Why We Love Mid-Century Design

Ever wondered what makes mid-century design so special? After reading this you’ll know your Jacobsens from your Saarinens and how to spot a design classic from miles off.

What is mid-century design?

Mid-century is an often-used term that quite simply means furniture or buildings designed during the 1940s, 50s and 60s, aka the middle of the century.

Having become popularised after the end of WWII, mid-century design diffused across the globe where designers had varying approaches. In the USA for example, the movement largely reflected the Bauhaus movement. In contrast, Scandinavian designers opted for clean-lined simplicity and created furniture designed to integrate with nature.

Florence Knoll Bassett's mid-century living room, Coconut Grove, Florida, 2003 by Todd Eberle
Eileen Gray's mid-century Bibendum Chair at the E-1027 Villa

What are the characteristics of mid-century furniture?

Mid-century furniture can often be identified by its classic, understated look. Ornamentation and detailing were often abandoned in favour of uncluttered, sleek lines.

Many popular styles of furniture from this period are crafted using solid woods such as teak, elm, beech and rosewood. Veneer was also used prominently and often lasts as long as solid wood furniture.

What materials were used?

The period between the 1940s and 60s was one of great innovation and technological advances. As such, many mid-century designers made use of materials such as plywood, wire, chrome and plastic. If you’re looking for furniture from this era, keep an eye out for these materials.

Designers such as Charles and Ray Eames were instrumental in bringing plywood into our homes. After meticulous experimentation they were able to warp it to create comfortable curved shells.

Designers like Verner Panton were also in the midst of experimentation during this period, this time with plastic. Until now plastic had been used to mimic wood but Panton put it centre stage in designs like the Panton Chair.

Isamu Noguchi's mid-century Noguchi Table in a living room setting
Charles & Ray Eames' mid-century Lounge Chair for Vitra

Who are the most famous mid-century designers?

Some of the biggest names in furniture are mid-century designers and their work remains incredibly popular today. Danish designer Arne Jacobsen is renowned for the Egg and Series 7 Chairs, erring towards a Scandinavian approach to the movement. In contrast, furniture by the likes of Eero Saarinen experimented with new materials like plastic and wire.

There were also a large number of female designers who helped spearhead the mid-century design movement. Take Greta M. Grossman for example. Grossman was among the first designers to introduce the Scandinavian aesthetic to California’s blossoming modernist scene.