What is an easy way to spot Mid Century Modern Design?

Mid Century Modern House
W. Hertzberger - fabric design for Turnbull & StockdaleNoguchi Table

How to Spot Mid Century Modern Designs

Look at both sides of this simple “Mid Century Modern Shapes” chart and compare forms with images and products displayed in the table above it.

Do you see how the images would fall into the geometric column or the organic column?  Or maybe even both?

Great!  you’ve just made your first assessment of what Mid Century Modern design can look like!

Creative designers of this era used (and also freely mixed) geometric + organic shapes and forms from nature to create something never before seen.

The use of high contrast of shapes and colors were intended to command your attention.

Modern Colors: the drab of postwar USA comes alive with burnt orange, aqua, olive green, deep reds, bright blues & purples laying together with the polar opposite from Organic colors.

Organic Colors: (dark browns, tans, autumn gold, beet red, shades of citrus) appearing on the most unexpected objects & in the most unusual places.

Textures & Shapes:  Striking forms seem to appear – Jacks and ball, starbursts, asterisks, citrus fibers, fruit slices, leaves veins & blades, parchment lamps, plastics, molded plywood chairs, tapered furniture wood legs, blobs, boomerangs, abstract shapes, textile designs and popular woods (Oak, Teak, Rosewood, Walnut, Beech, Northern Yellow Birch).

The Jetsons - The Verge

The Jetsons – Hanna Barbera Cartoon (1962)

Space Age Design: You may have already noticed electron orbital shapes, atomic symbols, satellite antennae (Sputnik), clear bubble space helmets, flying saucers and outer space elements in Mid Century Designs.

They simply reflected an age of the USA / USSR space race and living with the Atomic Bomb threat looming over both adversaries.  The Cold War.

Modernism (dutiful to expressing stylistic changes in society) will absorb these blinking spacey orbiting creations and they WILL be seen in textiles, fashion, Mid Century table lamps, album covers, TV commercials, musical composition,  automobile and graphic designs.

Perfect for this modern world of the 50s & 60s.  Its the beginning of  “The Jetsons” futuristic look.  (Hanna – Barbera) – cartoon – 1962-1963.  Many times I’ve heard “It looks just like the Jetsons!” referring to mid-century modern design.

Organic elements of nature were fundamental in mid-century designs, especially in architecture.  Architects would design buildings owing their style to integration with natural surroundings. A prime example would be Frank Lloyd Wright’s creation Fallingwater

Fallingwater - Frank Lloyd Wright

This was his masterpiece of “organic architecture”.  Constructed over a waterfall that actually runs under the house, it truly reflects one of the cornerstones of Mid Century Modern Design – bringing the outdoors and indoors together.  

Designers were making a statement with new forms, colors, and designs to meet the needs of this modern highly industrialized post-war world. 

If you are new to Mid-Century Modern, my desire is that this section helps you see “why” things look like they do and “how” they came about from this modernist period.  Maybe you’ll recognize the style that’s influenced a great many things in your current daily life.








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