After the bloated siege of the overstuffed couch, the “chair and a half” and mountainous mattresses, the sleek and sexy era of midcentury modern is back with a vengeance.
A slew of vintage stores cater almost exclusively to the era, and big box stores from Kmart to Crate & Barrel have knock-off versions of low-profile sofas and slick nesting tables.
“One thing that makes it enduring is that it was scaled for postwar houses. … It was made to be uncluttered,” said David Deatherage of Century Design Ltd. in St. Louis. He sells online to high-end collectors of midcentury modern furnishings.
Deatherage said that he personally prefers what he calls “Hollywood Modern” (also referred to as “Hollywood Regency“) pieces of the era but mostly from the 1930s and ’40s. The pieces are low-profile and slim, but they have an innate opulence – glowing acrylic accents, curved edges, glossy finishes, crystal embellishments and sculptural details sitting atop luxuriously plush rugs.
He said strict clean Danish Modern designs with straight lines and sharp angles have convinced some people that midcentury modern has to be cold.
Modern furniture is rarely anonymous. Every object is attributed to specific designers, even if in later years it’s ruled a collaboration or occasionally stolen credit.
For the most part, midcentury styles were designed to make rooms feel dramatically airy and inviting. There’s often a nod to nature or organic shapes in design or materials.
But as styles changed, the pendulum shifted toward furniture that people could sink into – some would say that the furniture looked foreboding enough to swallow humans whole.
Deatherage understands the desire for luxury and comfort but said furniture should be scaled to fit the environment.
Anna Weiss of MoModerne in St. Louis, said part of the appeal of midcentury design is that it tends to be brighter, trimmer and lighter.
“It’s minimal and clean but it’s also fun, because of the colors – turquoise and pinks and yellows and the fantastic oranges,” Weiss said.
She noted that it’s an easy sell to younger clients because they crave something unique and funky, but not cookie cutter. And older clients are buying nostalgia from their childhood.