October 24, 2016
Sleek, neat AND chic
Mid-20th century designs are a perfect fit for 21st century homes
by lucy hyslo
The West Coast has long hankered after the sleek, clean lines and neat silhouettes of the mid-century modern aesthetic.
The design seam first appeared roughly around the Second World War (just before or right after, depending on which experts you turn to) and continued through the 1960s. Far from the frilly, ornate creations of earlier eras, it strove for functional, minimalist, thoughtfully created objects, buildings and furniture, and often followed a democratic process of bringing affordable design to the masses. It is easily recognizable by its distinctive materials—designers such as the American legends Charles and Ray Eames and Denmark’s Arne Jacobsen and Hans Wegner, whose Scandinavian style was highly influential in the mid-century modern movement, typically employed light-coloured woods like teak and plywood, as well as colourful plastics and metal accents.
Today, with more than a nod to the success of style-savvy shows such as Mad Men, the 20th-century movement dovetails with the 21st-century desire for clean lines and lighter furniture that ensure a flow around a home.
That’s especially true here on the West Coast. As a forward-looking frontier un-hemmed-in by history, we fell fast and hard for these simpler, modular, streamlined sculpted designs and architecture. As forest dwellers, perhaps we’ve always naturally gravitated to its wood-centric styles—whether that’s a classic Knoll or George Nelson “pretzel” chair, a Herman Miller side table or George Nakashima sideboard.
Many mid-century pieces have become collectable, timeless and sometimes expensive classics. So it’s not surprising that the movement has spurned a veritable flurry of local stores dedicated to its design, including Victoria’s The Fabulous Find, Vancouver’s FULLHOUSE Vintage + Modern and New Westminster’s Mid-Century Modern Home. Meanwhile, notable worldwide companies such as Vitra, Kartell and Artek reproduce these popular designs, which are all sold through Gastown’s Inform Interiors.
So, whether you’ve turned your home into an unabashedly mid-century homage to the design greats—everything from teak sideboard to chairs, tables and cabinets—or have only the odd hit of the period through a Tulip, Egg or Wishbone piece, it’s clear that B.C. has fully embraced the “clean lines” time warp.
The Finn’s first claim to fame
was winning first prize in
the Organic Design in Home
Furnishings competition in
1940 for a chair designed with
Charles Eames. His Tulip (also known
as Pedestal) furniture line also comes as tables and a stool. Prime example: Tulip chair
Notably known for the “less is more” motif ubiquitously used by the design world today, the 20th-century German-American’s work is often defined by furniture with striking architectural statements. Prime example: Barcelona chair
and Ray Eames
America’s first couple of design. The legacy of the California-based husband-and-wife team is legion, ranging from moulded plywood furniture to architecture, books, graphic design and film. Prime example: Moulded plywood chair
The Danish designer
and architect is dubbed
one of the grandfathers
of the modern movement, creating
artistic, shapely and minimalist objects, most notably chairs (Swan and Ant),
clocks and 1-2-3-4-numbered espresso cups. Prime example: Egg Chair
The Dane’s work and attention to detail screams skilled master craftsman. Working initially for Jacobsen, Wegner was a prolific designer (he created more than 500 different chairs) and today his pieces star in New York City’s Museum of Modern Art. Prime example: Wishbone chair