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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On the market: Mid-Century Modern has timeless appealWestport News, March 6th
England has its Stonehenge, the Easter Islands have their monolithic heads and the Mid-Century Modern house at 191 Greens Farms Road has its cotoneaster circle garden on the front lawn. This is only the first of many artistic and natural elements that...Read more
Community Concert Band Presents Mid-century Modern: A Celebration of Music ...Chicago Tribune, March 4th
Clarinet player, Bob Evans is gearing up to perform with the Des Plaines Community Concert Band at a recent concert. Clarinet player, Bob Evans is gearing up to perform with the Des Plaines Community Concert Band at a recent concert. (Posted by Des ...Read more
How mid century modern classics have adaptedNewbritainherald, March 3rd
NEW CANAAN (AP) — In the years after World War II, when suburban towns were still “the country,” this unassuming village an hour north of Manhattan became an epicenter of modernist architecture, and a birthplace of then-radical concepts like family...Read more
Rescuing Mid-Century ModernMy New Orleans, March 2nd
Neither Tudor, an editor and stylist, who had previously owned and lived in two other mid-century modern houses in the same neighborhood, or Sichel, the Executive Chef at Galatoire's Restaurant, had ever taken on such a major remodel. With the goal of ...Read more
Home Tour: Wyoming mid-century masonry's Industrial style a new art form for ...WCPO, February 27th
Its owner, who is in the midst of selling the house and opted not to be part of this story, enlisted Sidley to add square footage and upgrade the house with new bathrooms using modern materials without altering its mid-century modern ambiance. “It was...Read more
Inspired Interiors: Mid-Century Modern stars in 2015Indianapolis Star, February 26th
Mid-Century Modern continues its rise in popularity, both the real deal and 21st-century interpretations. From classic outdoor styles revisited to Danish modern chairs and entertainment consoles right out of the 1950s, Mid-Century Modern furniture is...Read more
Outpost Estates Mid-Century Modern With Terraced Garden Asking $2.2 MillionCurbed LA, February 13th
This three-bedroom, two-bathroom house of mysterious measurements (square footage is not listed) was built in 1955 and is not about to let you forget it. The open floor plan, large windows, and massive fireplace are nice, but the outdoor spaces here...Read more
Mid-century modern furniture continues its popularity among hip homeownersLA Daily News, February 5th
Mid-century modern furniture has a vibe to it that — even after all these years — resonates with hip homeowners looking for sleek lines, bright colors and simplicity. It's a particularly useful style for those looking to make the most of smaller...Read more