For 12, Dansk Jette, Modernist Stainless Steel Cutlery, NrRisom Side Chair Maple/black Set Of 2 Jens Risom Knoll Mid Century Modern Dwr*rare* Dimitri Omersa Vintage Mid Century Modern Leather Rhino Animal FootstoolVintage 1939 Emerson Art Deco Old Mid Century Ingraham Bullseye Facade Radio !!!Tiki Farm Marcus Pizzuti Tangata Tiki Mug 2008Herman Miller Setu Multipurpose Chair Graphite Design Within Reach Dwr Modern1960s Danish Modern Teak Compact Mid Size Credenza Cabinet Mid Century Vintage Original 50’s Era Wooden 40 Drawer, Remington-rand Library Card CatalogVintage Eames Era Modernist Matisse Renoir Black & Tan Enamel Copper BraceletRare Undamaged Husted Charcoal Decanter Blenko Art Glass Huge Mid Century ModernDanish Modern Floating Rosewood Entry Shelf Table Nightstand Mid Century VintageSammen Armchair Dark Green/oak Set Of 2 Fritz Hansen Mid Century Modern DwrCherner Barstool Walnut Set Of 2 Mid Century Modern Dwr Design Within ReachAuthentic Set (2) Knoll Barcelona Chairs Ludwig Mies Van Rohe With TagsVintage Fiberglass Lamp Shade Atomic Design Mid Century Modern 2 Pair Green BlueVintage Sewing Box Table Eames Danish Mid Century Modern Teak Art Deco 50s 60sVintage Knoll Warren Platner Side Table, 15 5/8" X 17 3/4", Mid Century Modern