Mid-Century Modernism – Fresh Optimism in Design

Index: abc | def | ghi | jkl | mno | pqr | stu | vwx | yz

Mid Century Modern Chair with Molded Arms and Wood Legs, Black
Mid Century Modern Chair with Molded Arms and Wood Legs, Black

Designers were motivated by a fresh optimism after WWII and the new materials, production techniques, and colours arriving in unique shapes. In more inexpensive and easily mass-produced designs, a more relaxed, fleshed-out style of Modernism began to develop.

A Time of Recovery

Although World War II ended in 1945, its impact on the industry and the design world, in particular, lasted far into the 1950s. Frugality was maintained during the war, as practically everyone came out of it poorer than they had been before the war began. There was also a strong sense that returning to normalcy was necessary, and the Rational style prevailed.

Because it had survived invasion, occupation, or bombardment, the United States was the first country to recover financially. Televisions and other discoveries aided in creating a new sense of possibility, and American companies began to achieve productivity levels previously unheard of. Designers like Charles and Ray Eames arose from this setting. Charles had invented a method of moulding plywood in several directions in 1942, and he and his wife used the technology to create a variety of creative furniture.

Photo of Ray and Charles Eames
Photo of Ray and Charles Eames

Between 1948 and 1951, the Marshall Plan was enacted, and the United States used its significant financial strength to aid Europe’s recovery. Approximately 13 billion dollars (nearly $100 billion at today’s exchange rates) were thrown into Europe. By 1951, almost every country that had joined the Organisation for European Economic Co-operation (OEEC) had developed considerably above pre-war levels and had continued to thrive. Throughout the 1950s, Italy, in particular, experienced significant industrial progress, which benefited designers such as Gio Ponti, Carlo di Carli, and the Castiglioni brothers, who developed their own individual designs. Dino Martens continued his thrilling reinvention of classic processes into wholly original creations on the Venetian glass-making island of Murano.

Meanwhile, in the United Kingdom, the 1951 ‘Festival of Britain’ fostered a break from tradition, starting the careers of a slew of new designers. The new alternatives to the conventional utility furnishings were a revelation for consumers who had spent years confined by rationing and government limitations.

Artist’s view of the Festival on London’s South Ba
Artist’s view of the Festival on London’s South Ba

Economies rose all across the world, and as they did, so did the demand for commodities. People desired new styles and a more comprehensive range of options. Meanwhile, the designers were enthralled by the plethora of new materials at their disposal, as well as the possibilities that even larger mass manufacturing afforded. To encourage national development, councils and design bodies were established all around the country. A consumer society grew to prominence.

A Material World

The designers of the 1950s had more freedom because of techniques and materials developed for military purposes (mainly by aircraft designers). Aluminium, which was lightweight and sturdy, had been utilised in the interiors of military transport trucks and was plentiful. Designers such as Harry Bertoia and Warren Platner were motivated to create lightweight wire-rod furniture by the increasing availability of narrower and lighter steel. Designers who were enthralled by the possibility of new ways for glueing wood embraced them as well.

In the 1950s, a slew of new upholstery styles appeared. Tyre manufacturers created rubber padding in Italy. Meanwhile, the Scandinavians discovered a method of heating polystyrene pellets to make foam padding. These could then be moulded into shape and put into a framework, allowing designers to create items like Arne Jacobsen’s “Swan” chair.

Matched Pair of Vintage Diamond Chairs by Harry Bertoia
Matched Pair of Vintage Diamond Chairs by Harry Bertoia

However, the most significant development was the widespread availability of petroleum-based polymers, which became reasonably affordable during the 1950s and 1960s oil glut. Injection moulding processes gave designers more flexibility, allowing them to use plastic’s capacity to hold any shape and come in a rainbow of colours. The introduction of plastics also signalling a shift in consumer attitudes. The era of timeless designs was coming to an end by the end of the 1960s, and the age of disposability was on its way in. Items were manufactured for the moment and then discarded when the fashion trend shifted.

Modernism’s Softer Side

Scandinavian designers developed a distinctive, curving style, often known as ‘Soft Modernism,’ throughout the 1930s. It adopted modernism’s essential simplicity while eschewing the coldness of mass-produced materials like plastic and steel. According to Alvar Aalto, a Finnish designer who was one of the first to experiment with the new style, modernist furniture was “unsatisfactory from a human point of view.” As a result, he and other Scandinavian designers, such as Bruno Mathsson, set out to use natural materials, particularly those abundant in Scandinavia (such as wood), and develop natural forms in response.

Meanwhile, many furniture designers were experimenting with the new materials that were becoming available. Scandinavian glass designers, such as Per Liitken, embraced an organic style in soft, calming colours by the 1950s. They were particularly enthusiastic about the new foam padding, which could be used to soften the chilly and unwelcoming surfaces of sheet metal. Arne Jacobson’s work, including the ‘Swan’ and ‘Egg’ chairs, typifies the field with attractive designs.

Cylinda-line, tea and coffee set (1965) designed by Arne Jacobsen
Cylinda-line, tea and coffee set (1965) designed by Arne Jacobsen

Soft Modernism’s cosiness drew admirers from all over the world. Gio Ponti was adding sensuality into his furniture in Italy. Local styles were combined into a hybridised version of modernism in Japan and Germany, and French designers embellished the basic style with ornamental elements.

Source

Miller, J. (2009). 20th-century design: The definitive illustrated sourcebook. Miller’s.

Read more about ‘Design History’

  • What was the Society of Industrial Artists in Britain?

    Society of Industrial Arts Magazine Cover

    The origins of the CSD lay in the creation in 1930 of the Society of Industrial Artists (SIA) in Britain, when the public debate was concerned with the nature and definition of both the designer and the design profession. Read More →

  • British Studio Ceramics a Short History

    British Studio Pottery featured image

    In Britain, the backlash against the highly ornamented machine-made ceramics that were fashionable in the late 1800s gathered steam. Art potteries were founded by a group of creative craftspeople who William Morris inspired.Read More →

  • Fashion and Freedom during the 70s and 80s

    Marc Bolan 1970s

    The 1970s and 1980s were a decade of extremes in fashion. In other creative sectors, as people pushed the boundaries of freedom of speech, styles altered regularly.Read More →

  • Olivetti Design Standard-bearer

    Olivetti Lexikon

    Olivetti is an Italian office machinery and furniture firm, located in Ivrea, Northern Italy. ForRead More →

  • Mid-Century Modernism – Fresh Optimism in Design

    Mid-Century Modernism - Featured Image

    Designers were motivated by a fresh optimism after WWII and the new materials, production techniques, and colours arriving in unique shapes. In more inexpensive and easily mass-produced designs, a more relaxed, fleshed-out style of Modernism began to develop.Read More →

  • Gothenburg, Sweden Exhibition (1923)

    Gothenburg 1923 Exhibition Reconstruction

    The Gothenburg Tercentennial Jubilee Exhibition (Swedish Jubileumsutställningen I Göteborg) was a world fair held in Gothenburg, Sweden in 1923, marking the 300th anniversary of the city’s establishment. The fair, which opened on 8 May, lasted until 30 September.Read More →

  • Neue Sachlichkeit – Design Term

    Neue Sachlichkeit - Design Term

    Neue Sachlichkeit was a term coined in 1923 by Gustav Hartlaub, director of the Kunsthalle, Mannheim, as the title of an exhibition he organised to demonstrate the progress of post-war painting in Germany.Read More →

  • Design History – 40s & 50s the age of the Graphic Designer

    40s and 50s Graphic Design

    The 1940s and 1950s the age of the Graphic Designer. Designers, illustrators, and artists used their talents to disseminate information.Read More →

  • Architecture the 1920s & 1930s – the birth of Modernism

    Bauhaus featured image

    Architecture the 1920s & 1930s – the birth of Modernism. The architects of the post-World War 1 years aimed for simplicity above all else.Read More →

  • Fashion Design from 1900 to 1920 – Focus on Freedom

    ul Poiret Selection Met Museum

    Fashion Design from 1900 to 1920 – Focus on Freedom. Newfound political independence came newfound fashion freedom. READ MORERead More →

  • Mission Furniture – Design Dictionary Term

    Armchair, 1907 - 1913 designed by Gustav Stickley

    Mission Furniture – Design Dictionary Term. The early twentieth-century American furniture design style. American Arts and CraftsRead More →

  • Anchor Blocks – 19th Century construction toy

    Anchor Blocks

    Anchor Blocks were a German system of building blocks that were popular as a children’s construction toy in the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries, notably in Europe. Dr F. Ad. Richter in Rudolstadt, Germany, began developing and manufacturing the system in 1879. The concept was based on the FROEBEL block system, which significantly impacted Frank Lloyd WRIGHT’s design philosophy.Read More →

  • Jugendstil an artistic style

    Jugendstil an artistic style

    Jugendstil, an artistic style that originated around the mid-1890s in Germany and persisted throughout the first decade of the 20th century. READ MORRead More →

  • Neon Lighting – Dictionary – Design Term

    Neon Lighting Dictionary term

    Neon Lighting. Semiflexible, hollow tubes of clear acrylic with small bulbs inside that can be connected to light up all at once or sequentially to produce a “chasing” effect. It’s also known as disco lighting, and it’s given homeowners new illumination alternatives. Lights designers consider neon lighting to be an art form.Read More →

  • Arabesque form of artistic decoration

    Arabesque

    The arabesque is a form of artistic decoration consisting of “surface decorations based on rhythmic linear patterns of scrolling and interlacing foliage, tendrils” or simple lines, often combined with other elements.Read More →

  • Aestheticism 19th-century art movement

    Aestheticism Featured Image

    Aestheticism describes the European art movement of the late 19th century. It is centred on the doctrine that art exists alone for the sake of its beauty and that it does not have to serve any political, didactic or another purpose. Aestheticism is diametrically opposite to the moralist belief, the belief that moralism (and everything else) should be the handmaiden of art instead of art (and everything else) being the handmaiden of morality.Read More →

  • Humble history of the pencil

    An image of a pencil.

    I am feeling nostalgic for the humble pencil.  There is a comfort and warm familiarity whenever I pick one up (rarely these days).  Pencils are inexpensive, portable, simple to operate and the marks that they make are easy to erase.  Unlike other writing tools, they do not run out of ink or skip.Read More →

  • The Chevron pattern – a Popular motif for Designers

    Chevron Pattern

    The word chevron comes from the French word chevron, which means rafter or gable. Although there is no definition to prevent freedom in its shape, the chevron’s angle is most commonly between 60 and 70 degrees. Read More →

  • Worshipful Company of Goldsmiths

    The third and present Goldsmiths' Hall in the second half of the 19th century

    Medieval guild for Goldsmith Trade The Worshipful Company of Goldsmiths, also known as the Goldsmiths’ Company, is one of London’s Great Twelve Livery Companies. It is correctly known as The Wardens and Commonalty of the Mystery of Goldsmiths of the City of London. The Company’s headquarters are located in the City of London’s Goldsmiths’ Hall. Read More →

Index: abc | def | ghi | jkl | mno | pqr | stu | vwx | yz

❤️ Receive our newsletter

Comments are closed, but trackbacks and pingbacks are open.