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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Going Mad: Mid-Century Modern Elements to Upgrade Your SpaceMiami Herald, June 26th
Now that “Mad Men” has come to an end, why not keep the spirit of the era alive? You don't have to break out a tight-fitted suit or a pencil skirt to replicate the series' impeccable style. Instead, try going for the ageless, retro-modern design of the...Read more
Mid-Century Modern, Formerly Home to Singer Roberta Flack, On the MarketPatch.com, June 24th
How about this Mid-Century Modern beauty at 1927 Marthas Road in Hollin Hills? Designed by Charles M. Goodman, the home was formerly owned by Grammy Award-winning singer Roberta Flack, according to its listing. Washingtonian notes that Flack was ...Read more
How to make a mid-century modern shineWashington Post, June 24th
Leah and Cade Crisafi recently bought a mid-century modern home in Silver Spring. They'd like to replace their living room furniture with pieces that fit the era of the home as well as complement the modern built-in sofa. They also need help placing...Read more
Palm Springs: a living museum of mid-century modern architectureThe Independent, June 24th
Inspired by the stark desert landscape and modern schools like Bauhaus and the International Style, the architects of the 1950s created in Palm Springs what is now called Desert Modernism - today it's the highest concentration of mid-century modern ...Read more
Mood Furniture offers mid-century modern pieces, artworkPeninsula Gateway, June 23rd
Part of what made AMC's critically-acclaimed drama “Mad Men” such a resounding success was the attention to capturing the aesthetic detail of the 1960s and early 1970s. The fashion, the furniture, the music — creator Matthew Weiner paid respect to and ...Read more
Tables evoke mid-century modern interestQuad City Times, June 21st
Based on your obvious taste in decorating, you might check out a store called Riverbend Retro in LeClaire. They specialize in Mid-Century Modern furniture and the interesting accessory pieces that make the décor of that period so wonderfully...Read more
Intricate Collages Recreate Mid&Century Modern ArchitectureCo.Design, June 17th
British artist Lucy Williams makes vibrant paper cutouts of midcentury modern buildings and interiors that are so realistic you might do a double take before realizing they aren't photographs. There's Pierre Chareau's Maison de Verre, and the majestic, ...Read more
Exhibit pays homage to Lexington's Mid-Century Modern heritageBoston Globe, June 11th
Seasholes hopes that “Lextopia,” a new exhibition sponsored by the Lexington Historical Society, will remind townspeople of how important the original Mid-Century Modern developments — Five Fields, Peacock Farms, and Six Moon Hill being some of the ...Read more