Mid-century design has enjoyed a massive boom in popularity in recent years. Whether it's the Mad Men effect, or a nostalgia for a more optimistic time (the 1950s and 1960s) we just can't seem to get enough of it. In an increasingly hectic world, could it be that the transparent structural design that was a feature of the period gives us some simplicity and honesty in our homes? Or is it simply that as the generation that originally bought this furniture in the 50s and 60s ages and downsizes, there's just more of it available on the second-hand market? It's probably a mixture of both; and that many of the classics of the era are simply gorgeous probably doesn't hurt their popularity.
Mid-century modern design idea today probably works best when pieces from the era are integrated into a more contemporary design scheme. We want to highlight the beauty of these pieces, but not slide into stage-decorated kitsch. A chair here, a side-table there, a lamp of a sideboard—mid-century modern furniture reveals itself as truly classic by its ability to seamlessly blend into decor styles not of its own era. Below, we've collected some examples of classic styles and shapes from the era to inspire you.
The ur-classic of mid-century furniture, the Eames Lounge Chair and ottoman were designed by Charles and Ray Eames for the Herman Miller furniture company. Released in 1956 after years of development the lounge chair was the first designed by Eames for a high-end market. Made of moulded plywood and leather, and inspired by the traditional English Club Chair, Charles Eames described his ambition for the chair to have
the warm, receptive look of a well-used first baseman's mitt. The chair has been in continuous production by Herman Miller ever since 1956. A true icon of modern design, the Eames Lounge Chair features in the permanent collection of New York's Museum of Modern Art.
The original Eames plastic side chair, was the very first industrially produced plastic chair, and was jointly developed with Zenith Plastics for the ‘Low-Cost Furniture Design’ competition organised by the American Museum of Modern Art. Because of the environmental risks associated with fibreglass production, the contemporary version is made from polypropylene, but retains all the essential features of the original. Charles Eames described the role of the designer as being ’that of a very good, thoughtful host anticipating the needs of his guests”, a design ambition fully realised in these gorgeous, gracious chairs. As noted above, the classic design qualities of mid-century furniture lend themselves to all sorts of decorating styles—as can be seen here, where their combination with a chunky, rustic table creates a clean, contemporary style.
Mid-century desk lamps run the gamut from industrial, steel and enamel combinations, to more delicate examples, such as this one designed by Louis Kalff. What they have in common is a classic elegance, whether that's expressed in a gooseneck, as here, or in an Anglepoise design.
Originally designed for the Radisson SAS hotel in Copenhagen by Arne Jacobsen in 1958, the Egg is a sensuous, modern take on the classic wing-back chair. Available nowadays in hundreds of fabrics, from wool to leather, a plastic cover gives, we feel, that essential mid-century vibe.
Very Don Draper, this masculine, Art Deco style clock could add a nice touch of mid-century modern to a living room.
The cocktail chair is synonymous with mid-century interiors. Upright yet laid-back, it speaks of the more buttoned-up culture of the times, but invites some decadence with the curved back seeming to embrace the sitter. The cocktail chairs available today can be upholstered in a huge variety of fabrics, colours and patterns—we like the abstract squiggles on this one: very vintage. Fabric covered cord piping was a popular technique to finish these chairs, showing off their angles and lines.