Cara Greenberg Wrote the Book on Mid-Century Modern Furniture. Here Are Her Auction Finds

The author and design expert was among the first to define the style and coined its alliterative name. She shares her favorite pieces on 1stDibs Auctions — including some steals.
A table, photograph and chandelier on sale in 1stDibs' Mid-Century Modern Auction
Design writer Cara Greenberg found these pieces and more in the Mid-Century Modern Auction on 1stDibs. Read on for the details.

It’s high time to stop saying, “Mid-century modern is really hot now.” Mid-century modern (MCM for short) is always hot. In fact, the optimistic design language of the 1950s and ’60s has entered the realm of classic. It’s been about four decades since the first revival of interest in the startling design departure of the postwar years, when all that was decorous and ornamental was swept away and replaced with a new look informed by the age of jet and space travel and made possible by pliable, newly invented materials like molded plywood, fiberglass and foam.

There’s been no sign of a let up since. Generations turn over, and mid-century modern remains arguably the most popular style going. It’s by far the largest category on 1stDibs, with well over 150,000 items listed at any given time. Now aficionados can shop a specially curated selection of pieces during the site’s first-ever mid-century modern auction. It’s a chance to score special deals on furniture, lighting, art, jewelry and more — signed and unsigned, from the iconic to the obscure.

Author Cara Greenberg wearing a jacket, scarf and sunglasses and sitting at a table outdoors
Greenberg’s 1984 book, Mid-Century Modern: Furniture of the 1950s, helped introduce the genius of designers like Hans Wegner and Eero Saarinen to a new generation of collectors. Photo by Susan Rosenthal

I’ve been an observer of the MCM phenomenon since my book Mid-Century Modern: Furniture of the 1950s came out, in 1984, giving what was then an unnamed style a descriptive label that stuck. The book focused largely on American design of the era, spearheaded by Herman Miller, in Zeeland, Michigan, and Knoll, in New York, two office-furniture manufacturers whose products — designed by legends like Charles Eames, George Nelson, Eero Saarinen, Harry Bertoia and Isamu Noguchi — worked exceptionally well in the new postwar housing.

Both companies opened their archives to me, letting me dig through troves of prototype drawings, rare advertising images and vintage product shots. I spoke to George Nelson on the phone, met Ray Eames for tea and hung out with Vladimir Kagan. The book touched on other American designers, including Edward Wormley, Paul McCobb and Warren Platner, and there were chapters on the fine Scandinavian woodcraft tradition that morphed into the Danish modern craze of the 1950s and ’60s, as well as on the uniquely stylish pieces coming out of Italy.

In those pre-Internet days, Scandinavian furniture makers like Fritz Hansen and Artek and such Italian companies as Arflex and Cassina sent me manila envelopes full of photos of pieces by Hans Wegner, Arne Jacobsen, Alvar Aalto, Marco Zanuso, Osvaldo Borsani and more. I was able to introduce all those names and many others to a new generation, shortly after I discovered them myself.

The cover of Greenberg's 1984 book, Mid-Century Modern: Furniture of the 1950s
While researching the book, Greenberg met with such legends as Ray Eames and Vladimir Kagan.

As such a longtime observer of the scene, my eyes eventually grew a bit weary of the very best-known designs, brilliant though they surely are. My book’s chapter “Ten Best Mid-Century Chairs,” particularly, helped to raise the profile of evocatively named pieces like Saarinen’s Womb chair, Jacobsen’s Egg, Bertoia’s wire-grid Diamond and Nelson’s Coconut — all eventually reissued by the original manufacturers to accommodate new demand, if they weren’t in continuous production already. Happily for the millions of fans of the style, over the past couple of decades — and especially since the inception of 1stDibs in 2000 — resourceful dealers and collectors have unearthed a much wider and ever-expanding world of mid-century-modern pieces, ferreting out unusual works and lesser-known makers from far-flung places and bringing them to market.

Though I was there almost from the start of the MCM renaissance, I’ve by no means seen it all. I still get excited when I light upon pieces on 1stDibs that are new to me, especially those with an attractive starting bid. Cases in point: the six items below, from 1stDibs’ Mid-Century Modern Auction, where you might just discover something new yourself.

Illum Wikkelsø Ox Lounge Chair

The solid but rakish shape of this 1960s vinyl and teak lounge chair by Danish designer Illum Wikkelsø harks back to the age of jet travel, when it was still new, exciting and glamorous.

Desert House Party, by Slim Aarons

American photographer Slim Aarons captured not just the style but the lifestyle of poolside party guests at Edgar Kaufmann’s epoch-defining mid-century house by Richard Neutra in Palm Springs, California, in January 1970. Who wouldn’t want to be sipping cocktails at that chic gathering, set against that mountain backdrop?

Vladimir Kagan Velvet Chair

Beloved visionary designer Vladimir Kagan made waves in the postwar years with his swoopy, room-defining chairs and sofas. This lush velvet-upholstered armchair, swiveling on a base of polished nickel, was conceived in the 1940s and hand-built in 2019 by the furniture company Holly Hunt, now owner of the Kagan brand.

Gio Ponti Apta Drop-Leaf Table

Mid-century modernism wasn’t all sober good design. The geometric orange-and-red pattern on this rare lacquered-wood drop-leaf table, created around 1970 by Gio Ponti and once owned by his Florentine granddaughter, shows that modernism could be joyful, even carnivalesque at times.

Italian Chandelier

Ditto this festive 1950s chandelier, attributed to the Italian lighting manufacturer Arredoluce. The eight multicolored aluminum shades make any room feel like a perpetual birthday party.

Roger Capron Vase

The wide-ranging universe of mid-century ceramics includes jugs, vases and coffee tables by prolific French artist Roger Capron, who in 1946 cofounded a pottery studio in Vallauris, a town known for ceramics production since Roman times. By the 1950s, Capron’s pieces were winning awards at the Milan Triennale and bringing the south of France to American department stores with their expressive, sunny designs.

Loading more stories …

No more stories to load! Check out Introspective Magazine

No more stories to load! Check out Introspective Magazine