MidCentury Modern Chairs

Anyone who frequently browses Etsy or searches through high-end secondhand shops is familiar with the charming allure of midcentury modern furniture. Designed with an emphasis on simplicity and efficiency yet remarkably appealing to the eye, midcentury modern is a favorite style of collectors, homeowners and design connoisseurs everywhere.  

A wide and cozy cushioned chair

A wide and cozy cushioned chair

While each piece may have its own quirky and defining qualities, there are a few key characteristics that you’ll find all mid-century furniture shares. When looking at a group of chairs designed in the mid-century style, for example, you’ll see that there are certain shapes and materials which appear and reappear throughout different piece of furniture. For those of you hoping to learn more about everybody’s favorite style, we’ve outlined a short guide to the philosophy and characteristics of mid-century modern chair design.

A Simple Ideology

As you can tell from the name, mid-century modern was most popular during the time period between 1940 and 1970, having developed out of the modernist tradition. Its practitioners, like Le Corbusier, George Nelson and the Eameses, all strove to design upscale furniture that the average person could afford. They hoped that their chairs, tables and other pieces would meet the needs of the masses and thus designed their work with an emphasis on efficiency and functionality. As Charles and Ray Eames, two of the movement's most famous designers, put it, the goal of mid-century modern design was, “Getting the most of the best to the greatest number of people for the least amount of money.”

Two simply elegant wooden chairs

Two simply elegant wooden chairs

For this reason, we often find mid-century modern chairs to be sparsely designed yet wonderfully functional. Unlike many other design styles, mid-century modern is often based in the reduction of material to the bare necessities.  

Two mini Papasans with cushions—an updated take on a classic mid-century design

Two mini Papasans with cushions—an updated take on a classic mid-century design

The Materials and Style 

Although their work may seem tame today, mid-century designers were wildly experimental with the tools and materials available during their lifetime. They saw the ability to use metal, glass, plastic and plywood as a wonderful opportunity to contribute to the language of design. Because these materials were readily available and mass-produced, the designers found them to be the perfect staples in a movement centered around democratic design.  

Classic mid-century modern kitchen set designed to be efficiently stacked

Classic mid-century modern kitchen set designed to be efficiently stacked

When looking at mid-century modern chairs, we find that these materials are used in the construction of two distinct styles. On the one hand, we have chairs that are built to look handmade. Although produced in factories, these chairs maintain the look of classically handcrafted furniture. Instead of being intricately sanded over and detailed, however, this handmade look maintains the mid-century modernist aesthetic of simplicity, often combining only five or six pieces of wood to make an elegant piece of furniture.

These mid-century modern chairs provide a handmade look that the public can afford

These mid-century modern chairs provide a handmade look that the public can afford

On the other hand, many mid-century modern chairs are designed with a biomorphic quality to them. While they are built from wood or metal, their aesthetic seems to refer to organic shapes found in nature or on the human body. Similar to the mid-century chairs with a handmade look, these biomorphic pieces maintain an attention to the user. It is no surprise the the style has persisted for so long.