What’s it about midcentury modern design that has so a lot people in a decorating tizzy? In this electronic age of innovation and technology, why are we scouring flea markets, antiques shops and the Internet seeking pieces that were designed 50 to 60 decades ago?
Eames, Noguchi, Nelson — these designers’ pieces are dominating our living rooms. I mean, my dad has been 7 years old if the Eames Lounge Chair arrived out. And among the most gracious compliments we could ever expect to receive is, “I could completely see Don Draper kicking back in your couch!” “Really? Thank you!”
There are countless shops and websites devoted specifically to midcentury modern tastes. Everyone knows someone with a narrative about an incredible find on Craigslist or eBay. Believe it or not, baby boomers must get much of the credit for your recent decorating frenzy. Andrea Hsu wrote this for National Public Radio: “Following World War II, home ownership jumped. Individuals who bought homes in the 1950s and ’60s would now be in their 70s and 80s. Many no longer desire or need houses filled with furniture.”
This has caused a flood in the marketplace of midcentury modern furnishings. With so much inventory available, everybody from the nostalgic children of these boomers to their own twentysomething grandkids is adopting the style. But in addition, there are emotional reasons for the popularity — and you can partially thank Apple for them.
Daniel Sheehan Photography
The ’50s and ’60s Were Sexy Times
I can imagine that it may be frustrating for some people to look about and see that modern furniture and architecture seem to have picked up just where minimalism left off in the 1950s.
“Why these apparent paralysis?” Asks Gord Peteran, a professor of design at OCAD University in Toronto. “It is true: Design mags are full of white, white rooms; walls of glass; white leather seats in spite of postwar metal wire legs. Why Las Vegas pallet curvilinear minimal contemporary — again?”
He continues, “Every period throughout history was partially influenced by history. Humans tend to paint a cozy picture of the past, as a result of our convenient capability to edit. Every new generation must maintain the world as theirs. Beginning with their genesis. And it has ever been considered sophisticated to collect antiques. The Egyptians did it ; the Victorians did it; the thirtysomethings do it. This historic foundation provides the courage to take little steps to the brand new, which actually terrifies us. Notably for the generation that missed it, 1960 seems to be an exciting, sexy moment. Notice the popularity of everything from Star Trek to Superman.”
Simple Times Call for Simple Designs
OK, so since the dawn of human civilization, We’ve looked to the past for inspiration. But that doesn’t explain an obsession over midcentury modern rather than, say, whatever was going on in the 1980s. Or more folks do not have Sphinxes in front of their homes.
Peteran points out that both the Bauhaus and the midcentury modern movements came about following two major world wars. “No cash, no substances, accelerated rebuilding requirements — practical reasons that lead to a sophisticated use of minimal funds,” he states.
In other words, tough times create innovative designs from necessity. Throughout the 1950s much of the planet was depleted financially and emotionally. But spirits were high. Good seemed to have triumphed over bad, and also the opportunity to pave a new way of life presented itself. The layouts that came about were straightforward and so timeless. There was “also an emotional rebellion to the decoration that was prevalent at the moment,” Peteran states.
In light of the tough economic years many countries have experienced just recently, many individuals have simplified their lives — much like folks did after World War II. That’s why fuss-free midcentury layouts have made a strong comeback (and why the DIY movement is so strong).
Nostalgia Is Good for You
But there’s more to our obsession with all midcentury modern fashion than just a return to minimalist requirement. A lot of our preference for some style comes from a spot within our heads where we do not even realize it’s happening.
Nostalgia plays a big part in how we build our lives and the things we choose to surround ourselves with. And, surprise, this atmosphere tends to kick into overdrive right around middle age. So for those people who grew up in homes with midcentury modern furnishings, that may have a big effect on their style choices today.
“Individuals start to reflect in their younger days with nostalgia, which entails a longing for the lost past,” states Fred Bryant, a psychology professor at Loyola University in Chicago who has done a comprehensive study on nostalgia. “My work on reminiscence for a form of past-focused savoring suggests this nostalgia reconnects people with their roots and strengthens their sense of personal individuality, frequently at a time when life circumstances make them wonder who they are and that they’re getting.”
Tracy Stone AIA
While this overpowering sense can manifest itself in someone’s choosing a Hans Wegner chair above a beanbag, furniture choice is also a way of coping with current realities.
“Furniture and home decor that reflect an idealized vision of one’s early days could also offer relaxation and a sense of security and connection in uncertain times,” Bryant says. “Having mementos from the past in one’s immediate environment re-creates the past and physically, not just mentally. And these concrete representations of the precious past remind us of who we are, keep the past alive in today’s evoke warm and positive feelings from simpler times, and provide a source of stability and security in a turbulent and unpredictable universe.”
So your midcentury obsession is actually a healthy activity. (make sure you tell your partner the next time you are browsing online for a different Noguchi coffee table.)
The Apple Effect
Even for those who can’t remember the age, midcentury modern design has intrinsic value that our iPhone-saturated minds may nevertheless appreciate. You may thank Apple in more ways than you. To begin with, having so much information at our fingertips — a habit that Apple engendered — causes us to look for refuge in less-chaotic things.
“Minimalist sensibility is in fashion again, in part due to this romantic notion of yesteryear,” states Peteran. “However, I guess, also due to a different kind of rebellion — a desire for something easier, probably in response to our fast paced, multitasking, overinformed, feverish, fractured, ethernet-driven lives.”
However, paradoxically, Apple’s slick, minimalist merchandise layouts also have helped influence the yearning for more compact products, particularly among the younger generations. “They love the simplicity and beauty of design found in Apple,” says Rochelle Kramer, a Realtor who specializes in midcentury modern houses. “It is the exact same appreciation for design found in midcentury modern.”
Architect Steven Randel agrees. “If you think about how Apple nearly vanished in the mid-1990s, then look at their increase to current trend dominance, then you can see a correlation,” he states. “Everything about Apple is beautiful, efficient and contemporary, with an intuitive advantage. These are all the marks of the concept established by the arrival of modernism from the early 20th century.”
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