Mid-Century Modern Design Influencers


Here at Modern Mailbox, we understand that mid-century modern design was never a generic, cookie cutter look. Instead, it was — and is — an organic combination of a number of key elements like bold geometric lines, expansive glass panes, mixed depths and  levels, and natural flow. This design movement was not limited to architecture, but extended to encompass both interior design and furniture design. While mid-century modern roots can be traced back as far as the early 1930s, it wasn’t until after World War II that it really took root and began to change the world of design

One likely reason why mid-century modern design continues to be aesthetically pleasing is that many of the key influencers of the movement were multi-disciplined. They weren’t just architects or furniture designers, they were artists and photographers, filmmakers and sculptors. Their love for aesthetics flows through their designs and you can’t help but appreciate their simple, natural beauty. Let’s take a brief look at three of the key influencers of the mid-century modern design movement


Charles and Ray Eames

Charles Eames, Jr. and his wife Bernice “Ray” Eames were an award-winning design team that worked together on everything from architecture to film. In 1979, they were awarded the Roya  by the Royal Institute of British Architects, an award given to recognize a substantial contribution to international architecture, and in 1985 the Industrial Designers Society of America (IDSA) named them “The Most Influential Designer of the 20th Century.” Early in his career, Charles was known to be influenced by Frank Lloyd Wright and Finnish architect Eliel Saarinen.

Their bold architectural choices were exemplified in the home they designed and built as part of the Case Study House program developed by Arts & Architecture magazine, but they were far more than just architects. As a design team, they pioneered several technologies including molded plywood, fiberglass furniture, wire mesh chairs, and plastic resin chairs. One of their most representative furniture designs as the Eames Lounge and Ottoman designed around 1956. In addition to their work in residential and commercial building design and furniture design, this artistic couple left their mark on many other aspects of the 20th century. You can also find representative work in photography, film, fabric designs, toy design, and more.


Eero Saarinen

Eero Saarinen, another mid-century modern influencer, was the son of Finnish architect Eliel Saarinen and a good friend of Charles and Ray Eames. Like his friends, Eero was more than just an architect and designer, he was also a sculptor, as was his first wife Lilian Swann. The influence of his sculpting background was very evident in his design choices. For example, his furniture designs — like his Pedestal Armchair — were driven as much by his sense of aesthetics as anything.

As an architect, his most iconic contribution is probably the Gateway Arch in St. Louis, Missouri. But one of his most quintessential examples of mid-century modern architectural design is the Miller House in Columbus, Ohio. With its flat roof, stone and glass walls, and open layout, the house is an epitome of mid-century modern design.


Design for a Lifetime 

Today, in an effort to create charming, retro home designs, many architects and designers strive to emulate what came so naturally to these designers. Because they were artists in their own right, in addition to being architects and designers, they were able to create homes and furniture that was more than simply utilitarian in nature. In fact, their choices to pursue aesthetics and natural flow over utilitarian design were truly revolutionary and the influence of their many, many design contributions can still be found in the choices of modern architects and designers like us.

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