Mid-Century Modern Interior Design

Furniture

With the rise of Mid-Century Modern architecture, so too was mid-century furniture and industrial design taking place. The basic tenets of Mid-Century Modern design were similar to the architecture: simple and minimal. Form and function were important, keeping the end user in mind.

Mid-Century Modern furniture design was impacted and created by a variety of influences: the Bauhaus School, Deutscher Werkbund (German Association of Craftsmen) that promoted the combination of craft and industry, and Danish designers.

Scandinavia was highly influential in Mid-Century Modern design in North America. Kaare Klimt, who was a Danish architect and furniture designer, adopted some of the Bauhaus principles into his designs: clean and simple lines and edges. Collaborations and exhibitions between different groups of Danish woodworkers, furniture designers and cabinet makers led to new innovations and increased public exposure to the products. Factory production of the pieces allowed for price reductions, which also led to more public interest and purchase.

Interest in Danish modern furniture in the Unites States is credited to Edgar Kaufmann Jr., whose father commissioned the building of Frank Lloyd Wright’s Fallingwater. Kaufman Jr. was also at one time the director of the Department of Industrial Design at the Museum of Modern Art in New York City. Through his collaborations with Finnish designer Finn Juhl, and purchasing Danish products which were on display to the public, interest from the American market eventually grew.

Mid-Century Modern furniture was also designed to be available on a wide scale – financially and aesthetically available for the average home. Designers believed that the right design could better people’s lives. The idea was that interior décor and furniture could be “functional and elegant,” while still being affordable.

There are three strands of Mid-Century Modern style: biomorphic, referring to organic shape and form; machine, inspired by Bauhaus with more stark lines; and handmade, referring to the more simple and clean production of furniture made of wood – typically the Danish-designed furnishings would fall into this category.

Strong use of wood was evident in furniture construction, particularly plywood which was readily available in the post-war years and available for mass productions of items. Metal, plexiglass, fiberglass, and tubular steel were used as well. With new manufacturing techniques of the time, unique designs, different from anything seen before, were being created.

“I wanted to clear up the slum of legs…I wanted to make the chair all one thing again.” ~ Eero Saarinen

Décor

While furniture was designed with clean, simple lines and soft, smooth angles, the patterns for ceramics, wallpaper and materials at this time were bold and abstract.


Elements of Mid-Century Modern Interiors:

  • Minimal in decoration. Rooms were not heavily cluttered.
  • Table and floor lamps:
    • Straight lines or curved angles.
    • Finished metal, or wooden base.
  • Kitchens:
    • Natural wood cabinetry.
    • Appliances in bright colours (added to the concept of “modern and futuristic” that these homes focused on).
  • Colour schemes:
    • Warm, natural colours.
    • Natural materials of wood, stone or brick.
    • Accents of bold patterns and heavy, well-textured fabrics.

 
Producers:

Well-known companies of this time (many of whom still produce similar patterns today) were:

  • Fabrics: Marimekko, Knoll, and Maharam
  • Glassware: Iittala (Finland)
  • Ceramics: Arabia (Finland), Steubenville Pottery, Red Wing Pottery, Hall China, Heath Ceramics (US)
  • Tableware: Georg Jensen (Denmark), Dansk (Denmark)
  • Lighting: Poul Henningsen (Denmark)
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