Mid-Century Modern Furniture is one of the few markets that have exploded in recent times.
A sofa, constructed of a steel and aluminum base and upholstered with 18 bright yellow cushions.
A large table, made of a solid slab of wood, polished till it shines on the top, but with rough, unfinished edges.
A molded rosewood plywood chair and ottoman, curved in seemingly impossible ways and cushioned with shiny black leather.
If any of these descriptions sound familiar, then it’s probably because mid-century modern furniture has seen a level of integration into our lives that few other styles can match. Thanks to the style’s clean lines, organic curves, and combined use of materials such as chrome, steel, plywood, Lucite, and leather, even designs from as long ago as 1945 blend seamlessly into a modern interior.
A Bit of Background
“Mid-century modern” is a term applied to architecture, graphic design, and furniture from roughly 1935 to 1965. (Since we’re specifically interested in furniture, we’ll limit our scope to chairs, sofas, tables, cabinets, and other pieces of furniture.) The term was coined by Cara Greenberg, who used it as a title for her 1984 book, “Mid-Century Modern: Furniture of the 1950’s.” The book become wildly popular, and the term entered into mainstream vocabulary.
The person generally considered the founding father of mid-century modern furniture was Kem Weber. This German-born naturalized U.S. citizen combined his European training with new materials and techniques to produce pieces that in effect formed a bridge between art deco and this new, modern style. Many experts believe that Weber’s “Airline” chair was the first mid-century modern piece.
Other furniture designers soon caught on to Weber’s new style. One of the main drivers behind its popularity was that in Second World War America, materials and money were scarce. Using new materials such as plexi glass, Lucite, and plywood offered a way to create beautifully designed yet utilitarian furniture for the masses. After the war was over, in the 1950s, when so many families were pursuing the American dream and needed to furnish their homes, the trend simply continued.
Why Is Mid-Century Modern Furniture So Popular?
There are a number of reasons mid-century modern furniture remains popular. First, its pleasing yet highly practical designs are timeless. All of the materials used in their fabrication are still used in contemporary designs, so even though some pieces are almost 80 years old, they still look “modern” to us. Second, there’s a growing trend towards minimalism—perhaps fueled by how complicated our lives have become thanks to technology and constant connectivity. And third, we’re used to seeing these designs in movies and on TV shows that play to our sense of nostalgia for a time when things were simpler and maybe even better. (Just think of the immense success of the series Mad Men.)
Stars of Mid-Century Modern Design
For buyers and sellers of antiques, it can be useful to have an overview of some of the best-known names of mid-century modern design:
Vladimir Kagan’s designs combine sculpted wood, aluminum, wrought iron, and upholstery into surprisingly organic pieces.
Paul Evans was famous for his chests and cabinets, made predominantly from copper and sculpted steel.
George Nelson was greatly influential, designing the storage wall and the office cubicle. One of his best-known furniture designs was the marshmallow couch.
Charles and Ray Eames were a brother and sister team whose innovative designs made use of plastic resin, fiberglass, and wire mesh.
George Nakashima combined traditional Japanese techniques with modern American styles in his woodwork. He’s perhaps best known for his organic designs with massive pieces of wood.
If you have any high end pieces of mid-century furniture you’d like to auction or possibly sell, or if you’re interesting in collecting any, please send us an email. We work with many buyers and sellers of rare mid-century modern furniture.