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Everything you need to know about
Mid-Century Modern Design
Mid-Century Modern Design

This week, we’re talking about all things mid-century. At AUTHOR, we’re lovers of the Mid-Century Modern movement and many of our designs and commissioned pieces are reflective of, and inspired by, the style. We think it’s important to recognise our influences and educate our audience on where these designs came from so we’ve put together a quick cheat sheet on some of the history of the movement and the furniture designers behind it. Everything you need to know about Mid-Century Modern design coming right up…

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What is Mid-Century Modern Design?

To be brief about it, Mid-Century Modern was a design movement in interiors, graphic design and architecture from around 1945 to 1975.

The style originally started appearing on the West Coast of America via buildings as a rival to the European Bauhaus movement and earlier pre-war Modernist styles. After the war, architects began to focus on creating spaces that were open plan and functional in design; merging external spaces with interiors. Furniture designers followed suit to create functional yet desirable furniture that was accessible to everyone. It wasn’t long before the style was spreading across product design, graphic design and design mentality in general.

Who “created” the term Mid-Century Modern?

The term Mid-Century Modern was coined later in the narrative by writer and art historian Cara Greenberg. Greenberg released Mid-century Modern: Furniture of the 1950’s in 1983; a publication dedicated to the geometric silhouettes and biomorphic furniture of the genre. It was a highly praised celebration of 1950s design and is something you should almost certainly purchase second hand today.

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What are the key features of mid-century design?

The movement’s characteristics make it a perfect fit for home decor styles in the current market. It has stood the test of time thanks to its clean and versatile nature and evolved alongside other trends. Whether you have a contemporary flats or a detached period house, there’s something that will fit in every home. Some of the key features to look out for are:

  • Functionality – the phrase form follows function, coined by American architect Louis Sullivan is the holy grail of Mid-Century Modern.
  • Clean lines – a clean, minimalist aesthetic with both organic and geometric forms.
  • Minimal ornamentation – while floral 60s prints, brass accents and rich textures were rife, these were kept to a minimum.
  • Contrasting materials – glass and chrome, lucite and walnut.
  • Bringing the outside in – plants and organic ceramics played a huge part in the movement.

Who are the designers I should look out for from the mid-century movement?

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Charles and Ray Eames with Ray sitting in their Eames Lounge Chair design. Image from Vitra.
  • Charles and Ray Eames

The power couple of the movement, Charles Eames, Jr. and Bernice Alexandra “Ray” Kaiser Eames were a married couple who made significant contributions to the development of the style. The Eames lounge chair has never gone out of production.

  • Florence Knoll Basset

Florence Knoll Bassett was an American architect and furniture designer who studied under modernists of the time Mies van der Rohe and Eliel Saarinen. The Knoll empire is maintained to this day and now holds design rights to many of the classics.

  • Eero Saarinen

Eero Saarinen was a Finnish American architect and industrial designer noted for his neo-futuristic style. It’s very likely that you’ll have come across the Saarinen Table, Womb Chair and Tulip Chair designed by Saarinen.

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Wishbone Chair by Hans Wegner, Image from Carl Hansen & Son.
  • Hans Wegner

Hans Jørgensen Wegner integrated mid-century design into the Danish lifestyle. He was a world-renowned Danish furniture designer and his high quality and thoughtful work has stood the test of time.

  • George Nelson

George Nelson was an American industrial designer and Director of Design for the Herman Miller furniture company, who were largely involved in the mid-century movement. Nelson’s 1946 Platform Bench can often be found cited as one of the first memorable designs of the movement.

How should I incorporate mid-century design into my own home?

The wonderful thing about mid-century design is how versatile most of the furniture is. You really can’t go wrong with it and if you’re lucky enough to have some vintage pieces, they’ll easily blend in with your other interiors. That being said, think about the distinguishing features of the style, and champion them. If a piece makes a statement, like our imperfect daybed by the Galvin Brother, give it space – don’t hide it with cushions or blankets in this case. Lots of the iconic designs are still being made or have been revived due to demand and many other designers have taken inspiration from the movement, just like us. Combine these pieces for ultimate effect. Here’s three examples of mid-century inspired furniture at AUTHOR:

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The Govan Desk Chair is from the workshop of David Watson and his team of cabinet makers in Port Glasgow. Featuring a rotating back and love for geometric shapes, the chair works for both studying and reclining with a tumbler of whisky in hand after a long day’s work.

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The Wu Bench, designed and made by Namon Gaston in his Edinburgh workshop, is a minimal piece with maximum design impact – exactly the right nature for mid-century design. Stripped of unnecessary ornament and decoration this is the pure essence of what defines a bench.

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Bringing the outside in, this steam bent and expertly made plant hanger by Tom Trimmins makes use of a gorgeous looped shape. These beautiful ribbons offer ever-changing silhouettes when the hanger is viewed from different angles.

If you’d like to know more about incorporating mid-century design into your home, the AUTHOR team is here to advise on any aspects of design and furnishing. If you would like any further advice or interior design tips on how to make the most of your interior space, please do get in touch.