A brief history of Mid Century & Danish Modern design:
Mid Century Modern describes an era of design that began around the mid-1940s and continued though the 1970s. At Vintage Modern Maine, we tend to focus on Scandinavian design and the American design influenced by it, although we are also interested in other forms of Modern design.
Danish Modern is the general term used to describe the Scandinavian influence. This design movement emerged in the late 1940s and 1950s and was characterized by simplicity, minimalism, an appreciation for the beauty of nature, and functionality. The idea that beautiful and functional everyday objects should be affordable not just to the wealthy, but to all citizens, is a core theme in post-WWII Scandinavian design. Mid-century Scandinavian housewares such as bowls, flatware and glassware are as beautiful and functional as the gorgeous furniture produced at the time.
Earlier in the century Danish designer Kaare Klint's furniture designs -influenced by the Bauhaus movement- combined classical furniture craftsmanship with a careful understanding of materials and the ergonomics of the human body. Soon other designers and cabinetmakers such as Hans Wegner, Borge Mogensen, Arne Vodder and Kai Kristiansen followed suit. In their simple, elegant furniture, mostly crafted of beautiful woods with minimal finishes, you can see the influence of the American Shaker furniture and Japanese design. The furniture is minimalist without being stark: decorative elements are often organic, sculptural and influenced by nature. The beauty of the wood itself is celebrated. A hallmark of Scandinavian design is also the functionality: pieces tend to incorporate careful thought about the proportions of the human body and are designed with multiple uses or as a modular system to be arranged in many configurations.
These ideas proved very popular, and Danish furniture thrived in the 1940s, 50s, and 60s. Demand grew and soon small cabinetmakers expanded to larger-scale production which still involved a very high level hand work by skilled cabinetmakers. Designers such as Finn Juhl contributed to the style's success, especially in the United States. Some of his designs were produced by the high-end American manufacturer Baker Furniture in the 1950s, and soon mass-market American furniture companies like Lane and Broyhill debuted their own lines based on the Danish aesthetic.
Meanwhile, in the United States, modernism was also taking off. Mid Century Modern describes an offshoot of Modern design characterized by the casual furnishings and carefree look of Eichler tract homes in suburban California during the fifties. Many of its chief designers - such as Charles and Ray Eames - were concerned, like the Scandinavians, with making sure that their work was affordable to the average homeowner. Innovative techniques including molding plywood and creating furniture from new plastics were used, and many of the designs of the era are now iconic. Herman Miller produced plywood, fiberglass, and wire-mesh chairs for Eames, as well as modular furniture for home and office by George Nelson. Knoll made sculptural wire chairs for Harry Bertoia and the famous tulip-shaped tables and chairs for Eero Saarinen. The designs were much admired and soon copied by more mass-market American manufacturers.