Mid century design

By Lynn Richardson
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modern arm chair
The look is modern, even a half century after its design
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Clean lines, bold primary colors, laminates, glass and metal – these are the trademarks of the architectural and furniture style known as mid century modern.

Also labeled the Bauhaus or International style, it arose in part as a reaction to the excessive ornamentation of the Victorian era, with its opulent fabrics and neo-rococo influences.

Although the movement began in Europe in the 1920's and 30's, the style is primarily associated with the postwar decades from 1945-1965. The simple but elegant lines and new materials fit perfectly with the futuristic spirit of the time, and Europe and America's postwar demand for affordable, durable home furnishings. Plastics and other non-traditional materials were readily available and easily formed into a variety of shapes and colors just right for a public eager to put the difficult days of war behind them.

A few of the early masters

Marcel Breuer

His designs in tubular steel and plywood in 1920's Germany and his later creations in Switzerland, France, England, and America earned Marcel Breuer the title of one of the early 20th century's most influential furniture designers. The fluid lines of his tubular chairs remain one of the most identifiable elements of mid-century modern décor.

Le Corbusier

Architect, visionary and writer, Le Corbusier's furniture designs have come to epitomize the International style. Perhaps most passionate about his new approach to urban architecture in the slums of Paris, he later wrote about and created furnishings designed to reflect what he saw as essential human needs and the shape of the human form.

Frank Lloyd Wright

Architectural designs that matched the location and function of the structure were the ideal for designer and architect Frank Lloyd Wright. He eschewed the revival styles and reproduction designs of earlier times and places, believing that each style had its proper place, time and purpose. Wright carried the vision of organic design and environmental factors through to his furnishings as well, creating full sets of furniture to match his home designs rather than leaving the décor up to chance or buyer's whim. Although he preferred natural materials such as wood and glass, he is remembered in the modern design movement for his exceptional attention to form and function over ornamentation, and decoration.

Mid-century design today

Even today, five decades after the heyday of Bauhaus and International design, collectors, decorators and homeowners continue to search for authentic examples of mid century design. Original pieces fetch astronomical sums at auctions, and availability is dwindling.

Fortunately, many of the design houses founded by notable modern furniture artists are still producing authentic pieces using the same models and plans developed over half a century ago. These classic designs retain their modern spirit, and are found in homes as diverse as urban lofts or seaside get-aways.

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