The History of Mid Century Modern Chairs
Styylish doesn’t only deal in antiques! Our catalog also includes many mid century or mid century modern furniture items, in this case chairs. For those that don’t know, “mid century” refers to the middle of the 20th century. The mid century modern movement was catalyzed by the influx of Bauhaus architects and designers who came to America post-World War II as a result of economic downturns in Germany.
This period is known for its simplicity and functionality in design, and lasted roughly until the 1960s or 1970s, depending on who you ask. That said, the immortal aesthetic of the style continues to appeal to many homeowners today!
After WWII, there was a massive growth of cities and suburbs in the U.S. (hence the “boomer” generation). The middle class grew prosperous like never before, and coupled with that growth and prosperity came a demand for modern furnishings for modern homes. Everything from bathroom vanities to floor lamps to home offices to outdoor furniture to kitchen appliances took on new shape and form. At the same time, technological advances led to the production and development of a range of new materials making it possible to explore new textures and effects, colors, and even new forms in home decor.
Characteristics of the Mid Century Style
The distinguishing features of chairs in the midcentury modern style are classic, understated look, coupled with clean lines and minimal ornamentation. The mid century modern style features a dedication to comfort and practicality unlike any that came before it. Unlike other design movements, mid century modern decor features a style where form follows function, with a focus on material construction. Some other principles commonly found in this style include:
- Uncluttered , Sleek lines
- Sparse Ornamentation
- Organic and Geometric Form
- Juxtaposition of Traditional and Non- Traditional Materials
This period also saw widespread use of plastic, for the first time for its own qualities rather than in imitation of wooden furniture. We also see wood commonly used in this period as well, in addition to a wide range of non-traditional materials such as metal, plywood, vinyl, glass, Plexiglass, and Lucite. A diverse color palette, spanning ranges from neutral to bold, was also in use.
There are several Mid-century Modern designers of note, and pieces designed by them have continued to inspire designers who came after.
A list of the more famous designers of this period include:
- George Nelson
- Folke Ohlsson
- Edward Wormley
- Eero Saarinen
- Harry Bertoia
- Arne Jacobsen
- Charles and Ray Eames
- Eileen Gray
- Isamu Noguchi
- Verner Panton
- Jens Risom
- Alexander Girard
Mid Century Modern Designers We Carry at Styylish
Swedish designer Folke Ohlsson was a fixture in the mid century modern style. His aesthetic incorporated heavy use of teak and was emblematic of Scandinavian modernism. With him he brought Dux Incorporated, Sweden’s largest upholstered furniture manufacturer, which quickly garnered fame in the US. It became especially popular for the “knock-down” chair, which inspired over a hundred furniture designers.
Ohlsson’s armchairs and sofas were extremely popular in the 50s and 60s and are highly prized today, noted for an elegant blend of traditional detail and modern simplicity. We have a Modern Lounge Chair from Ohlsson here at Styylish, too.
Charles and Ray Eames
American couple Charles and Ray Eames were other well-known mid century modern designers particularly famous for their chairs. Their Eames Office came out with the iconic Eames Lounge Chair and Eames Dining Chair.
An Eames LCW (Lounge Chair Wood) chair, constructed in birch laminated plywood, is actually available on Styylish! The Eameses pioneered many cutting-edge technologies, such as using fiberglass as a material for mass-produced furniture. Many of their works are currently on display at museums.
Kaare Klint was a Danish architect and furniture designer, known as the father of modern Danish furniture design. Although Klint was dead by 1954, long before the mid century modern style hit its heyday, his clean, pure lines and the use of top-quality materials and superb craftsmanship carried profound influence in the style as a whole.
Like most Danish designers at the time, Illum Wikkelsø (1919-1999) studied cabinetry, graduating from the Copenhagen School of Arts & Crafts. Subsequently, he began designing his own furniture in 1954 and, a few years later, established a workshop. Like many of his Danish contemporaries—Arne Jacobsen, Fritz Hansen, Finn Juhl, and Hans Wegner, for example—Wikkelsø’s designs emphasize formal simplicity and biomorphic silhouettes.
Wikkelsø’s background in cabinetry engendered in him a profound understanding of materials and an excellent attention to detail. Working with teak and rosewood, he captured delicate sculptural forms. Wikkelsø believed that furniture should be built to last, all while cradling the body and pleasing the eye. He designed numerous mid century modern chair models.
After serving an apprenticeship, Danish designer Hans Wegner studied at the Copenhagen Institute of Technology from 1936-38, and later at the city’s School of Arts and Crafts. From 1940 on he worked with Erik Moeller and Arne Jacobsen, and in 1946 he established his own studio.
Throughout his career, his main focus lay on the design of solid wood chairs. Consequently, he created some of the most iconic chairs of the 20th century. His trend setting designs were manufactured by companies such as Fritz Hansen.
Read on for our in-depth Buying Guide to Styylish Mid Century Chairs, as well as our expert Design Tips!
Buying Guide: Our Selected Antique Chairs
Mid Century Modern Lounge Chair by Folke Ohlsson 1950 – $2,600
This iconic mid century modern lounge chair by Folke Ohlsson has a teak wood frame and dates to the 1950s. This modern, low-profile slat back lounge chair features two newly upholstered cushions, each covered with a silver-grey Maharam fabric. This striking chair has wonderful lines and a dramatic low profile, providing generous width. It is extremely comfortable, too.
This mid century modern lounge chair is in excellent condition, and the wooden frame has its original patina. The chair measures 24” H x 28” W x 28” D. Seat Height: 16”.
Eames LCW Chair, USA 1960 – $1,900
This iconic Eames LCW (Lounge Chair Wood) chair comes in birch laminated plywood. The seat rests on two U-shaped plywood base pieces, each forming a pair of legs. A “lumbar support” piece attaches the seat to the back. The lumbar support copies the curving of the human spine for maximum comfort.
The Eameses used shock rubber discs, called shock mounts, to attach the back and seat to the lumbar support and base. These made the chair more flexible and natural. This was the first time that a responsive backrest was used in the history of chair design.
The chair is in good original condition with a nice patina and expected wear. The chair measures 28.75” H x 19.3” W x 20.87” D. Seat Height: 17.33”.
Midcentury Chair, USA 1970, Bentwood – $1,500
The chair is in original condition and shows signs of wear on the black velvet fabric. The unique Bentwood armrests are the highlight of this piece, and this armchair can give any living space a modern accent. You can use it as a lounge chair or in a reading nook as a comfortable accent piece.
The chair is in good original condition with some wear. The chair measures 29” H x 24.5” W x 31” D. Seat Height: 17”.
Mid Century Safari Armchairs by Kaare Klint – $4,100
This mid century armchair by the Danish designer Kaare Klint comes in a pair. The original designs for these so-called “Safari Chairs” date back to 1933. The exposed teak frame uses the support of dowel rods, slung leather, and brass buckled straps.
Meanwhile, the backrest swivels for added comfort. The beautiful original black leather is perfectly patinated.
Klint designed this arm chair after chair models being used by Americans or Britons on African safaris. “Campaign furniture,” the style of furniture used by traveling armies since Greco-Roman times, was the inspiration for these safari pieces. Campaign furniture needed to be easily broken down, lightweight, and easy to reassemble. It was flatpack before Ikea, and the practicality and simplicity of the genre captured Klint’s imagination.
The chairs measure 32” H x 23” W x 23.5” D Seat Height: 13”. Both are in good vintage condition with a nice patina and a rustic and organic look. The chairs ship from Germany and include shipping costs to Boston.
Mid Century Modern Chair by Illum Wikkelsø – $4,000
Wikkelsø designed this mid century modern chair for Mikael Laursen. It was made in Denmark in the late 1950s. This chair features a cognac colored leather seat attached to a teak frame. All told, it offers a very comfortable seating experience.
This chair measures 28.75” H x 27.17” W x 27.96” D. Seat Height: 14.18”. Arm Height: 19.25”. The sling chair is in original, good vintage condition and ships from Germany. It includes shipping costs to Boston.
Hans Wegner Shell Chair, FH 1936 for Fritz Hansen –
Far from a typical club chair or other superfluous seat, this iconic Hans Wegner shell chair revels in simplicity, with two bent plywood shells on a beech wood base, along with a large bent teak laminated back support and a seat of almost the same dimension. Wegner originally designed this high quality chair in 1948.
This mid century chair is in very good original condition. It has a beautiful original patina and measures 27” H x 27.6” W x 20.5” D.
Decorating with Mid Century Modern Chairs
The everlasting appeal of the mid century modern style overall is based on a mixture of factors. This style gave us a lot to work with, from clean lines and gentle organic curves to a love for a vast number of materials and designers that inspire still today!
Mid century modern design is great for those looking to add authentic vintage styling in their home without going all out into the antique space. Mid century modern aesthetic can bring a touch of elegance to any space, with restraint and clean, simple lines. Not only do mid century modern pieces possess charming designs, they’re also usually quite practical and durable. As a result, this period allows for more freedom and is less restricting than many traditional interior design schemes and aesthetics.
General Mid Century Modern Design Tips
- Keep your rooms structured, practical, and do away with the superfluous
- Minor, restrained design flourishes go a long way
- Take advantage of natural elements in a room, such as wood paneling and exposed beams to bring the outdoors in.
- Use abstract prints, patterns, and other art which is unconstrained by typical cultural references
- Have fun with your design and above all, keep it relaxed and simple, that’s what mid century modern is all about.
As a whole, mid century modern room furniture adapts well to the smallest of rooms. Meanwhile, its practicality and durability make mid century modern chairs perfect for families.
Clean lines and muted colors prevail. All told, bringing mid century design home to your space is pretty easy, thanks to the general gender-neutral look. Use contrasting textures to add a bit more personality to your space.
Like we say with any chairs, any chair with a strong silhouette, scale, or color that makes an impact and elevates the space will be an excellent addition in an entrance hall or in front of a window. It’s also just a great way to add a little bit of drama to a room. Larger chairs are great for adding height and a distinctive silhouette, too.
As a contrast to your chairs, it can be a great idea to hang a modern piece of art in your space. This harmonious pairing can actually enhance the distinct characteristics of both the chairs in your space, in living rooms, for example, and the painting itself. Another way to accent your antique chairs is to bring a rug into the space. The fine blend of materials, bright, elaborate colors, and specific traditional patterns often seen in antique rugs will complement your chairs well.
Don’t Box Yourself In
Remember, styling you choose to do with a specific space really depends on the chair you purchase. Each piece carries a different aesthetic or aura, and adds a different feel to every space it’s placed in. So once you see a chair you like, contact us and we can help you figure out how to best place it in your home!
Head to our shop to start your search, and reach out if you have any questions! We’re confident we can help you find the perfect antique chair for your space here at Styylish.