The name midcentury modern was coined by the author Cara Greenburg in her book referring to furniture from the 1950’s. Greenburg created the phrase for the name of her book. Her book sold over 100,000 copies and her catch phrase was adopted by the mainstream and the design world.
Midcentury modern design was no longer fashionable by the end of the 1960’s but interest began to return in the mid-eighties. Ten years later the design was considered in vogue and collectors drove up the prices of the original designs. The selling prices became astronomically high.
The Reasons For Midcentury Moderns Popularity
There were some midcentury furniture designs that remained in production such as the Eames lounge chair. The problem was finding the pieces without a designer or architects help was extremely difficult. This changed around 1990 when the SoHo showroom was opened by Knoll. The manufacturer was now selling midcentury designs to retail shoppers. The special pricing for designers and architects was no longer available.
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The downturn in the market for residential furniture affected numerous companies. Herman Miller used the trend of individuals establishing home offices in the 1990’s to reissue some of the original pieces to consumers. Although his pieces were true to the original designs they were updated with modern fabrics and technology. Consumers had become frustrated with the limited number of pieces available and the cheaply made knock-offs. This was partially the reason Miller reissued so many of his favorite designs. From this point on his designs remained a high demand.
In 1999, contemporary reproductions of midcentury designs received a large boost. Design Within Reach was launched by a California entrepreneur named Rob Forbes. This was a catalogue specializing in online business. Access was given to consumers for midcentury modern designed pieces at reasonable prices. A biography was included with each piece of furniture detailing the designer of the product.
The lower end of the collector’s market commands astonishingly high prices for mass produced pieces. Collectors will pay astronomically high prices for original pieces that have not been restored. They want pieces with an interesting provenance. For example, a pair of Barcelona chairs were offered for $24,000 quite recently. The true collectors are looking for pieces that are one of a kind and have provenance and a documented history.
The media has championed the midcentury modern’s popularity with numerous magazines devoted to the celebration of the design. Museums and cultural institutions have promoted the designs in exhibitions allowing people to sit on the furniture. Charles and Ray Eames were featured in an exhibit and museums presented everything from Jews and Midcentury Modernism to Mad Style designed to represent Mad Men. Advertisers have joined in because the familiarity of the pieces add to their promotions.
Art Deco style furniture of the 1960’s has also made a comeback. The term was not coined until another generation developed an interest in the period. Early American styles such as Chippendale, Queen Anne and the Federal periods from the 18th and early 19th centuries are also enjoying revivals. The popularity of the midcentury modern pieces is being attributed to the clean lines of the look. The pieces blend extremely well and have a timeless design. Despite when they were originally designed they have a modern feeling about them. The have withstood the test of time. The pieces also feel familiar and many of the baby boomers grew up with these types of pieces. The designs give them a direct connection to their childhoods.
Holdeman is at the high end of the market. Their catalogue features an entire section on French midcentury furniture and is one of the businesses main anchors. They offer Prouvé and Louis XIV chairs as well as Jeff Koons and Damien Hirst. With art collectors embracing the period these designs are quite popular.
Many people believe urban living is responsible for the current furniture trends. The pieces were originally designed to be lightweight and mobile and these are still important attributes in modern society and modern living.