Mid-Century Modern: A Design Movement from the 1940s That Is Still Relevant

Art Wise

One of the most enduring design movements in history, Mid-Century Modern is still largely prevalent in the furniture and architectural design landscapes. The style is almost ubiquitous in formal as well as informal décor settings, even today, be it in the form of large windows or sleek, streamlined furniture pieces. The timeless style never seems to lose traction, resonating across generations with its clean lines and highly functional designs which always steal the limelight.

A mid-century modern décor setting (Source: styleblueprint.com)

A Post-War Sensibility

Though there is some disagreement regarding the origin of the mid-century modern design movement, it is certain that the movement grew after WWII in 1945 and continued until the late 1970s. The movement completely took shape in the late 1940s, owing to the post-war boom in the economy, and the resulting spike in home ownership. It grew out of early 20th century movements like the International and Bauhaus movements, and shares similarities with Scandinavian design, which saw a growth spurt in the 1950s. Mid-century modern has been part of the architecture and furniture design landscape since the 1940s and has become especially popular in the 21st century.

A mid-century sideboard; click to purchase on Artisera

Influencing an array of fields including interior, product and graphic design, as well as architecture and urban development, the mid-century modern style is marked by its alluring combination of post-World War II practicality, closeness to nature, and striking tones and textures. Focusing on moving past the dark years of the war and embracing the future, designers and architects highlighted functionality, efficiency and attainability in mid-century modern furniture and architecture. Eero Saarinen, George Nelson, Charles Eames, Harry Bertoia, and Isamu Noguchi are some of the most renowned design icons from the period, idolized even today.

An Emphasis on Practicality

Vibrant colours, clean lines and simplicity – these are a few of the many characteristics that define mid-century modern furniture as well as architectural design. Function takes precedence over form when it comes to mid-century style, as the emphasis was on practicality in the post-war milieu. A boom in home ownership meant limited space in houses, and hence, most mid-century modern furniture pieces were compact. Integration with nature was another prominent characteristic – for instance, large windows to let in ample sunlight and wind in architectural design, and the usage of wood in furniture pieces. Simplified long and low flat-roofed, well-ventilated homes with large gathering spaces came to define the period in architecture. Multipurpose spaces with rooms blending into each other, wooden planked ceilings and stone fireplaces extending into the walls were also common sights.

A mid-century modern interior (Source: decoraid.com)

Functional and Futuristic Furniture

New interest and advancement in fields like nuclear physics, molecular chemistry, and even science fiction all played into the futuristic shapes and materials seen in everything from mid-century modern furniture to suburban homes and skyscrapers marked by the style. The use of new materials like plywood, fiberglass, steel, aluminium, foam and plastic laminates influenced furniture design – the malleability allowed smooth, rounded edges and contours. Juxtaposing sleek lines with organic shapes, mid-century modern furniture never tried to cover up the industrial materials used, with fabric or batting. A dining chair or stool made out of steel would show off the steel rods used – a celebration of the material in itself. Bright colours took over as the earthy hues of the previous era faded, and the colour palette reflected the new popular interest in the Space Age and Pop Art.

A mid-century modern sofa; click to purchase on Artisera

Present-Day Relevance

Mid-century modern furniture pieces are reproduced widely even today, with the style’s popularity increasing with time. Some of the furniture designs are more popular now than they were in the 50’s or 60’s! The ideas of functionality and attainability are what make mid-century furniture so resilient against the tide of time – we still look for the same qualities in modern-day furniture design. With each new generation flocking to major cities where matchbox apartments and micro-flats are becoming the standard way of life, space-utilisation has become a decisive factor in furniture shopping. Mid-century furniture pieces check all the boxes, with their compact, stylish designs that work wonders in small spaces while also adding an element of modernist charm.

A mid-century modern setting (Source: overstock.com)

How to Best Use the Style

The mid-century modern décor has been having a moment for a while now, and is probably here to stay. While the modernist style is truly enchanting with its neat and timeless furniture designs, it can quickly monopolise a space if not executed with care. A key aspect to consider while opting for the style is that it focused on keeping things minimal and functional. So, avoid overfilling rooms with décor pieces and try balancing out loud pieces in vibrant hues with subtle, minimal ones. Keep the space lean and uncomplicated with large windows to bring the outdoors in, so that the bold patterns in the décor can stand out while striking the right balance. The timeless quality of mid-century pieces also means that they blend well with other types of home décor from other periods, which allows you to mix things up and have some fun while setting up. Always remember that the mid-century modern style was all about experimenting and trying out new things, so don’t hesitate to do the same with your space!

A mid-century style office from the TV series 'Mad Men' (Source: Timothy A. Clary/Getty Images/housebeautiful.com)

The timeless popularity and allure of the design style is reflected in many movies and TV shows as well, like the swanky yet sleek furniture from the hit TV series ‘Mad Men’ that caught the attention of most of its viewers. The mid-century modern style is as significant as ever in architecture and furniture design today, with its distinctive qualities reminiscent of the past and welcoming the teeming possibilities of the future, at the same time.

Share Post: