Mid-Century Design is Still in Vogue

Tulip chair, style of Saarinen

The popularity of the television show, Madmen, had an important effect on the re-kindled popularity of mid-century modern furniture design.  In the show, the character, Peggy Olsen, can be seen sitting in her desk chair designed by Ray and Charles Eames.  The award-winning set designers were very knowledgeable and faithful in creating an aura of period authenticity for this very popular show.

This style of furniture has been around for over 75 years. We’ve seen it in offices, classrooms, waiting rooms, and restaurants. It is a style that never really went out.  It was always there, ready and willing to be observed and appreciated.  Now, according to HGTV, it is a growing design trend. Natalie Stungo says in her book, Charles and Ray Eames, it is “…because there is a freshness, a simplicity, a sense of naturalness that gives it instant appeal.”

According to the website, Curbed, in an article entitled “Why the World is Obsessed with Mid-Century Modern Design”, Laura Fenton states: “Today more than ever, the mid-century modern look is everywhere. …turn on the Daily Show and you’ll see guests sitting in classic Knoll office chairs. If you dine in a contemporary restaurant, there is a good chance you’ll be seated in a chair designed in the 1950’s whether it is an Eames, Bertoia, Cherner, or Saarinen.”

The term “mid-century modern” covers a wide range of design.  It includes architecture, furniture, and graphic design and roughly covers the period between the years of 1933-1965. The term was first used by writer and art historian, Carla Greenberg. She titled her 1984 book Mid-Century Modern, to describe “what has since become a global and iconic design movement”.

Madeline Morley, in an article for anothermag.com stated:  “…with its bubble shapes, neat proportions, and alluring sugar-coated colors – the mid-century has been aptly described as “furniture candy”.  The furniture is identified by it’s straight, clean lines and smooth curved angles with little or no ornamentation or upholstery.

Among the many famous furniture designers of the era, both American and European, Ray and Charles Eames stand out.  They were known as “the Fred and Ginger of the design world”.  Charles had the experience of engineering and building, and Ray contributed color, structure, and form to their designs.

The duo designed a few buildings and houses including a showroom for Herman Miller, the furniture manufacturer, but after 1945, furniture design became the main focus of their studio.

Eames style plywood lounge chair with ottoman

In 1946, the Museum of Modern Art in New York featured Charles in a one-man show showcasing his latest experimental designs in seating – dining and lounge chairs, and the office desk chair, which is now considered a 20th century classic. This design, the original and variations of it, was an instant success. By 1951, Herman Miller was selling 2000 chairs a month.

Charles stated that their philosophy was that good design should be available to everyone.  In his words: “…the most of the best to the greatest number of people for the least.” Their furniture was priced to appeal to a mass audience.

The Eames’ experimented with a wide range of materials.  The simply designed molded fiberglass /plastic chairs, lightweight, stackable, and inexpensive can be seen in almost every classroom today and came in all sizes.  They designed chairs made from wire mesh, which architects likened to the Eiffel Tower.  Cast aluminum chairs were another successful innovation.

Charles and Ray Eames didn’t stop at furniture design.  They curated exhibitions, made films and coordinated multi-media events.  They enjoyed pointing out and highlighting the beauty of everyday things and ordinary objects because they believed that “…design should not be an elitist exercise.”

Charles Eames was described as “…without doubt the most creative and original designer of the 20th century…”

A number of Eames designs are no longer in production, but several of the most popular styles are still being manufactured.  An original Eames lounge chair is valued at around $6000. They are still being reproduced today for between $1600-1800.

Palm Springs Modernism Week

The Palm Springs area abounds in mid-century modern design.  Modernism Week, February 15-25, 2018, is the signature festival which highlights mid-century modern architecture, art, interior and landscape design and vintage culture in Greater Palm Springs.  An extensive article detailing lectures, tours and the events taking place can be found on the website palmspringslife.com.

Tickets for this informative, educational and entertaining week can be purchased on the website modernismweek.com.

The Palm Springs Art Museum has an impressive collection of mid-century furniture, art, and design in its permanent collection.

 Sources:

Charles and Ray Eames. Naomi Stungo. Carlton Books, 2000.

Modern Furniture Classics, A sourcebook of Styles, Designers and Manufacturers.  Miriam Stimson. Whitney Library of Design, 1987.

Palm Springs Modern. Adele Cygelman. Rizzoli, 1999.

blog.Froy.com Mid-Century Modern Design

curbed.com Why the World Is Obsessed With Mid-Century Modern Design

anothermag.com A Brief History of Modern Furniture Design

interiordesign.net1stdibs.com/MidCentury/Modern

 

 

 

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Kathi

Kathi Jablonsky, ISA CAPP is a full time appraiser of antiques, furnishings and decorative art. Locations in San Diego and Palm Desert California.