In the late 1990s, when midcentury modern furniture was making a comeback, interior designer Brad Dunning and his friends would excitedly call each other whenever they spotted an Eames bubchair or another recognizable piece on television. Now, if they did that, they would never get off the phone.
Midcentury modern is “not even a trend anymore – it’s the dominant aesthetic,” said Dunning, who curated an exhibit last year on modern chairs for the Palm Springs Art Museum in California. “It’s either fascinating or depressing that we haven’t replaced (it) with anything better. But it is a marker that those designs were so strong that they have lasted this long.”
Though the label gets thrown around even when describing brand-new items (the “Petrie Midcentury Sofa” at Crate & Barrel, for instance), in its truest sense, midcentury modern refers to furnishings designed from the late 1940s into the 1970s. Its clean lines and modest proportions often translate to timelessness, offering one clue about why midcentury modernism seems like it will never die. But its staying power is mostly thanks to its founding principle: high-minded design that’s also functional and widely accessible – an ethos that has propelled the style not only through time but from showrooms and living rooms into American pop culture.
When it first came into fashion, midcentury modernism supplanted Colonial-revival and other fussier, traditional styles that dominated before World War II. “Midcentury modern designers were trying to get back to the core of what an object is and what it’s supposed to do,” said Katherine White, curator of design at the Henry Ford Museum of American Innovation near Detroit. Rather than mimicking preexisting styles, they made “foundational changes” to what furniture could be, she explains. The result: pieces that were affordable, high-quality and scaled for city apartments and
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