A singular term which encompasses a broad collection of designs and architecture stemming from 1940 to 1975, Mid-Century Modern is a powerful design movement which still captivates the world more than a century after its genesis.
The Mid-Century Modern movement is actually an American extension of the German minimalist Bauhaus and Swiss International movements; with all three movements focused on elevating the home living experience. The characterizing tenets of the Mid-Century Modern architectural aesthetic include open floor plans, a copious amount of glass, and natural touches of wood to bring the serenity of nature into the home itself.
Mid-Century Modern designers and architects have become synonymous with their legendary furniture and architectural designs. It is their tastes, craftsmanship, and creative energy which drove them to create some of the move innovative designs in modern history. Here’s our guide to some most iconic Mid-Century Modern designers and architects whose work truly exemplifies the aesthetic.
Milo Baughman, United States, 1923-2003
Through his long and prolific career, American designer Milo Baughman established himself as one of the pioneering forces of modern furniture design. What makes Baughman’s work so special is his obsession with the idea that furniture should be both interesting and accessible. Baughman’s pieces display cutting-edge modern design philosophies, leveraging quintessential Mid-Century Modern materials such as glass, wood, leather, and stainless steel, while still exuding allegiance to unpretentious functionality. Baughman’s most notable designs include his work for furniture manufacturer Thayer Coggin from 1953 to 2003.
Ludwig Mies van der Rohe, Germany, 1886-1969
Renowned as one of the most prestigious modern architects of the 20th century, fine art collectors and connoisseurs scour the globe for pieces created by German architect Ludwig Mies van der Rohe. Responsible for the legendary designs of the New York Seagram Building, Chicago Farnsworth House, and the Berlin National Gallery, Mies’s architectural innovations can be viewed across the globe. As for his contributions to modern furniture design, the list is vast. Mies’s most notable furniture design, the Barcelona chair, spawned during Mies’s work with Lilly Reich on the German Pavilion in 1929 and his desire to create a chair fit for the king and queen of Spain.
Arne Jacobsen, Denmark, 1902-1971
No list of Mid-Century Modern designers could be complete without famed Danish architect Arne Jacobsen. Born in Copenhagen in 1902, Jacobsen’s mega-success began in 1951 when his collaboration with Fritz Hansen yielded the Ant™ chair, considered today to be one of the most commercially successful chair models in history, and continued with his signature Egg™ and Swan™ designs. Jacobsen’s iconic pieces were inspired by the functionalist aesthetics of Ludwig Mies van der Rohe and Charles Eames, and his stunning pieces have played a major role in the evolution of the Danish and Scandinavian minimalist aesthetic.
Eero Saarinen, Finland, 1910-1961
Finish architect and designer Eero Saarinen was practically destined to become a leading figure in Mid-Century Modern design. Born to famous architects and artists, Eliel Saarinen and Loja Saarinen, Eero Saarinen went on to take over his father’s prestigious design firm and teach at Cranbrook Academy of Art where he met Charles Eames and Florence Knoll. His stunning collaborations with these two budding designers, including his groundbreaking molded plywood work with Eames and the Womb™ Chair with Knoll, have garnered him countless awards. His pieces are heralded as true icons of American Mid-Century Modernism.
Charles Eames (1907-1978) and Ray Eames (1912-1988), United States
The outstanding contributions to modern architecture and furniture design made by Charles and Ray Eames in the 1940s and 1950s cannot be overstated. Their piousness to simple, sophisticated forms designed to fulfill the real needs of ordinary people catapulted the husband and wife duo to world-renowned status. The Eames’s frequently used molded plywood, fiberglass, metal mesh, and aluminum to create their coveted chairs. Their most iconic piece, the Eames™ Lounge (670), is notoriously one of the most highly coveted luxury pieces of Mid-Century Modern furniture.
Hans Wegner, Denmark, 1914-2007
Danish designer Hans Wegner is most remembered for his innovative Mid-Century Modern oeuvre of organic functionalism works; a body of work celebrating comfort, ergonomics, and aesthetics. Wegner reached world-renowned status in 1947 with his debut of the Peacock Chair and his work has been in high demand ever since. A noted perfectionist, Wegner once notoriously made the Danish King, Frederick IX, wait two years for a single chair.
Florence Knoll, United States, 1917-Today
American Mid-Century Modern architect and designer Florence Knoll studied under world-renowned modern architects Ludwig Mies van der Rohe, Marcel Breuer, and Eliel Saarinen. It is no surprise that her architectural and interior design innovations have revolutionized parts of the modern aesthetic. Known for simple and clean pieces, inspired by her expertise in interior spaces, Knoll’s work enabled her to start her powerhouse furniture company, Knoll Associates, in 1946.
Le Corbusier, Switzerland, 1887-1965
Mid-Century Modern architect Le Corbusier’s work can be viewed worldwide from Paris to Moscow. Though he is world-renowned for his iconic architectural contributions, Le Corbusier partners with his cousin in 1928 to create a system of furniture featuring his now signature tubular steel frames. This furniture line was Corbusier’s way of communicating his philosophy that a home is but a machine for humans to live and furniture is the necessary equipment for living; thus, furniture should be approached from a technological point of view and attempt to solve a human need.
Mid-Century Modern is an aesthetic born out of the world’s post-war desire for life’s simple pleasures. Today, it is the look of choice for chic penthouses, boutique apartments, and modern estates alike. With a plethora of designers and pieces as iconic as the ones listed above, there is no telling if the Mid-Century Modern style will ever fade from the limelight.