What is Mid Century Modern?

In my business as an artist and more specifically, a “Mid

Century Modern” inspired artist, I get many people asking me

what exactly Mid Century Modern means. I’ll explain here what

that means in terms of it’s historical journey, and also what

that means to me and why my art designs reflect this era of


When you use the terms retro or vintage you are referring to the past, but those are very generalized, when speaking about a more specific era that has gained in its popularity and essentially has exploded in the past 15 to 20 years you are referring to Mid Century Modern. A “retro styled” chair is not just that any more…it’s more likely to be known as a “Mid Century Modern” chair.

Cara Greenberg coined the phrase “Mid Century Modern” in her book “Mid Century Modern Furniture of the 1950s” written in 1984, and it has since become synonymous with a design style that spans over three decades.

Referring to “Mid Century” means alluding to an era from the late 1940s to the late 1960s, and some will argue that it started after the 1939 World’s Fair and lasted into the very early 1970s.

The 1939 World’s Fair initiated change and futuristic concepts, which became a common feature in Mid Century Modern style. The Westinghouse exhibit at the Fair attributed to the change by exhibiting a large building with walls of windows where fair goers could experience the activities and showcases going on inside. Their futuristic Robot, Etectro, also livened up the gawking crowds; and it wouldn’t be long, before The Cosmic Age in the 1950s, would “spark” greater interest as space exploration and atomic bombs were applied to the approach of Mid Century Modern style, so the 1939 World’s Fair was only the beginning.

Art Deco into Mid Century Modern: arguably was what was taking place as seen in the poster advertisement from the 1939 Worlds Fair. Clean lines, geometric shapes were key.

Taking place as the Worlds Fair was underway was World War II. Our country was in strife, foreign countries had to vacate their exhibits from the Fair and the entire world fell into solemnity and discomfort. It was hard times and manufacturers were instructed to begin producing goods for the war effort. Everyone took part in supporting the military, and simple comforts were put aside during this time in order to help. Designers were adopting new practices to help as well and in the process created fresh ideas in the process. It was a time for change and improving methods as well as a time for new design ideas to emerge.

It wasn’t until after the War when it became understandably a real time of change and the American Dream became a reality. As the postwar economy showed great promise, a concurrent rise in homeownership took place. The growth in middle class led to the development and design of smaller scaled homes created to not only be stylish and efficient, but attainable by the American public. Quality design was in reach and architects and designers set forth to meet the demands of the new era.

A postwar chair using any material designers could find, in this case metal pipes!

A postwar kitchen all in pink!

Post war smaller homes are now becoming the epitome of style and are very much sought after today.

The concept of design and creating affordable, beautiful works started in Germany through the Deutsch Werkbund and the Bauhaus School of Design. New materials, methods and techniques were used to produce un ornamented and strictly functional looks for homes and offices. It was a time when Danish modern style, clean lines and geometric shapes were seeping into the consciousness of the American public.

Natural and Industrial designed modern chairs: stylish and functional with the use of adapted materials.

The 1950s, The Atomic Age, with the existence of Sputnik and the threat of the Cold War, along with the development of nuclear weapons, all had a notable impact on many aspects of American culture, including design. Atomic Age design is characterized by references and a reaction to nuclear science and the atomic bomb. Geometric and atomic patterns were found on textiles throughout the U.S. and Europe. Cosmic particle designs were found on house wares, countertops and on dinner plates. This is a significant area of mid century modern design that took it to an entirely new level of cool!

An advertisement for RCA tubes in the 1950s

A place cosmic designed plate from1954 Franciscan China

It was in the 1960s where the new, and flourishing design concepts became more accepted and where design styles were united between European and American concepts. Colors, designs and shapes and patterns popped! More American designers were using European influences and adopting their own styles to them and created a desired trajectory.

And even though design was becoming a truly international phenomenon, consumers were more by the 1960s more fashion conscious than design conscious manufacturers and designers alike worked feverishly to develop new styles, in furniture, glassware, metal ware and in patterns and forms to satisfy appetites for the grooviest, coolest and hippest products.

1960s Tulip Dining Table and Swivel chairs!

Epitome of groovy and cool patterned fabric!

It’s a Pucci! Such desired fashion!

And for some time, architecture in the 1960s remained in the Atomic Age!

Both the Space needle in Settle and the Them building at the Los Angeles International Airport were built in 1960.

Whether or not you prefer traditional styles, I think we can all say we’ve been inspired a little bit by the area that brought us Atomic bark cloth curtains, The egg chair and of course the Lava Lamp!

The earlier Lava Lites, later named Lava Lamps, were first known as the Astro Globe. Very Atomic!

I like to think that Mid Century Modern design lasted into the early 1970s. Before there were wall to wall shag carpets, wood paneling and harvest gold and avocado green appliances, there were still very popular aspects of the decade before: sunken living rooms, Scandinavian Teak, beautiful floral patterns and style and of course great art!

I’ve merely summarized the transitioning and evolvement of the design style we have all come to know and love: The Mid Century Modern style. I hope I’ve given you a better understanding of the term we hear so often nowadays. I myself had not been introduced to the term until I bought a book in 2000, “Modern Retro, Living with Mid Century Modern Style” that enhanced my love of the era. My initial love of the time began when I was small with movies and Disney animation and followed me into my teens and twenties in college when I used Mid Century designs and concepts in my illustrations and artwork.

Today I incorporate my love of Mid Century Modern design into my art. I have studied the art of this time period, engaged in it, recreated some of the work and developed my own love and understanding, which I bring out in my art.

To me Mid Century Modern art is geometric shapes, space age illustrations, fun, funky florals, soft lines as well as hard edged geometrics, bright colors and thick black lines.

I never grow tired of creating because there is so much to take from the era that I love so much and develop it with the use of paint and canvas.

Thank you for reading and keeping up with my blog posts! Spread the word that if you become a subscriber to my emails, right now there is a sneak peek of the Christmas cards as well as an opportunity to buy them with a Buy One Get One discount.



P.S. And lest we forget what the Mid Century Modern era of design did as an influence in our current entertainment.

From the set of Mad Men, the epitome of stylish television shows,… I give you,…Don Draper’s Office.

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