Mid-Century American Furniture
U.S.A. (ca. 1933 - 1965)
Organically-shaped, clean-lined and elegantly simple are three terms that well describe Mid-century Modern American furniture. The style, which emerged primarily in the years following World War II, is characterized by pieces that were conceived and made in an energetic, optimistic spirit by creators who believed that good design was an essential part of good living.
Post-war American architects and designers were animated by new ideas and new technology. The lean, functionalist “International Style” architecture of Le Corbusier and Bauhaus eminences such as Ludwig Mies van der Rohe and Walter Gropius had been promoted in the United States during the ’30s by Philip Johnson and others. New building techniques, such as “post-and-beam” construction, allowed the International-style schemes to be realized on a small scale, in open-plan houses with long walls of glass.
Materials developed for wartime use became available for domestic goods and were incorporated into Mid-century Modern furniture designs. Charles and Ray Eames and Eero Saarinen, who had experimented extensively with molded plywood, eagerly embraced fiberglass for, respectively, pieces such as the “La Chaise” and the “Womb chair.” George Nelson and his design team created “Bubble Lamp” shades using a new translucent polymer skin. Harry Bertoia and Isamu Noguchi devised chairs and tables built of wire mesh and wire struts. Materials were re-purposed: the Danish-born designer Jens Risom created a line of chairs that used surplus parachute straps for webbed seats and backrests.
As the demand for casual, uncluttered furnishings grew, more Mid-century designers caught the spirit. Classically-oriented creators such as Edward Wormley, house designer for Dunbar Inc., offered such pieces as the sinuous “Listen to Me” chaise; the British expatriate T.H. Robsjohn-Gibbings switched gears, creating items such as the tiered, biomorphic “Mesa table.” There were Young Turks such as Paul McCobb — who designed holistic groups of sleek, blonde-wood furniture — and Milo Baughman, who espoused a West Coast aesthetic in lushly upholstered chairs and sofas with angular steel frames.
As the pieces shown here demonstrate, the Mid-century Modern American period saw one of the most delightful and dramatic flowerings of creativity in design history.