Did you see the New York Times article published last weekend entitled, “Why Won’t Midcentury Modern Die?” The same question has hit me in recent weeks. Can it possibly still be in? Shouldn’t something else be coming next? Reading the article, however, I realized that this is the wrong question, and I also felt the article didn’t fully explain the reasons I was seeing for the persistence in Midcentury styles. Here they are from our studio’s perspective.
We use Midcentury furnishings regularly because our clients love them and insist on it! In many cases clients already own several DWR standards they want to incorporate, and name aside, these pieces are sizable investments that clients want to keep. They bought these things when they were younger, living in the city, and they want to hold on to the associations and vibe.
To most people, Midcentury modern still looks…well, MODERN! With a capital M. What the NY Times article doesn’t draw out is that most people still grew up in houses with far more traditional pieces, and outside of the urban center, mid-century modern can still feel new and fresh. As a suburban Gen X-er, I can say that it still feels stylish to me when I think of the floral chintz, turned wood legs, and sea foam green I grew up with! My contemporaries continue to see midcentury styles as a way to define themselves against the norm.
Midcentury modern styles can be less expensive to produce, and were designed to be democratic. The NY Times article mentioned this, but I think we should be totally clear on the point. Injection molded plastics and other new production techniques made production more cost-effective, and that continues to be a big draw today. These pieces occupy the same aesthetic space the iPhone does, they just happen to have been invented earlier. The iPhone is not going out of style. It is a necessary tool and accessory of contemporary life. That brings me to this.
Midcentury modern style is now firmly in the realm of classic and it is a permanent tool in a designer’s toolkit. All the pieces of furniture we use in a design signify something that we want to convey. I turn to classic English styles when I want to signify good taste and the comforts of an upper crust lifestyle. Italian when you want to signify precision, luxury, and glamour. Indian and Moroccan when you want to signify a global pedigree or relaxed, bohemian look. If we want to convey forward thinking, or the reinvention and updating of a traditional space, we still turn to midcentury modern. In some ways, technology and how we live is just catching up to these forward thinking styles, and they often feel totally appropriate to how we live now.
What’s next? As the article points out, Saarinen tables and Womb chairs are common, but so is a Chesterfield sofa or a traditional carpet. My guess is that we will no longer think of it as remarkable. Plus, there are many midcentury styles and designers that are less prevalent. I think we will see people on the cutting edge mining for less ubiquitous styles from this era. Finally, by recasting midcentury pieces with other styles into the truly eclectic looks of today, and working with new color palettes, we escape the realm of retro, and continue to reference the new, fresh, and forward thinking.