Is Midcentury Modernism Over?
There’s no denying it: Midcentury modernism is everywhere—at the flea market, at that new hotel that just opened, at nearly every high-street home décor retailer. No matter where you are, you’ll likely be able to spot some trace of the aesthetic movement, whether it’s a tapered wooden leg or an atomic-age light fixture.
And we completely get it—the slender shapes, simple lines, and organic materials are utterly versatile yet still striking. Some midcentury-modern pieces may even be timeless. But something is making our eyes wander in search of the next look. We are feeling tired of those leather Eames loungers, wooden Danish armchairs, and their contemporaries. Will we get over it and eventually fall back in love? It’s entirely possible. But maybe midcentury modernism is on its way out for good—what do you think? To help parse the difficult questions presented by suddenly feeling weary of this truly beloved period, we consulted some design industry insiders. Read on.
Yes, it’s very popular.
Take a trip to your local antiques market. Peruse Pinterest’s popular page. Pop into West Elm, CB2, and especially Design Within Reach. You will spot a hairpin leg, a teak tabletop, or a tulip base, we promise. Blame it on Mad Men, Dwell, or perhaps the Internet in general.
The design movement, typically bookended between the years of 1945 and 1965, has been the reigning aesthetic du jour for quite a while now, its popularity perhaps peaking in the last 10 or so years. Finding this furniture and décor used to require digging through antiques markets, scouring estate sales, or bidding like mad on collectibles, but it’s now much more readily accessible as the generation turns over and families are selling off pieces they inherited from their parents.
And with the increased access, a movement of cool, of hip, of minimalist spaces has set in. But have consumers seen enough? “That I do think may be the case. People are ready for what’s next,” admits designer Brian Paquette, who is still a big fan of the period.
But don’t forget…
Despite our own feelings on the matter, it’s a bit of an illusion, this idea that a certain aesthetic is “everywhere.” Frances Merrill of Reath Design notes an important contributing factor to our feeling “burnt out” with certain aesthetics: “With all of the direct-to-consumer sites, and websites like Pinterest, everyone sees too much!” Without a doubt, the use of image-sharing platforms like Pinterest, Instagram, and Tumblr can further the feeling, illusory or accurate, that a certain look is at peak saturation. It’s this image sharing that can make us ready to give up a look we may have otherwise loved for years more.
If you’re thinking “I don’t care—I still love it!”…
“Just do you,” says Paquette. “Go slow. Invest in the things you love that are less about keeping up with the Joneses and more about lasting quality and beauty.” Merrill agrees: “If there is something that looks good, then it is always in style. Use it when it is appropriate. As long as it is being applied because it works, rather than because it is trendy, it will retain its classic appeal.”
According to interior designer Elizabeth Roth, the important thing is quality: “Take the time to find the best available pieces with the philosophy that over time, quality will always prove to have lasting value, aesthetic and otherwise.”
So, how can we freshen it?
Variety is the spice of life, right? The same goes for any aesthetic movement or time period. West Elm VP of Product Design Jonathan Orr thinks that the reason we’re still thinking about midcentury design is because it “continues to evolve into new finishes and colors, and being remixed with other periods.” It’s all about reinventing the mix—perhaps turning away, for just a moment, from the Eames molded plastic and Nelson platform benches of yore and instead looking toward the more unusual or sleek shapes of the period.
Roth says the key to making midcentury last is in this variety: “There are so many different facets of the term ‘midcentury.’ You can think American (Eames and Saarinen), Danish (Poul Kjaerholm and Poul Henningsen), French like Jean Prouvé and Charlotte Perriand. Truthfully there is midcentury furniture that I have not seen! I’ve been looking at this furniture for 30 years, and I have not seen enough.”
Paquette agrees: “Eight years ago I was interested in learning the basics. Now I am psyched to see one-off amateur builds in vintage malls from the time period that are just a bit off, whether it be interesting materials or strange scale.”
Pieces that incorporate nods to midcentury design alongside other aesthetics also feel fresh: “I love all of the subtle referential work that is going on right now. A little midcentury, a little deco, a little Hollywood Regency—all mixed into one sofa or table,” says Paquette.
Orr is also looking to what’s next in the realm of classics: “I’m looking at ’70s and ’80s furniture, wall art, and decorative accessories for inspiration. Softer, rounder shapes. It’s a good example of the evolution of midcentury.”
Scroll to shop our favorite picks of modern midcentury–inflected pieces and midcentury classics we’re still loving.