As we move forward into the new century, Mid-Century Modern refers to a period increasingly distant in the past. In this case even the word “Modern” refers to what now seems a quaint retro aesthetic – but one that has seen a rediscovery in recent years, especially in interior décor and furniture.
The Mid Century Modern style is characterized by simple, geometric shapes with an emphasis on the horizontal. Related to Danish Modern, the woods of furniture tend to be light in color. Surface details are minimal, with the emphasis on repeated shapes rather than textures.
Furnishings are often low in over all height but still float above the floor on think legs, rather than anchored with weight like Traditional or Art Deco styles. Close to Minimalism, the furniture tends to sleek and slim – never overstuffed or puffy. Alternatively, pieces display amoeba type shapes, again reflecting the post war fascination with science, and new technology.
The textiles and art work of the era include barkcloth – a heavy plain weave cotton – usually printed in either large muted stylized florals or sci-fi/technology themed motifs. It was the dawn of the atomic age, and the designs that looked so futuristic then, look so fun and retro today. Both original yardage and reproductions of these fabrics are available today, and are used to restore original pieces as well as make focal point or accent pieces.
Vintage Mid-Century Modern pieces look cool upholstered with contemporary fabrics and colors. Wooden pieces like sideboards or floor lamps tend to work great as individual statement pieces. If you furnish a whole room with the style using reproduction textiles, you might find you look like you live in a 1960’s sitcom.
- In the 1959 scandalous melodrama A Summer Place, the film shows a pointed visual distinction between the traditional Victorian style boarding house, the titular summer place, and the new Frank Lloyd Wright designed modern home where the unfaithful spouses take up residence. Ultimately they are considered the better people, the film having gone to considerable lengths to highlight the inadequacy and downright evil of their first spouses.
(In an interesting piece of cultural trivia, the posters of the American version of the hit film feature the young lovers, Troy Donahue and Sandra Dee, as the beleaguered lovers who learn the folly of judgmental attitudes. However the Italian versions of the poster highlight the parents’ steamy sexuality, and their story of love rediscovered. I can only imagine this reflects the different mores and attributes of the ideal between the two cultures.)
- Jacques Tati’s humorous masterpiece, Mon Oncle (1958) makes much of some of the extreme characteristics of the futuristic style, especially the furniture.
- The Jetsons cartoon series
- The USS Enterprise NCC-1701
- North by Northwest (1959) – it is interesting that this architectural style was often used to signify wealth and luxury.