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Function over form

Mid-century modern is still as enthralling as it was in its heyday

The mid-century style of the 50s and 60s is always on-trend. And it’s no surprise, because the furniture from this period combines functionality, pragmatism and an appeal to the senses. It continues to inspire and enthral the interiors industry, so much so that designers are constantly reinterpreting the movement. Find out more about mid-century modern design and what defines the style.

Mid-Century Modern interior design idea by Inside Weather on Unsplash

Linear furniture and organic shapes: 50s and 60s interior design continues to be a major source of inspiration. (Photo: Inside Weather on Unsplash).

What is mid-century modern?

During the Second World War, many European designers emigrated to America. There a design movement devoted to timeless functionalism established itself in the post-war period, predominantly in California. And because people after the war longed for carefree lives and cosy homes above all, furniture that appealed to the senses, along with functional design, proved extremely popular.

Interior design, architecture and product design were all guided by the famous maxim: “Form follows function.” The Bauhaus had laid the foundation for these design principles. Technological progress and a booming economy made mass production possible for the first time. This was a crucial factor both in the design of homes and interiors and in the further development of the entire interiors industry.

Mid-century design was influenced by the sense that a new beginning was dawning while it was also inspired by pop culture and Hollywood productions. The result was interiors that embraced technology but still felt cosy and welcoming. Furniture and decorative objects assumed soft, round shapes . However, the term “mid-century modern” wasn’t coined until 1983, when the American journalist Cara Greenberg published a book about furniture from the 50s and 60s.

Easy pragmatism and openness

Interior architecture and interior design would be unimaginable today without elements of mid-century modern. Many hallmarks of the period are constantly reappearing: furniture classics as eye-catching statements, understated, geometric interior design for a touch of minimalism, and organic curves. They are accompanied by natural materials, such as wood and marble, which were and are firm elements of mid-century furniture.

The look was also defined by colourful wallpaper patterns, accents in different shades provided by individual pieces of furniture – such as chairs or occasional tables – and striking wall paintings inspired by pop culture. In this way, mid-century modern combines various stylistic elements and conveys an overall aesthetic of an easy pragmatism. This language of form is reflected in both interior and exterior spaces. With the growing popularity of large glass facades and sliding doors connecting the living room and terrace, the boundaries between different spheres of the home are blurring.

Gold chair "Diamond Bertoia" from Knoll

Key ingredients of mid-century modern are geometric elements and stylish, eye-catching pieces, like this golden chair, the Bertoia Diamond from Knoll. (Photo: Knoll).

Furniture classics keep on returning

Mid-century works of furniture by celebrated designers are considered key elements of the style. Even after many decades, they are still enthralling as ever with their curved yet highly restrained shapes. They are the centrepieces of the mid-century look. These classics include the timeless and exceptionally comfortable Eames Lounge Chair by Charles and Ray Eames for Vitra and the character-packed Diamond Chair, designed by Bertoia for Knoll. Another enduring piece of furniture that has achieved true cult status is the Panton Chair by Verner Panton for Vitra. It is the first chair to be made entirely out of a single piece of plastic.

In the field of illumination, the Gräshoppa Floor Lamp by Greta Grossman for GUBI or the PH 5 Lamp , designed by Poul Henningsen and manufactured by Louis Poulsen, are extremely popular. They exemplify the objective, understated shaping of form that is so characteristic of the mid-century style. The Sunburst Clock by George Nelson , a decorative clock in a geometric arrangement, is one of the most popular timepieces. It embodies the movement’s eccentric side and catches everybody’s eye.

Floor lamp "Grashoppa" by Greta Magnusson Grossmann for Gubi in olive brown

A stunning sight with its pared-down shapes, the Gräshoppa Floor Lamp from GUBI gives a living room a mid-century flair. (Photo: Gubi).

New interpretations of mid-century modern

Designers today still take their inspiration from mid-century modern. They reinterpret the style, creating their own products that work perfectly in the 50s and 60s ambience that many would love to recreate in their own homes. Flat teak sideboards with rounded corners are highly sought-after. Living Room by Qingdao Happilar Furniture and Lyki by JSC Alrasina are just two examples perfect for living rooms or bedrooms. Low chairs such as the Soft Armchair by Taxtho or the Ferdinand Lounge Chair by Brdr. Krüger also exude the charm of past decades. Paired with the Retro Sofa by White Feathers , the marble occasional table Marbelous by Jordan Bargan provides real vintage flair.

But the new mid-century style has even more to offer: Just as designers did back then, the idea is to combine natural, cosy furniture intelligently with striking objects. The Bendant Lamp by Mio Furniture assumes geometric forms, creating an exciting play of light and shade. Individual accents are permitted in the colour palette. The Raja Rug by Casalis in red makes an ideal complement to an airy interior decor.

A host of ideas for today, inspired by the past

Although several decades have passed since the emergence of the mid-century style and the associated developments in interior design and interior architecture, it has never really gone out of fashion. Growing numbers of vintage lovers are including mid-century modern objects in their interior design.

Just like people back then, we are looking for enduring, cosy interiors, but with a little hint of extravagance. Mid-century modern not only incorporates a variety of stylistic elements that combine this – it also offers plenty of potential for new interpretations. The furniture classics that the style produced are excellent sources of inspiration for innovative ideas for contemporary interior design.

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