Before I get into the history of the Mid-Century Modern style, I’m sure you want to know which stores stock the right furniture, so I’ll lay them out below.
These stores are high-end and they will sell brands such as Herman Miller and Knoll. They’re licensed to sell reproductions of classic Mid-Century Modern designs.
Similar to the first two stores except they’re entirely based online, may be slightly cheaper overall.
These stores sell their own brand by coming up with the designs based on current trends and buy the furniture from smaller manufacturers who produce the items. The quality can vary but they have a wide customer base.
These stores design their own Mid-Century furniture and usually do so based on the classics.
History of Mid-Century Modern
Mid-century modern is a throwback to the ‘50s and ‘60s when the American interior design community needed an uplift in style to bring it into the future.
Many German architects and interior designers migrated to America during and post-World War II. They brought with them many of the new ideas that would be used thereafter.
What emerged was curvilinear decor, unlike anything that had been seen before. However, after a decline during the mid-sixties, it returned with a vengeance.
The style was named by author Cara Greenberg who titled her 1984 book Mid-century Modern: Furniture of the 1950s.
People from all walks of life bought and enjoyed the book which resulted in a large number of copies (over 100,000) circulating.
By the 90s, the prices of Mid-century furniture had increased by huge amounts as production on most of the items had ceased. As an example, a George Nelson Marshmallow sofa was sold for $66,000. This was the first of its kind but wouldn’t be the last.
The Eames Lounge Chair has proved very popular and its manufacturing consistent throughout the years but even this would have been extremely difficult for the average person to acquire without specialist help.
The change came when Knoll, a prominent Mid-century design company, opened their doors to the public.
At the time there had been a decline in revenue for the company but their shift to satisfying the consumer market saw their fortunes change.
Profits surged along with exposure to the Mid-century style. Additionally, other retailers (for example, Herman Miller) jumped on the trend too and saw similar yields. It was as simple as marketing the same products, although updated to the latest material advancements, but this time for the home.
Today, the Eames Lounge Chair from the 1970s would comfortably fetch $7000, often more. Two Barcelona chairs (which were owned by Charles Gwathmey) went for $24,000 not long ago on an antique marketplace.
As popularity increases, the problem collectors face is that a lot of the furniture being termed Mid-century Modern isn’t necessary designed with the style in mind. This creates a diluted market that those who aren’t very knowledgeable on will find difficult to navigate.
On top of this, there are many replicas out there of prominent designers (which still function very well).
Mid-Century Modern Design Elements
Previous to the introduction to mid-century modern, most of the furniture in a person’s home would probably be handmade by a local furniture maker. Technology wasn’t sophisticated or widespread enough to create anything other than big and bulky pieces.
Now, there was the opportunity to change things up and that’s what they did.
Lines became cleaner, surfaces became smoother and furniture became slimmer. This opened up the space and resulted in one that could breathe, with light bouncing all over the rooms.
Wood remained the prominent material for making the furniture out of but influences from countries around the world began to take hold. For instance, designs popular throughout Scandinavia arose along with teak wood.
Broyhill Brasilia transposed style elements from public buildings in Brasilia, the then very new capital of Brazil. It’s very clear to see when studying pictures side by side. Here’s the Cathedral of Brasilia and underneath it is a coffee table with near identically shaped legs.
Mid-Century Modern Color Palette
Mid-century modern isn’t all about shapes as many would have you believe. It was a time to experiment with a whole host of distinctive colors.
Orange and Brown
The most most definitive of the style is a combination of orange and brown. The a great punch from the orange and earthy vibes from the brown which match the natural, flowing curves seen in the furniture. Curves which are often referred to as organic.
Brown and orange drag the warmth out of one another and brown tends to tone down the intensity of the orange tones.
Orange is the accent to the brown. You can achieve this by painting a wall or buying a piece of accent furniture such as a sofa or armchair.
Chartreuse and Gray
If you haven’t heard of chartreuse, it’s the color exactly in between yellow and green. If orange and brown is used for its earthiness then chartreuse and gray is a combination that radiates serenity and freshness.
Again, chartreuse is quite an intense color. You want to keep this intensity without hitting your senses with a baseball bat and you do this by pairing it with a calm, cool gray to balance the effect out.
Wood and White (and Teal)
As I mentioned earlier, when mid-century became the design choice for homes throughout the country, wood was the primary material for furniture. This is still the case today, so making sure wood focal point of the color scheme is simple way to blend the room together.
It’s easy to accidentally force color schemes. Keeping it simple with wood (browns from various species or even leather) means you won’t.
Marrying wood and white will work especially well if you have large windows or doors that allow natural light to enter.
If you want to keep the brown and white balance but need a little bit of contrast and color in your life then teal is an exceptional additional palette layer.
Adding teal makes the room look sophisticated and mature but maintains vibrancy. Teal is interesting and so are you.
Patterns in Mid-century
Don’t feel you need to add patterns if you don’t want to but if you’d like to experiment then there some usual suspect that fit into midcentury modern rooms.
Mid-century patterns are typically clean, sharp lines and geometric in their form. The base colors are white or black and on top of those are usually red, yellow, or blue.
Textures in Mid-Century Modern
Material innovations post World War II meant that the Mid-century designers explored tons of different textures throughout the furniture.
- (crushed) velvet
There was and is a lot of texture-mixing.
You’ll see a load of pictures with thick pile rugs but people who have Mid-century modern styles today will use an area rug (typically thin) – much easier to maintain.
Mid-Century designers you should take inspiration from
George was born in 1908 and was one of the most influential midcentury designers. In 1947, he became Director of Design at Herman Miller without having designed any furniture prior to the appointment.
He concentrated on creating innovative, useful furniture which resulted in some of the most recognizable pieces of furniture in the 20th Century.
Ray and Charles Eames, Harry Bertoia, Richard Schultz and Isamu Noguchi all worked under the tutelage of George Nelson whilst he was at Herman Miller. He passed away in 1986 at the age of 77.
Saarinen was born in 1910 in Finland but relocated with his parents to America in 1923. Once old enough, he moved back to Europe to study sculpture in Paris before enrolling on Yale’s architecture program.
By 1934, he was teaching in Michigan as well as creating furniture. One of Saarinen’s long time friends, Florence Knoll, invited him to design for the company, Knoll. It was here that he could created some iconic pieces such as the Tulip chairs and the Womb chairs which have been replicated many time since.
He passed away in 1961 at the age of 51 during an operation to remove a brain tumor.
Born in 1904, Isamu was a Japanese American artist and landscape architect whose career became in the 1920s.
In 1947, Noguchi joined a group of designers headed by Herman Miller, the other famous and prominent designers included George Nelson, Paul László and Charles Eames. The furniture they came up with became known as the most influential pieces ever produced. They can deem that a success.
The most famous of Noguchi’s designs is the Noguchi table which was first built in the mid-1920s. It’s a fantastic table that has two curved wooden pieces underneath a glass top.
Choose lightweight furniture with exposed legs
Mid-century modern furniture is lightweight. For example, most items have thin-framed legs. This gives a floating appearance and lets more light fill the room.
There’s no discriminating between furniture types, they all have this effect. Table, sofas, armchairs. Form is the name of the game. There’s no excess and unnecessary ornamentation, everything must be kept as simple as as possible and yet remain beautiful.
This is what I mean by the legs. Very rarely do traditional mid-century items sit flush to the floor. As I said, they’re simple but work for sensibly for any kind of household. They look great and they aren’t just out of a catalogue.
Which Mid-Century Modern Artists Should You Check Out?
Artwork and prints in the Mid-Century style look futuristic, they can have all sorts of shapes, include all manner of subjects.
Here’s one you wouldn’t expect.
A famous mid-century modern artist called Charley Harper decided a Labrador Duck was good enough to paint.