Design Spotlight: Mid-Century Modern

Forgotten artifacts from grandparents’ mid-century homes are appearing more and more in trend-setting living rooms. Mid-century houses and furnishings are in the middle of a dramatic comeback because they represent quality in both design and material. This popular movement involved great architects and designers who were active during the middle of the 20th century. They applied classic rules of proportion and experimented with new materials and production methods.

This fusion of old and new produced modern, timeless, and vastly appealing buildings and furnishings. Classically modern items are favored because they never go out of style. In fact, they are as stylish as ever. However, there are several other mid-century style groups to consider.

–  Mid-century designs can be modern or retro. They might remind you of “Mad Men” or “The Jetsons.” Atomic-era designs are undeniably retro. These pieces were inspired by scientific space-age advances and often feature atoms, celestial motifs, and geometric figures.

–  By the 1960s and 1970s, mid-century designs became increasingly colorful. Works from this era often have super-saturated colors, abstract patterns, and evocative textures.

–  Organic design concepts were extremely important. Buildings were designed to enhance the landscape, and furnishings made from wood and natural materials embraced nature’s beautiful patterns.

–  Scandinavian imports influenced the modern aesthetic tremendously. Nordic countries have long favored a clean, minimalistic style. Asymmetric furnishings with organic materials and strong lines naturally found a place in American homes.

Design Techniques

Less is more. This is an overarching principle in mid-century design that applies to everything. Many mid-century homes have large open spaces that are subtly broken down into smaller zones with furnishings, screens, and modular storage racks that can be customized for specific applications. Interior and exterior designs emphasize stable horizontal lines that divide spaces and planes while maintaining an open feel.

Whenever possible, designs highlight the natural environment. This can be done with natural light, large picture windows, houseplants, and organic materials, such as leather, wool, and wood. Balance in color, texture, and form gives mid-century interiors a harmonious, easy-going feel that has a nearly universal appeal.

Materials and Concepts

Designs from this golden age emphasize quality, economy, and functionality. New materials and production methods meant that designers could produce items that were stylish, comfortable, durable, and also affordable. These traits appealed to consumers then, and they appeal to us now.

Why are these designs so popular? Nostalgia has something to do with it. People look back on the 1950s and 1960s fondly even if they weren’t there. Using mid-century furnishings is a way for modern consumers to return to a time when the suburbs were idyllic. These vintage items provide an attractive sense of idealism that can turn a living space into a stylish modern sanctuary.

Important Mid-Century Designers

Many architects and designers influenced the mid-century aesthetic. Verner Panton is famous for his vibrant Panton chairs. Ireland’s Eileen Gray produced distinctive sofas and tables made from chrome and glass. Danish architect Arne Jacobsen crafted a number of armchairs that are known for their futuristic appearance. Here are a few other modern masters who are recognized for their outstanding achievements.

–  The influential Franco-Swiss architect Le Corbusier created many archetypal examples of classically modern furniture. By 1928, this design genius produced armchairs, lounge chairs, and boxy sofas that still define the mid-century modern style with their chrome and black leather.

–  In collaboration with Le Corbusier and others, German-American architect Ludwig Mies van der Rohe created marvelous mid-century furnishings and homes, including the iconic Barcelona Chair and the Farnsworth House in Plano, Illinois, which is one of the world’s best examples of mid-century architecture.

–  Industrial designers Charles and Ray Eames embraced mass production to create high-quality items at popular prices. This duo’s designs often feature molded plastic, fiberglass, and natural materials. They also experimented with modular buildings and storage systems that could be customized to fit consumers’ individual requirements. The famous Eames lounge chair, which features leather upholstery on a bentwood shell, is synonymous with mid century design.

–  With its inherent minimalism, Japanese design principles work well in mid-century interiors. Using this concept, Isamu Noguchi produced sought-after paper lamps and organic slab-style coffee tables that combine Eastern and Western design ideas.

Whether you love organic wood or prefer man-made materials, now is a great time to be a modernist. Even contemporary furniture designers are incorporating these successful principles into new pieces that have an unmistakable vintage vibe. This trend is also inspiring people to add exotic accents and vintage pieces to create interiors that have a personal, unique aesthetic. At Good’s Furniture, we’re crazy about shag carpets, sleek mid-century sofas, and art-glass lamps. What’s your current mid-century design fascination?


10 Forgotten Lessons of Mid-Century Modern Design

Mid Century Modern Cabin” by Joel Colvos is licensed under CC BY-NC-SA 2.0