Welcome to the visual companion to the third episode of The Render. The Render is a podcast hosted by Modsy’s very own Alessandra Wood and Maddy Warner, and is all about the untold stories from the world of interior design.

In our third episode, Maddy and Alessandra are joined by special guest and Mid-Century Modern expert, Lark Morgenstern, as they unpack why the world is so obsessed with Mid-Century Modern design.

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The Render is available on Apple Podcasts, Spotify, or wherever you listen to your podcasts!

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If your dreams are filled with Shell chairs and Tulip tables, you’re probably a lover of Mid-Century Modern design. But even if the sight of an Eames lounge chair makes you roll your eyes, there’s no denying that this style has dominated the interior design landscape for the past 50 years. Why is the world so obsessed with Mid-Century Modern design?

Today, we’ll be joined by an expert in Mid-Century Modern design, Lark Morgenstern from 1st Dibs, to unpack the answer to that question. We’ll talk about the style’s rise to popularity, its resurgence in the 90s, some designers to know (beyond the Eames), where the trend is heading in the future, and we even get into the surprising connection between the Playboy mansion and Mid-Century Modern design.

Brazillian Mid-Century Design

Some amazing mid-century furniture designs came out of Brazil in the 1950s and 60s.

A part of furniture and design history that doesn’t get studied or celebrated as much in popular culture. But right now, Brazillian mid-century designs are having a moment in the spotlight.

Paulistano Chair

Alessandra is a proud owner of this baby.

The Dawn of Modernism

If you’ve studied design history or even know a little about furniture, you’ve likely heard the terms “Scandinavian design” or “Danish design” tossed around in conversations about interior design. But what exactly is Scandinavian or Danish design and how do these styles fit into the larger Mid-Century Modern story?

Scandinavian Design

What Lark calls a “self-created concept,” Scandinavian design really launched onto the design scene in the mid-50 with the 1954 Design in Scandinavia exhibition. This was a beautiful exhibit where designers from all over the Scandinavian countries showcased their work, and it toured the United States for three years.

1954 Design in Scandinavia exhibition

While this exhibit was touring, we were also in the middle of the Mid-Century Modern boom in the US. American consumers, who were already primed to be partial to notions of “good design,” loved their work and snapped these pieces up.

Learn more about the Mid-Century notion of “Good Design” in Episode 1 of The Render.

Scandinavian vs. Mid-Century Modern Design

While both styles fall under the larger umbrella of modernism, there are some subtle differences between Scandinavian and Mid-Century Modern design. More like close cousins than siblings, these styles are both very focused on geometric forms and came on to the scene at the same time.

Mid-Century Modern design focused on the use of new materials like plastics, fiberglass, wire, and aluminum. By contrast, Scandinavian design took a much more organic approach to the same modernist principles. These designs feature more natural materials like wood, specifically birch and ash varieties, which are native to the area. Scandinavian design also tends to be softer, and references the organic forms found in nature.

 

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Alvar Aalto Savoy Vase

An iconic Finnish design, the Savoy vase is a glass vessel with an organic, amoeba-like shape.

 

Cranbrook Academy of the Arts

How did Scandinavian design influence American mid-century design?

Of course, design doesn’t happen in a vacuum. And in fact, designers from these different movements were looking at each other’s work and there was some “cross-pollination” between their schools of thought.

So many of the designers that we associate with the movement—think Charles and Ray Eames, Harry Bertoia, Eero Saarinen, and George Nelson—studied at Cranbrook Academy of the Arts. This was a school founded by Eliel Saarinen (Eero Saarinen’s father) who was the school’s architect and president.

As such, a lot of the Scandinavian design principles trickled down through that and influenced many of these Mid-Century designers and is one of the reasons we think of Scandinavian design as inherent to Mid-Century Modern in so many ways.

The Re-Popularization of Mid-Century Modern Design

One of the big questions we’re trying to answer, is why is Mid-Century Modern design so popular again today? Over the past decade, we’ve seen Mid-Century Modern become the number one style, and it’s still our most-requested style here at Modsy.

Has Mid-Century Modern Ever Gone Out of Style?

Today it might seem like Mid-Century Modern style has always been popular, but there was a time when it was not such a popular style. In the 80s and early 90s, there was a short time period when Mid-Century Modern was equated with “grandparent’s style” in a dated, not trendy way.

This was the era of the “McMansion” and many people were looking to traditional and classic styles when furnishing their homes—think 90s sitcom style—while Mid-Century Modern felt dated.

Fresh Prince of Bel-Air Style

The traditional furnishings that were popular when Gen-Xers were growing up.

The Resurgence of Mid-Century Modern Style

At the end of the late 90s, we see Gen-X helping to create a resurgence in Mid-Century Modern design. At this time, Mid-Century Modern furniture wasn’t popular, which also meant that it was really affordable. You could find cool, well-designed furniture like an Eames lounge or Nakashima table (that today go for thousands of dollars) at crazy affordable prices.

 

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Wallpaper Magazine

The “bible” of the cool, urban Gen-Xers who all of a sudden have jobs and money and are ready to buy apartments and fill them with furniture. Instead of adopting the style of their parents, this generation is really defined by the Mid-Century Modern style. Wallpaper Magazine featured photo essays of cool, Mid-Century Modern houses and effectively made them the It style.

 

Tom Ford’s Mid-Century Modern Home

 

Men in Black Mid-Century Modern Set

Check out those Swan chairs, originally designed by Arne Jacobsen.

Mid-Century Modern Designers

One of the big differentiators between this time period and others was that you as a regular person can own something that was created or designed by a “genius.” This was also the era of the designer, and these people were considered almost celebrities so there was added allure to owning their pieces.

 

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Charles and Ray Eames

 

 

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Harry Bertoia

 

Eero Saarinen

 

George Nelson

 

1961 Designers Playboy Spread

 

Playboy Bachelor Pad

What’s In and What’s Out? The Mid-Century Modern Collector’s Market

Just like the stock market, in the collector’s market we see certain pieces of furniture, designers, or even design styles that go up and down in value. This is particularly evident in Mid-Century Modern designs, which are so widely copied and reproduced.

Designs Trending Down in Popularity

The pieces Lark says are losing steam in the collector’s market.

 

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Hans Wegner Papa Bear Chair

Lark’s favorite example of the rise and fall of the collector’s market.

Once the market gets flooded with these widely-copied designs and the value of them drops.

 

 

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Eames Lounge Chair

Probably the most-copied design from the Mid-Century Modern era, you can get cheap knock-offs of the Eames Lounge design on sites like Amazon. After 30 years of popularity, we think these loungers are on their way out.

Designs That Hold Their Value

The pieces that have held their value for decades in the collector’s market.

Marshmallow Sofa

A piece that is definitive of the Mid-Century Modern era, Lark thinks this is a design that will never go out of style.

Mesa Coffee Table

More intricate designs tend to hold their value over time.

Designs Trending Up in Popularity

What’s trending right now in the collectors market?

 

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Cesca Chair

A design by Marcel Breuer, we’re calling the Cesca chair the new Eames shell chair.

 

Jeanneret Chair

A super chic, and cool looking chair design from India, get the scoop on the story behind this iconic design.

Mid-Century Modern Design in Pop Culture

Mid-Century Modern has always enjoyed a prominent place in our country’s popular culture. Here are a few of the ways it’s showing up on the scene in the 21st century.

 

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The Kardashians

Spotted on Kourtney Kardashian’s Instagram. It’s no wonder this chair is having a moment in the spotlight.

 

Mad Men

The show that introduced the general public to Mid-Century Modern design in the late 2000s, we couldn’t do an episode on this style without talking about the iconic interiors of AMC’s Mad Men.

The two main character’s offices are the perfect examples of two different takes on Mid-Century Modern.

Roger Sterling’s Office

A more feminine, chic take on Mid-Century Modern design. His office is much more youthful, poppy, and even fun and features pieces by designers like Eero Saarinen and Italian designers.

Don Draper’s Office

In contrast to Roger’s space, Don’s office features a much more masculine take on Mid-Century Modern design.

On Set With the Eames Lounge Chair

A piece of furniture associated with very “cool” people, we often see the Eames lounge chair in more masculine environments.

 

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Shark Tank Set

Even on the new set of Shark Tank, all the investors now sit in white leather Eames Loungers.

 

 

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Frasier Crane

Another TV character who owns a lounger.

What’s Next?

Some of Lark’s predictions on the designs that will soon be trending.

 

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Mel Smilow’s Designs

A new designer to take a look at.

 

Ernest Race’s Antelope Chair

Lina Bo Bardi

An Italian designer who moved to Brazil after WWII.

organic modernismOrganic Modernism

You heard it here first folks! The Mid-Century Modern trend is taking an organic turn. This style pulls in rustic elements to a Mid-Century framework and infuses the style with a sense of warmth and creature comforts—something we could all use right about now.

Take the Organic Modern home tour

Thanks again to Lark Morgenstern for Joining us!

Lark Morgenstern is a decorative art and design specialist. She has a B.B.A in Strategic Design + Management and an M.A in History of Design and Curatorial Studies from Parsons School of Design. Over her career, she has worked in furniture and fine art galleries. In 2016, she founded the 133 Design Collective, a network of artists, designers, and performers, and curated exhibitions showcasing young designer’s work.

She currently works as the Senior Business Associate for the 1stdibs Art + Design Research team where she acts as team lead for design specialists that review the 1stdibs marketplace and develops partnerships with archives, designers, and artist estates. This past year, she served on the vetting committee for the Salon Art + Design Fair. Prior to 1stdibs, she worked as a Curatorial Assistant at the Brooklyn Museum in the Decorative Arts and American Art Department.

Recently, she co-founded Coco + Morgenstern, a company geared to helping those at the entry and mid-career level find jobs in the art + design world.

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