What is Mid-Century Modern Design?

Mid-Century Modern design is a style for architecture, graphics, interior design and décor, lasting from roughly the mid-1940s to the late-1960s/1970. Cara Greenberg is credited with coining the phrase “Mid-Century Modern” in her 1984 book Mid-Century Modern: Furniture of the 1950s.

History of Mid-Century Modern Design

While a modernist movement in architecture was developing in Europe between WWI and WWII, the Mid-Century Modern style, as it is known in North America, was most notably created in post-WWII America. The North American style was born out of this European movement, which focused on minimalism and simplicity. It was greatly influenced by European architects such as Walter Gropius and Mies van der Rohe, who fled the continent as Nazi Germany grew in power and influence. Most notably, it was the Bauhaus and International Movements from Europe that influenced North American Mid-Century Modern design:

  • Bauhaus (full name: Staatliches Bauhaus) was a German school founded by Walter Gropius that operated from 1919 to 1933. It was unique in that it brought all arts together, combining crafts and fine arts into design, which had not been done before. It became hugely influential in art, architecture, graphic design, interior design, industrial design and typography.
  • The International Style of architecture has its roots in the 1920s and 1930s. Using building materials such as concrete, steel and glass, the International Style is characterised by open spaces with clean and straight lines.

In 1945, Arts and Architecture magazine ran The Case Study House Program, the goal of which was to use modern principles of architecture to create economical home designs. With the post-WWII economy, many people needed simplicity and minimalism as excess was not financially feasible. As well, there was an increase in demand for housing from those returning from overseas, and this new style also created modern homes in the suburbs.

While the program ran intermittently from 1945-1966, this study was influential in the spread of the Mid-Century Modern style across the United States. Joseph Eichler, a California developer, worked with firms to design homes in this mid-century design. Other notable architects commissioned for the study included Richard Neutra, Raphael Soriano, Craig Ellwood, Charles and Ray Eames, Pierre Koenig, Eero Saarinen, A. Quincy Jones, and Ralph Rapson.

Mid-Century Modern Today

With its simple design, classic look and minimalist features, Mid-Century Modern is popular due to its appeal to a wide audience. The resurgence of the style in popular culture (as seen, for example, in shows like “MadMen”) also pushed Mid-Century Modern back into the forefront of design in the 2000s. Today, finding Mid-Century Modern homes and reproductions of furniture and décor is easy, with the hunt for original classic pieces still continuing!