If you're enthralled by the 1950s furnishings you see in period movies or TV shows such as Mad Men, then you may have decided that you'd like your own home to boast the same clean, streamlined stylistic sensibility. This style, known as Mid Century Modern, has a timeless appeal, and it's quite possible to find original furniture from this period -- but do you know what to look for, or even what to ask local dealers? Here are some basic considerations to help guide the way.
Aesthetics and Characteristics
Mid Century (which can also be spelled as Mid-Century or Midcentury) came about some years after the extravagant Hollywood Regency style popularized in movies of the 1930s. The aftermath of World War II and the advent of the Space Race sparked a new passion for all things technological and futuristic. Simply dubbing something with the moniker "atomic" was enough to make it seem cutting-edge and exciting. Abstract shapes became all the range in everything from rise-rise architecture to wallpaper -- of, of course, furniture.
Mid Century furniture is characterized by clean lines, artificial-looking sculpted contours, and the use of synthetic materials (plastic, fiberglass and so on) contrasted against natural woods such as teak, rosewood and walnut. The overall aesthetic favors whites and earth tones for large areas, accented by splashes of bright color and bold abstract patterns. The result appears chic, sophisticated, calculated and modernistic, even by 21st Century standards.
Of course you can create a Mid Century look with modern furnishings and artwork, but if you want the real thing, you need to know what you're looking for -- or more precisely, who you're looking for -- before you start visiting Mid Century furniture dealers in your area. This movement was dominated by some major innovators in the world of design, so you should familiarize yourself with some of the leading names involved.
The team of Charles and Ray Eames led the way, starting in the 1940s with their futuristic, flowing designs for chairs and sofas. Their work was highly influential on the Danish designers who dominated the Mid Century movement in the 1950s. Look for pieces created by (or at least in the manner of) such major names as Eero Saarinen, Arne Jacobson, Mies van der Rohe, Alvar Aalto, Milo Baughman and their contemporaries.
Evaluating Mid Century Furniture
One thing to keep in mind about Mid Century furniture is that manufacturers didn't stop making making it after the 1950s. In fact, manufacturers are still producing pieces based on the original designs of the great masters. This is great news for your pocketbook if you're not absolutely determined to own an authentic piece of history. Even if you do want an original item from the dawn of the Atomic Age, you're still in luck to be living in the Internet Era. Online auction portals have given collectors much wider access to what's out there -- and more items on the market help to keep prices in line. The actual items still tend to vary widely in price, though, from $150 for a simple Eames Shell Chair to $7,000 for the famous Lounge Chair from the same designer.
Buying a piece of Mid Century furniture online is a calculated risk unless you have money to burn. For pieces of this age, it usually makes more sense to visit antique furniture dealers and furniture liquidators so you can evaluate them in person, not just through pictures and descriptions. If you're set on a designer original, make sure the item bears the designer's signature or mark. At the very least, insist on a verifiable certificate of authenticity. A few minor dings or scratches are expected on a decades-old item, so don't expect such blemishes to drive the price down significantly.
Whether you fill your home with Eames originals or you're content to create the illusion through modern recreations, you'll be startled and delighted by the final effect of your "new" Mid Century Modern decor. So put on some Sinatra, mix yourself a martini, settle back into your space age chair -- and enjoy the future!
For more information on mid century furniture, contact a dealer like Bucks County Estate Traders.