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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Inspired Interiors: Mid-Century homes and cars on displayIndianapolis Star, May 22nd
Vintage cars vie with vintage houses. Cars and homes will be featured on the Indiana Landmarks Back to the Future: A Mid-Century Modern Home Tour from 1 p.m. to 6 p.m. May 30 in Muncie. Mark Dollase, vice president of preservation services for Indiana ...Read more
Howard Baker's 'mid-century modern' mansion goes up for auction, furniture ...Washington Times, May 21st
Up for auction next month: the Tennessee estate of the late Sen. Howard H. Baker Jr., consisting of a 6,175-square-foot main home, plus cottage, guesthouse, pool and more, all on 11 acres in Huntsville. The home is unmistakably “mid-century modern” in ...Read more
Letter: Proposed building does not honor mid-century modern architectureNew Canaan Advertiser, May 20th
In the April 22, 2015 issue of The Advertiser the realtor for the proposed building on 215 Elm Street is quoted as saying the design of the Elm Street building is based on the Bremer House designed by Eliot Noyes. I know the Bremer House, and the Elm...Read more
Delaware Spaces: Mid-century modern in Spring ValleyThe News Journal, May 19th
Former photojournalist Jack Alexander had a good job after World War II working in the public relations department at the DuPont Co. Then, at age 41, he jumped off the corporate ladder, according to his daughters. In 1958, the father or four children...Read more
The Mid-Century Modern MarketDailyNorthShore.com, May 14th
Landmarks Illinois recently released its list of the 2015 “Most Endangered Places” in Illinois, and the list included more than just 10 places – it included “All Mid-Century Modern Houses statewide.” Just how many modernist homes by noted architects...Read more
For sale in Austin: Mid-Century Modern house — with atomic bomb shelterAustin Business Journal (blog), May 1st
Have a warm spot in your heart for the Cold War era? An Atomic Ranch-styled house with a fully preserved bomb shelter – complete with rations and a periscope – has just hit the market. The Mid-Century modern aesthetic is apparent throughout the ...Read more
McLean 'WOW' House: Mid-Century Modern by Charles GoodmanPatch.com, April 30th
Elegantly refined by McInturff Architects and Added Dimensions in 2012, this mid century modern home designed by renowned local architect, Charles Goodman, is beautifully sited on a very private 1/2 lot backing to parkland. The warm and inviting...Read more
Mid-century modern architecture tour planned May 2 in RichlandMid Columbia Tri City Herald, April 27th
A walking tour of north Richland neighborhoods with homes in the mid-century modern style is planned by Richland Parks and Recreation starting at 10 a.m. May 2. As Richland was incorporated in 1958, not only could people purchase the houses built by...Read more