Mid-century modern is an architectural, interior, product and graphic design that generally describes mid-20th century developments in modern design, architecture and urban development from roughly 1933 to 1965. The term, employed as a style descriptor as early as the mid-1950s, was reaffirmed in 1983 by Cara Greenberg in the title of her book, Mid-Century Modern: Furniture of the 1950s (Random House), celebrating the style that is now recognized by scholars and museums worldwide as a significant design movement.
Modern furniture refers to furniture produced from the late 19th century through the present that is influenced by modernism. Post-World War II ideals of cutting excess, commodification, and practicality of materials in design heavily influenced the aesthetic of the furniture. It was a tremendous departure from all furniture design that had gone before it. There was an opposition to the decorative arts, which included Art Nouveau, Neoclassical, and Victorian styles. Dark or gilded carved wood and richly patterned fabrics from the gave way to the glittering simplicity and geometry of polished metal. The forms of furniture evolved from visually heavy to visually light. This shift from decorative to minimalist principles of design can be attributed to the introduction of new technology, changes in philosophy, and the influences of the principles of architecture. As Philip Johnson, the founder of the Department of Architecture and Design at the Museum of Modern Art articulates:
“Today industrial design is functionally motivated and follows the same principles as modern architecture: machine-like simplicity, smoothness of surface, avoidance of ornament…. It is perhaps the most fundamental contrast between the two periods of design that in 1900 the Decorative Arts possessed…”
With the machine aesthetic, modern furniture easily came to promote factory modules, which emphasized the time-managing, efficient ideals of the period. Modernist design was able to strip down decorative elements and focus on the design of the object in order to save time, money, material, and labor. The goal of modern design was to capture timeless beauty in spare precision.