First things first. Mid Century Modern – sounds catchy but what does the term actually mean? Well we could be stating the obvious here but it’s not always immediately understandable when you stumble across the term for the first time. Mid century modern furniture refers to the style of furniture and homewares that was current and ‘modern’ in the mid twentieth century – the 1950s, ’60s and ’70s.
So, other styles of furniture were being manufactured and purchased during this period (and the market for traditional antiques remained too) but MCM (or mid century) specifically refers to the style of furniture and interior that was fresh, new and exciting during this period.
Remember, this was a very exciting era when a lot of change took place across the globe. Jet travel was making the world a smaller place, the space race was in full flow and young people were finding freedom and spending power and expressing this through their interest in music, fashion and various youth cultures and sub-cultures.
Travel forward in time around a half century to the 2010s and, right now, when you go along to furniture auctions, it will often be the ‘younger’ pieces that have the room buzzing and that achieve the highest prices. These items can’t technically be termed antiques, as they are generally around ‘only’ 40 to 60 years old, but these are often the pieces that buyers get excited about.
For some reason, the styles that looked so modern in the late 1950s, through the 1960s and into the ’70s hold a great deal of pulling power right now. These modern ‘antiques’ are proving popular with both design-aware buyers (including architects, collectors, interior designers) and with customers who simply buy on look.
Some customers are extremely well informed on the designers and makers involved and are very interested in the back story of pieces while other buyers buy only on the look, style, feel and colour, without necessarily being interested in the design story. Some buyers know all about the work of legendary Danish and U.S. designers, such as Ole Wanscher, Hans Olsen, Florence Knoll, Charles and Ray Eames, while others just love the shape and colour of all that teak cabinetry – and why not!?
Many contemporary furniture buyers see traditional antiques as over fussy with too much detailed and intricate decoration. They still like clever styling and design features but their more ‘modern’ eyes prefer cleaner, smoother lines.
That said, curves are not to be completely dismissed but the tastes of today seem to veer toward soft gentle curving corners rather than overly-elaborate Serpentine or Queen Anne legs for instance. Today’s furniture buyer often prefers the simple ‘splayed’ legs made famous by designers such as Lucian Ercolani (Ercol) and Neil Morris (Morris of Glasgow). It’s these preferences that mean that these buyers are shunning traditional furniture in favour of the antiques of the future.
One of the strange things about the cool, sometimes slightly bohemian, appeal of these pieces is that they can easily be worked into the décor schemes of homes of all styles and periods. A mid century dining table and chairs will look fantastic in the bay window of a Victorian flat in Glasgow’s trendy West End, for instance. Mid century furniture is adaptable too. You don’t need to plan your entire home, or even an entire room, around a completely mid century theme as these vintage pieces sit well with furniture of other styles and periods.
All that said, certainly in Scotland, there are very few dealers of any size that are ‘majoring’ in mid century modern furniture. Some traditional antique dealers still struggle to see the appeal of these pieces and simply don’t hold them in the same regard as items with more ‘age’. This means that there are just a few of us having such great fun with the antiques of tomorrow.