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r:u Mad for Mad Men’s Mid-Century Modern Design?

July 27, 2010

Mad Men fever has hit a fever pitch, and guess what? We’re caught up in it too!!! Before we get started drooling over the designs, check out this Periodic Table of Mad Men (from the awesome people at to brush up on the story line.

Now that you’re caught up, do you find yourself lusting over the designs featured in the über-stylish Mad Men? Well, you are definitely not alone. The show has single-handedly revived interest in Mid-Century Modern designs, as seen in a selection of articles here, here, and here. If you ever found yourself wanting to know more about the key players of the era, read on my friend…for this is a quick and dirty HISTORY 101 in Mid-Century Modern Design.

1) What IS Mid-Century Modern?

It is simply an umbrella term for a range of individual design movements that were popular from the end of WWII to the close of the 60s. These movements include the organic designs of Eero Saarinen’s Tulip Chair, to the minimalistic yet elegant lines of Danish Modern.

Saarinen's Tulip Chair

2) What are some hallmarks of the movement?

Charles and Ray Eames developed a molded plywood splint for the US Military during WWII. Following that genius move, molded plywood technology was applied to furnishings and became one of the biggest hallmarks of the movement. Also prevalent is the use of  natural materials, clean lines, slender elegant legs, tailored and tufted upholstery, and overall fabulousness.

Eames' WWII Leg Splint made of molded plywood revolutionized furniture making

3) Who are some of the key players?

Charles & Ray Eames

George Nelson

Eero Saarinen

Jens Risom

Arne Jacobsen

Ludwig Mies van der Rohe

Hans Jørgen Wegner

Words can only go so far–we’re talking about design after all. It’s a visual sport! So here are some examples:

Arne Jacobsen Egg Chair was organic in shape

Eames Molded Plywood Lounge Chair is surprisingly comfortable.

Eero Aarnio Hanging Ball. Yeah...I can't wait to have one of these bad boys!

Hans Wegner's 3 Legged Shell Chair is a personal fav!

Jen Risom Arm Chair demonstrates the use of thin lines, natural wood, and fitted upholstery.

And you can just consider this your cheat sheet!

4) Have you seen enough? Are you ready to deck out your home with all this amazingness? Well, luckily for you, most pieces are available as officially-licensed reproductions from furniture manufacturers like Knoll and Herman Miller. Also, national chains such as Design Within Reach and Room&Board focus on Mid-Century Modern. Finally, if you want to spend your dollars locally (which we thoroughly recommend), check out Vastu on 14th Street for new reproductions, or check out one of the many vintage shops in the area like Millennium or Modernicus.

We hope you enjoyed the brief history lesson on Mid-Century Modern design. Consider yourself schooled.

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