HOW TO: MID-CENTURY FURNITURE 

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A HISTORY

Peaking as its name suggests as a style from the 1940s-1960s, the mid-century movement was the organic offspring of modernism. It was rooted in notions of functionality, elegance and simplicity as championed by the likes of the Bauhaus and Le Corbusier, whose dictum – “a house is a machine for living” – filtered naturally, and often controversially, into the ideology of mid-century designers.   
George Nelson’s 1946 Platform Bench is often cited as one of the first memorable designs of the genre. It was created to be mass-produced in order to be affordable to the average homeowner, an ideal Nelson inherited from the Bauhaus sensibility – good design for all. After Nelson’s casual, carefree yet elegant bench, the movement continued to prize the romantic idea that good design could change lives for everyone, not just the rich. Design could change the world for the better. 

Design couple extraordinaire Ray and Charles Eames’s breezy, beautiful Californian chairs have become synonymous with the movement, and for them, as they stated, the ideology was simple yet powerful: “Getting the most of the best to the greatest number of people for the least amount of money.”

You want the space to be liveable and have characteristics of the era - there is a fine balance. 

Planning is key. Take a good look at the space you have to work with and chose a focal point. This is where you can conjure up style you want. Start with a statement piece like a sofa, set of chairs, or table that will set the mood for the room. From there, move on to choosing the other furnishings and accessories for the space. These can be purchased or edited from what you currently own. Remember that mid-century modern style is built on the concepts of open, airy and uncluttered space. Choose items that are geometric, clean-lined and functional – and use patterned pieces sparingly!

Searching for pieces to include in your home can be much of the fun in creating a mid-century modern living space. Of course, this means that it might take longer to complete your décor, however including touches of vintage can create more character and interest than using all new items.

Speaking of vintage, you can find affordable second-hand pieces because so many copies were made, but you will have to have a hefty budget if you want authentic mid-century-modern furnishings. Their popularity has created a very high-ticket market with prices reaching the tens of thousands of dollars. One alternative is to purchase a bold, new focal piece and concentrate on finding some vintage accessories that are more budget friendly.

Try searching "mid-century" or "Ercol" into Ebay. 

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Design & Living / In Pictures

A Brief History of Mid-Century Modern Furniture Design

— May 12, 2016 —

As Modern Shows' dedicated marketplace arrives in London this weekend, we chart the defining factors of the 1940s and 50s furniture design trend that was governed by functionality and simplicity

 

 

 

 

 

Courtesy of Mar-Den at Modern Shows

 

 

 

 

Writer and art historian Cara Greenberg coined the phrase ‘Mid-Century Modern’ in 1984 – it was the title of her seminal book about what has since become a global and iconic design movement. The label is to-the-point and no-nonsense, much like the straightforward interior style, which championed notions of functionality, ease and modern simplicity. When spoken aloud, the words mid-century modern also have a melodic quality to them; the mirrored, doubling ‘Ms’ roll smoothly off the tongue, evoking the clean sculptural lines of the perfectly balanced aesthetic that it describes. With its bubble shapes, neat proportions and alluring sugar-coated colours, the mid-century has been aptly described as ‘furniture candy’.

Now the darling of Etsy, upscale vintage stores and the mid-century modern furniture fair at the Oval (which is taking place in London this Sunday, May 15), the historic movement continues to permeate our sense of what’s contemporary. Before you head down to the Oval at Kennington’s Cricket Ground this weekend to fill your homes, here’s a guide to mid-century furniture, a movement that continues to define and grace our kitchens and living rooms.

 

Courtesy of Ground One Six at Modern Shows

The Origin
Peaking as its name suggests as a style from the 1940s-1960s, the mid-century movement was the organic offspring of modernism. It was rooted in notions of functionality, elegance and simplicity as championed by the likes of the Bauhaus and Le Corbusier, whose dictum – “a house is a machine for living” – filtered naturally, and often controversially, into the ideology of mid-century designers.   
George Nelson’s 1946 Platform Bench is often cited as one of the first memorable designs of the genre. It was created to be mass-produced in order to be affordable to the average homeowner, an ideal Nelson inherited from the Bauhaus sensibility – good design for all. After Nelson’s casual, carefree yet elegant bench, the movement continued to prize the romantic idea that good design could change lives for everyone, not just the rich. Design could change the world for the better. 

Design couple extraordinaire Ray and Charles Eames’s breezy, beautiful Californian chairs have become synonymous with the movement, and for them, as they stated, the ideology was simple yet powerful: “Getting the most of the best to the greatest number of people for the least amount of money.”

 

Courtesy of Modern Shows

The Materials
For mid-century designers, materials were used for their own distinct, even deliberately artificial qualities and never to imitate the groove of wood or marble. They embraced relatively new materials like metal, glass, vinyl, and plywood, offsetting these with wood to create novel, exciting juxtapositions. Often a piece of furniture would combine only two materials or two colours – creating tension and harmony without fuss or superfluous ornament.

Artist and architect Isamu Noguchi’s walnut hardwood and glass Noguchi table exemplifies this: it was described as a ‘sculpture for use’, and its duality of two elements created something flowing, self-supporting, and enticingly functional.

The Eameses championed new technologies too, creating plastic resin or wire mesh chairs that were produced by manufacturer Herman Miller. Their Molded Plastic and Fiberglass Armchair was low-cost and had a mix-and-match quality: the consumer could choose from three plastic colours (elegant greige, elephant-hide, or parchment) and could select a metal, wood or rocker base. Materials that were associated with the cheap and the industrial were becoming the staple of contemporary interiors.

 

Courtesy of Orson & Welles at Modern Shows

The Style 
George Nelson determined that there were three ‘mid-century’ categories: the bio-morphic, the machine, and the handcrafted:

Bio-morphic mid-century describes the furniture that relished in organic, curved, smooth surfaces, design that was moulded into the shapes of kidneys and boomerangs, and which was an accessible and lively contrast to the more austere machine aesthetic of the Bauhaus. Hungarian-born, US-based Eva Zeisel especially explored the natural world in her designs: her famous salt and pepper shakers exude personality, and her belly-button shaped room-divider combined human body forms with functional divisions of space. Other bio-morphic classics include the dreamy, cloud-like Eames Plastic Chaise Longue and Verner Panton’s flowing Panton Chair.