What is Mid-Century Modern Furniture?
Mid-century modern furniture has been making a huge comeback in the past few years. The mid-century look is simply everywhere and everyone is talking about it. If you go to that stylish restaurant you’ve had to patiently wait to get a reservation for, chances are you will be seated in mid-century modern chairs designed in the 50’s by one of the design movement’s greats. The mid-century modern movement has become so popular, that a few years ago, you could even buy postage stamps designed by two of the most well-known mid-century modern designers- brothers Charles and Ray Eames.
There are a lot of people who adore this style, but had never heard of it before until recently, and probably don’t really know anything about it, except that they absolutely love the look. There is also a large group of people who are mid-century modern design experts, and can for example, recite the names of all the founders of the design movement.
We are going to answer some questions you may have about this style.
Why exactly has this mid-century movement made such a strong comeback as of late? Could it be the gorgeous pieces we all saw in the hit show Mad Men? What IS mid-century modern furniture? What defines a piece as mid-century? And where and when did this design movement come from anyway? Let's get some answers!
Mid-century modern (by the way, you will notice the abbreviation for mid-century modern written as “MCM”) design is an American design movement that started in the 1930’s- in the post war period of economic reform and modern innovation. The style influenced numerous products, such as graphic design, urban development, and architecture. Scholars and museums worldwide now recognize mid-century modern design as a significant design movement that was influenced by industrial and Scandinavian design.
Mid-century modern style remained popular until around 1965 and started making a strong comeback in the 1980’s. It is quite rare to find an original and affordable mid-century modern piece these days. Many people sit at auctions paying an exorbitant amount for one piece of original mid-century modern furniture. For example, in the 90’s, there was such a large market of mid-century modern collectors, that they started driving up the price of original pieces. Examples of this include a rare Eames molded plywood folding screen, which sold for $10,000 in 1994. In 1999, an original George Nelson Marshmallow sofa sold for $66,000. A year later, a 1965 George Nakashima cabinet sold for $20,700.
In the last ten years however, these original mid-century pieces really exploded. The best example would be a Carlo Mollino table that sold at an auction in 2005 for $3.9 million.
Image courtesy Christie's Images Ltd.
This time period was a turning point for the design movement, and a wakeup call for new furniture designers that elements of this style are extremely sought after and should therefore be incorporated into new designs. Regarding the sale of that Carlo Mollino table, Joshua Holdeman, Sotheby's worldwide head of 20th-century design said, "That was the first time that something in the midcentury had made such a breakout price… That [sale] was a signifier that these objects were extremely important in the history of design—and to collectors.”
Lucky for us, we can now shop for new pieces with these highly sought after, sleek and beautiful design elements with modern twists added, or simple reproductions of the original designs, without draining our bank accounts. Mid-century modern design is so strong, it has truly withstood the test of time and we see no end to this trend in sight.
If you’d like to sit with a glass of wine one evening and do a little research on some of mid-century modern era’s great icon designers, here are just a few names to check out: Charles and Ray Eames, Florence Knoll, Mies van der Rohe, Milo Baughman, Eero Saarinen, Arne Jacobsen, Warren Platner, and Hans Wegner. From there, you will surely go down a rabbit hole of beautiful furniture-researching.
Characteristics of Todays Mid-Century Modern Furniture
Characteristics of mid-century modern design’s beautiful streamlined aesthetics include minimal forms with clean, simple lines and a modern look. When mid-century modern design started, the style was meant to redesign the future landscape of everyday life- making simple pieces look beautiful, while adding a functional twist. As such, mid-century modern pieces do not incorporate decorative embellishments. The simple form of each piece is its attraction, and it is not to be added onto. Mid-century modern design is timeless and constantly inspiring.
Functionality is also a huge element in mid-century modern design. Each piece is designed to exist to both serve the buyer with beauty, as well as purpose for their everyday life.
Mid-century modern design is about juxtaposition as well as creating balanced, but obvious contrast. It is also about the exploration of materials- mixing traditional with non-traditional materials. Examples of such materials include fiberglass, molded plastic, and steam-bent wood used all together to create one fluid piece.
Juxtaposition in mid-century modern design also comes into play in color choices. While the pieces are all minimal, the colors chosen typically pop, creating bold statements with a juxtaposition of a minimal design.
These classic juxtapositions in mid-century modern color include the combination of orange and brown- a very classic color combination. The pop of the vibrant orange in contrast to the earthy tone of the brown, which may be present in wood walls, ceilings, or the furniture itself, highlight each other. The bold orange color highlights the dramatic wood color, while the brown tones downplay the vibrancy of the orange. This juxtaposition creates a space that is warm and inviting.
If choosing orange for a wall or such a statement piece as a couch seems like too much, you can always choose an orange accessory such as a rug, which will create a stylish and streamlined effect when paired with a lovely wooden credenza. The colors and forms of just these two pieces together create that warm and simple mid-century modern look.
Another classic mid-century modern color pairing is pink with brown. Often, various shades of pink ranging from pastel pink to deep pink are seen in playful patterns and textured fabrics, which juxtapose well with neutral brown or wood tones.
Other classic color juxtapositions in mid-century modern rooms include teal with brown and white, and chartreuse with gray, wood with white.
Typically, in a room, a few mid-century modern statement pieces are bought, and then choices for the rest of the room are built around those pieces. Balanced contrast is the key to keeping the mid-century modern look. Balanced contrast ideas include color, texture and overall design. Keep in mind that every choice should work together to create a room that is both beautiful and functional.
Accessories can really help in creating the classic mid-century modern look in a room. For example, organic shapes such as a kidney shaped cowhide rug, or a Sputnik-style light fixture can create beautiful juxtapositions with the clean, simple lines of the furniture.