What is Mid-Century Modern?
The term “Mid-Century Modern” was coined by author Cara Greenburg in a 1984 book of the same name. The term describes trends in design architecture, furniture, and graphic design from the middle of the 20th century, about 1933 to 1965. Because the style is defined by an era, rather than a specific art movement, it includes a number of varying, and sometimes contrasting, looks.
Mid-Century looks can be cool, clean and sophisticated. Mid-Century can be colorful, playful and downright zany. Sometimes Mid-century style is angular and futuristic, other times it’s curvy and streamlined. The look that defined consumer culture in post-war America was shaped by many factors, from teen car culture to the space race, and encompassed a range of design principles. New consumer products, such as cars, televisions and microwaves, presented opportunities for originality in industrial design. Scientific advancement inspired some looks, as did the influence of European designers. Functionality, sleek lines, minimal ornamentation, bold colors and contrasting elements are fundamentals of mid-century design. Today, Mid-Century style is experiencing a revival, thanks to shows like Mad Men and applications like web design.
The postwar years in America were a time of unprecedented growth. Prosperity and commercialism reigned. As industry boomed, domestic life flourished as well, with increasing suburbanization, birth rates and home ownership. A certain level of comfort and style became accessible to the middle class. New methods of mass production also made it possible to manufacture goods like furniture and automobiles more cheaply and using new materials, such as plastics. All of this added up to an increased demand for good design: attractive packaging to encourage consumption, easily constructed modular homes to fill the growing suburbs, more streamlined automobiles and more stylish and functional furnishings.
Much artistic talent and resources were poured into the development of a uniquely American style, one which reflected high energy, abundance. Scientific advances made possible the use of new materials, from polyester to formica, and inspired a futuristic aesthetic. At the same time, Scandinavian Design, with its sleek lines and minimalism, became popular and came to influence the iconic look that defined Mid-Century style. Common aesthetic elements in both styles included bold looks, flat colors, synthetic materials and geometric forms.