What period is Modern furniture from?
Loosely speaking, modern furniture originated with the Bauhaus movement in the 1920s with designers and architects such as Ludwig Mies van der Rohe and Marcel Breuer. Although the roots of modern can certainly be traced farther back than this, this is when Modernism truly started to assert itself as a singular style. Looking back at some of the designs produced during this period by the aforementioned designers, and others such as Gerrit Reitveldt and Eileen Gray, one would be hard-pressed to not assume that these were contemporary designs.
What is meant by the term "Mid Century"?:
Although Modern had its roots in the 1920s and continued to gather steam in the 1930s and 40s, the post-war period of the late '40s and early '50s is when what we know today as "Mid Century Modern" truly came into its own. Designers such as Charles & Ray Eames, George Nelson and Paul McCobb helped to truly bring modern design into people's homes, with affordable, accessable, high quality pieces of furniture that are still highly desirable and collectable today. The clean lines and lack of fussy ornamentation of this furniture fit right in to the ranch-style homes that were popping up all over the country at this point in time. It was a time for the country to regroup and rebuild after the tragedy and devastation that World War II had wrought, and the clean, fresh designs that these men and women brought to the table fit in perfectly with what Americans were looking for.Designs by (L-R) George Nelson for Herman Miller ("Thin Edge" dresser in teak), Charles & Ray Eames ("Rope Edge" rocker) and Paul McCobb for Calvin (mahogany extention dining table).
Where did Modern Furniture first originate?:
This is a tough question to answer, as there isn't really any one place where the Modern aesthetic first originated. The easiest answer would probably be the USA, but that wouldn't be entirely accurate, because at the same time seeds of Modernist design were sprouting literally all over the Western Hemisphere, from Scandinavia to Germany to the UK to Russia - if not in furniture, than certainly in art and industrial design.
What were it's influences?
Modernist furniture design was clearly influenced by the Modernist period of art and literature, but also certainly by earlier furniture styles, from Art Deco to Shaker to Japanese and Chinese furniture. Modernist designers were fond of taking classical forms and stripping them of all excess decoration and ornament. Paul McCobb's famous Planner Group Windsor Chair is a great example of this, taking its inspiration from a classical antique Windsor chair, and was one of the best-selling chairs of the 1950s. Hans Wegner's "Chinese Chair" and "Papa Bear Chair" are also good examples of classic antique forms given a modern kick in the pants.
(L-R) Paul McCobb's "Planner Group" Windsor chairs, Hans Wegner's "Papa Bear" chair (a modernist adaptation of the classic wingback chair), and Wegner's "Chinese" chair.
Why is it still popular?
Modernist furniture is still popular for the same reasons i became popular in the first place: it is simple, has clean lines, is usually very comfortable and ergonomic, it is built to fit in smaller spaces, and it is, for the most part, extremely well made. One would have to spend thousands of dollars on a new piece of furniture in order to get the quality present in even a garden variety piece of 1950s furniture. When you add this to the fact that so much contemporary furniture out there today is nothing more than a direct ripoff of mid-century designs (how many versions of the iconic "Barcelona" chair are in existence at this point?), investing in real mid-century furniture makes sense in many different ways.
We hope you've enjoyed this first installment of the series, and please check back soon for the next installment, where we'll be discussing how to actually distinguish "real" mid century furniture from contemporary knockoffs!