What exactly is Mid-Century?
Wikipedia starts by saying: “Mid-century modern (MCM) is the design movement in interior, product, graphic design, architecture, and urban development that became popular after WWII in 1945 and continued until the late 1970s.” That’s quite a loose definition, nothing more than a period of time, and doesn’t really help us understand what it actually is.
In popular culture, ‘Mid-Century modern’ can cover many styles: from logical modernist design, influenced by Le Corbusier and van der Rohe, through to the whimsicality of kitsch and tiki; across everything from architecture to household furnishings and graphic design; and from the bright and light styles of Palm Springs through to a less flamboyant, more sombre style in Britain.
Strictly speaking, Mid-Century modern architecture is a development of the style started by Le Corbusoer etc. It took the simple, modernist aesthetic together with the use of modern materials such as concrete, steel and plastics and added elements such as natural stone and wood, together with an open-plan approach to planning that sought to integrate the outdoors and the interior.
In graphic design, styles became bolder, and often a natural ‘hand-drawn’ style was used, with patterns taking inspiration from nature, but heavily abstracted.
In furniture, new materials were used such as painted wood and steel that allowed new shapes to be adopted.
In product design, plastics and the rise of transistors allowed much greater flexibility in how items were designed and styled.
What links all of this is an eagerness to break with tradition to make something better: an optimism (or arrogance?) that technology had reached a point that traditions could be scrapped, whether that be design, materials or styling.
This basis of this eagerness to break with tradition also, I believe, leads us back to Wikipedia’s description: the period after WWII. The misery and suffering of two World Wars had created a determination to change things, which when combined with the advances in technology the same wars had prompted, created a ‘perfect storm’ of a demand for something different, and the ability and willingness to deliver it.
Mid-Century design took slightly different paths in different countries, influenced by each countries wealth in the post-war period, together with each countries history and national character (a sweeping generalisation I know, but still valid I believe).
Certainly in Britain, whilst Mid-Century design was as much a break with tradition as it was elsewhere, it was also constrained by the weight of the countries history and traditions, together with less affluence in the post-war period. This resulted in a less ostentatious interpretation and less prevalent adoption of Mid Century principles, certainly compared to the US. Yet in my opinion, this created a style with a charm of its own. It is this ‘British’ version of Mid Century that I love, influenced heavily by my childhood in 1970’s Britain.
It is this British flavour of Mid-Century modern that is the basis for the work we’re doing on our house. The original house was built in the late 1950’s and has been extended, modernised, and corrupted, but the basics of the house have a strong Mid-Century feel, with open-plan spaces and a touches of natural materials inside. We intend to take the house back to how it might have looked when built.
And so I’ll suggest my own definition of Mid-Century modern: Mid-Century was a movement in interior, product, graphic design, architecture, and urban development that became popular after 1945 and continued until the late 1970s. It represented a radical break with tradition, combining a modern and often minimalist aesthetic with new approaches to materials such as the inclusion of natural stone and wood as a means to create a better environment.
Let me know what you think.