Mid- Century Modernism
The enduring popularity of the Mid-century modern designs are known for juxtaposing sleek lines with organic shapes, using new materials and methods to reimagine traditional pieces. The looks were futuristic, but they weren't a total departure from the past.
Mid-century modern, like any era of design, evolved. The 1939 World's Fair in New York City had brought the geometric forms and clean lines of the Bauhaus and Danish Modernist movements into the American consciousness, but the style didn't really take shape until the late 1940s, lasting well through the 1960s. At the time, American style was all about embracing the future.
Studies in nuclear physics, molecular chemistry, as well as a growing obsession with science fiction all played into the futuristic shapes and materials seen in everything from furniture to suburban homes and skyscrapers. And a booming post war economy meant a rapid rise in homeownership, leading to a surge in the construction of smaller-scale homes and apartments. With the American Dream becoming more of a reality to the middle class, designers and architects honed in on their populist message: Design should not only be beautifully constructed, functional, and efficient, but attainable.
And, during that time, a crew of brilliant sculptors and architects became design icons, shaping the style with the furniture they created for brands like Herman Miller and Knoll: Eero Saarinen, George Nelson, Charles Eames, Harry Bertoia, and Isamu Noguchi.
While some people argue that mid-century modern has become more of a term for modern design in general than a specific look, part of the struggle to define it may come from how wide-ranging the style is. Part of that is due to the two diverging (yet complementary) directions things took.
American-based modernists loved industrial materials and the efficiency of mass production, while their counterparts in Scandinavia (the Soft Modernists) were dedicated to the longstanding tradition of crafting their chairs and tables out of natural elements, like wood and leather, favouring the handmade to the mechanical processes. The result was exquisitely made pieces that were as celebrated as much for their quality as for their simplified, modern forms — think Hans Wegner’s Wishbone Chair or Alvar Aalto’s gently curving birch-and-beech wood chair.
Many of the exact pieces created in the 1950s and 60s continue to be reproduced today through companies like Design Within Reach, Herman Miller, and Knoll. In some cases, they're even more popular now than they were 60 years ago. Even modern retailers like West Elm are reimagining mid-century styles.
So how have these designs been so resilient over the years? They were designed for a way of living that is still, essentially, our way of living: We want chairs to curl up in, tons of storage, portable pieces - everything on a smaller scale.