Getting the Midcentury Modern Look Today
Midcentury modern style has only continued to gain fans in recent years, and the trend shows no signs of slowing anytime soon. If you are drawn to midcentury style and would love to know more about it, this ideabook can help. Here we'll cover a brief history of the style, touch on key designers and finish with some tips on shopping for vintage or reproduction pieces.
Materials: Some breakthroughs in design happened during this era -- Charles and Ray Eames produced the first molded plywood chairs and the first molded fiberglass chairs, which allowed ergonomic shapes like never before. Engineered, high-tech materials like fiberglass, Bakelite, Plexiglas and Lucite were used alongside warm, natural woods, like teak, walnut and rosewood.
Color palette: Colors tend to be bright and optimistic: pure red, yellow, blue, green or pink. Although color provides the pop, the palette is usually tempered by plenty of natural wood and white.
Key midcentury modern designers to know:
- Ray and Charles Eames: American. Key pieces include the molded plywood chair, Shell Chair, lounge chair and elliptical table. The Eames name has become almost synonymous with midcentury design.
- Isamu Noguchi: Japanese American. Key pieces: the iconic glass and wood Noguchi coffee table and handmade Japanese paper lamps.
- Jens Risom: Danish born, Risom immigrated to the U.S. in 1939 to study design. Key piece: the Risom Lounge Chair, which was originally had surplus parachute straps used as webbing.
- George Nelson: American. Key pieces: Platform Bench, Ball Clock, Eye Clock, Coconut Chair, pendant lamps.
- Eero Saarinen: Born in Finland, Saarinen immigrated to the U.S. in 1923 with his architect father and textile designer mother. Key pieces include the Tulip Chair, Tulip Table, andWomb Chair.
- Hans Wegner: Danish. Key pieces: the Wishbone Chair and the Wing Chair.
- Arne Jacobsen: Danish. Key pieces: the Ant Chair, Swan Chair, Swan Sofa, AJ Lamp and Egg Chair.
- Of course there are many, many more, but this group is a solid sampling of the work being done at the time.
1. Hunt down vintage (original) pieces. This can be a surprisingly affordable way to build up a nice collection of midcentury furniture. Since many iconic pieces have remained in production continuously since the day they were designed (see No. 2, next), the period originals do not cost as much as you might expect. There are exceptions, of course, but if you want the real deal, vintage is a great way to get a designer piece often at a lower price.
3. Seek out new furniture inspired by midcentury design. There are direct knockoffs -- for instance, a chair that looks exactly like an Eames Shell Chair but is not made by Herman Miller (the licensed manufacturer of Eames products); these have their detractors in the design world. Then there are new designs that are inspired by the midcentury aesthetic without being copies. Many retailers (from West Elm to Target) offer fresh twists on midcentury modern styles in a range of prices.