“Today, more than ever, the midcentury modern look is everywhere. DVRs are set to capture Mad Men‘s final season playing out on AMC. Flip through the April issue of Elle Décor, and you’ll find that more than half of the featured homes prominently include midcentury furniture pieces. Turn on The Daily Show and you’ll see the guests sitting in classic Knoll office chairs. If you dine in a contemporary restaurant tonight, there’s a good chance you’ll be seated in a chair that was designed in the 1950s—whether it is an Eames, Bertoia, Cherner, or Saarinen. A few years back, you could stamp your mail with an Eames postage stamp.
Photo: Herman Miller
Meanwhile, type the words “midcentury” and “modern” into any furniture retailer’s search pane, and you’ll likely come up with dozens of pieces labeled with these design-world buzzwords—despite the fact that there is nothing “midcentury” about the items they describe. Over the past two decades, a term describing a specific period of design has become the marketing descriptor du jour.
“Midcentury modern” itself is a difficult term to define. It broadly describes architecture, furniture, and graphic design from the middle of the 20th century (roughly 1933 to 1965, though some would argue the period is specifically limited to 1947 to 1957). The timeframe is a modifier for the larger modernist movement, which has roots in the Industrial Revolution at the end of the 19th century and also in the post-World War I period.
Photo: Jamie Bush & Co.
Author Cara Greenberg coined the phrase “midcentury modern” as the title for her 1984 book, Midcentury Modern: Furniture of the 1950s. In 1983, Greenberg had written a piece for Metropolitan Home about 1950s furniture, and an editor at Crown urged her to write a book on the topic. As for the phrase “midcentury modern,” Greenberg “just made that up as the book’s title,” she says. A New York Times review of the book acknowledged that Greenberg’s tome hit on a trend. “Some love it and others simply can’t stand it, but there is no denying that the 50’s are back in vogue again. Cara Greenberg, the author of ‘Mid- Century Modern: Furniture of the 1950’s’ ($30, Harmony Books) manages to convey the verve, imagination and the occasional pure zaniness of the period.” The book was an immediate hit, selling more than 100,000 copies, and once “midcentury modern” entered the lexicon, the phrase was quickly adopted by both the design world and the mainstream.”
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Photo: Herman Miller
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