Home > Articles > A Guide To Mid-Century Modern vs Contemporary Furniture Design

A Guide To Mid-Century Modern vs Contemporary Furniture Design

While contemporary furniture design embodies many of the same aesthetic qualities as mid-century, there are some subtle, yet very important differences. Design aesthetics have changed both gradually and rapidly at different points in time and even though some experienced a quick departure, there is often still a lasting impact on creators.

In the middle of the twentieth century (roughly from 1933 through 1965) there was a massive shift towards a specific aesthetic that we now refer to as mid-century. This style was developed through the exploration and contributions of countless designers and has had a lasting impact on the aesthetics embraced by contemporary designers, artists, and architects.

To truly understand contemporary style you must first understand the development of mid-century aesthetics, the influence of industry on design and manufacturing, and the opportunism that impacted the creations of people such as Walter Lamb- a pioneer of outdoor furniture design. We all know how beautiful the forms, curves, and lines are in contemporary furniture, but to understand the history, subtle differences, and vast similarities serves only to enhance one’s appreciation of this beautiful style and the countless contributions that it was born of.

We aim to educate readers about the differences between mid-century and modern design, provide a bit of history, and provide some enlightening information as to how these two have melded into a singular cohesive style that is largely embraced in contemporary decor. Looking for some great ways to infuse mid-century design into your home or office? We have some inspiring ideas and techniques to help you breathe new life into the aesthetic of your home.

Is Mid-Century Traditional or Contemporary?

There are a variety of different forms and styles that surfaced during the mid-century. Designers were exploring their options and experimenting with brutalism, surrealism and other styles that embraced aspects of more traditional architecture. In the 1970’s an architect and visionary by the name of Le Corbusier began to dabble in building structures that threw the aesthetic of the time to the wind. Le understood that the only path to progress was through embracing the past. If he were to simply develop his ideas based on the buildings being seen at the time, modern art might have missed one of its most influential stylistic developments.

Brutalism is most certainly a form of mid-century art and has had a massive influence on contemporary designers yet this style was developed from the influence of gothic architecture. In the 12th century architects were not designing buildings that were meant to be soothing, or even beautiful in the traditional sense of the word. These buildings consisted of pointed spires, sharp edges, and had depictions of demons and gargoyles all over them.

This style is a fantastic representation of how a forward-thinking style can reflect centuries old aspects of traditional design aesthetic. Brutalism is a style that is far removed from the aesthetic of the time in which it became prominent and helps us to understand that even though you may not readily see the influence of traditional design in mid-century or contemporary presentations, it does in-fact exist in both.

The term “mid-century” refers specifically to the style of design that was present in the middle of the twentieth century. “Contemporary” design refers to pieces that are currently being made and those that will be in the near future. Though these terms refer to two different styles there are many contemporary designers who embrace the mid-century style and even those who don’t deliberately work in the mid-century style can’t help but be influenced by it. Being that much of the mid-century aesthetic is built on variations of traditional design, it is safe to say that they exist as a whole, even though you should use the different terms for the sake of easy communication.

Albero mid-century modern table

Albero mid-century modern dining table

What is Mid-Century Modern?

Mid-century modern is a fairly difficult thing to define because it encompasses such a broad variety of different styles. We see it everywhere and though we can usually spot mid-century modern pieces such as the classic lounge chairs by Charles Eames or the free-edge countertops popularized by George Nakashima, articulating exactly what makes them fit into the category of mid-century modern is a challenge in and of itself.

Although it is hard to pinpoint all of the contributing factors that would categorize a piece as mid-century modern, there are some distinct design aspects that this incredibly popular style is defined by. Chairs in the mid-century modern style will typically have muted colors, flared backs, and a minimal but elegant over-all form. Mid-century modern is all about smooth lines, beautiful yet subtle color schemes, and a touch of minimalism coupled with functionality.

Massimo rose gold dining chair

Massimo rose gold contemporary dining chair

What is Contemporary?

Contemporary is a term that refers to anything being designed with the aesthetic of the time in which it is made. What is considered contemporary now will one day be defined as early 21st century design.

Pieces that are currently referred to as contemporary tend to embrace aspects of mid-century and naturalist design styles. The design world is undergoing a large shift away from industrialism and turning to the natural world for inspiration and materials.

High-end mass-produced furniture, though very much a part of the mid-century practice, is quickly becoming antiquated and people are becoming more and more interested in having unique pieces that are either one-of-a-kind or part of a small-batch production.

How to Infuse Mid-Century Design in the House

Our homes are a representation of our personalities and our own personal style. When you walk into someone’s home you quickly get a feel for their aesthetic and the amount of effort they are willing to invest in beauty. Many people hire decorators to use their experienced eye to help them shape their house into a home that perfectly represents their sense of style.

Though it is a fantastic option, you don’t always need to pay top dollar for a decorator to infuse the distinct elegance of mid-century style into your home. With a bit of research and a little effort you can turn your house from traditional drab to mid-century fab in no time.

It is highly recommended that you spend time reading design magazines and doing some online window shopping. Consider the elements that make up the current aesthetic of your home and find pieces that are complementary. You don’t have to get rid of all of your own furniture if you take them into consideration when infusing mid-century in your home with the mid-century style. If you take the time to curate the furniture in your home’s design, you will end up with a unique dwelling that perfectly represents your personal taste and style.

Share this:
George Nakshima's Influence On Contemporary Furniture Go to all posts