The recipe for mid-century goodness
May 24, 2017 | by Becky Oeltjenbruns
Every lover of vintage has a go-to subject to ponder. For some, it’s thinking about what they’d serve for dinner if they could dine with a treasured vintage icon. While for me, it’s checking in with myself on the matter of preferred style. It’s hard to pick a favorite era – after all, the vintage and antique landscape overflows with fantastic genres to choose from: the romanticism of the Victorian to the glamour of the Art Deco – and every manner of wonderful aesthetic in between.
So how does one choose their absolute favorite? The style that makes their heart go pitter patter? The “how” is tricky to explain, but I can venture a try at the “why.” Mid-century modern continues to make my heart sing. As my vintage collecting grows, my style could most definitely change (that’s the fun of this endeavor after all!), but for now mid-century is where I’m at. Get me a t-shirt, start me a fan club, I’m your gal. So let’s dig in on the recipe for mid-century goodness and we’ll uncover the “why” behind my choice.
The hairpin leg
I’m a sucker for simple elegance and the hairpin leg embodies those qualities to perfection. As much as I admire the look, I didn’t know much about the history of this little seductive detail. I’m not the only one lovestruck by the hairpin – its popularity has some serious longevity. Created in 1941 by Henry P. Glass, the shape was very much a product of its environment. During WWII steel was a coveted commodity for understandable reasons. Industries not related to war-time efforts suffered these effects (although I say “suffered” in a tongue-in-cheek way as this context also brought us the wonders of plastics).
Fun fact: Russel Wright may have served as a sounding board while his pal Glass developed the leg.
The hairpin leg is a champion of WWII ingenuity – achieving incredible strength with limited resources. As Glass never patented the work, other designers quickly jumped on the hairpin bandwagon. Before we discuss the next ingredient in our recipe, I have to say a few words about the designer himself. Apparently his keen design skills got him noticed by his Nazi captors, who asked him to design officers’ cemeteries. He even helped the allies by sketching out the camp he was once held prisoner at. And who says a talent for art can’t change the world?!
Just like the hairpin leg, molded plastic was a conduit for creating the curvaceous shapes of the 1950s. Perhaps the Eames understood the possibilities of the new wonder material best. Their fiberglass armchair is the stuff of legend and for good reason. It’s nesting shape made manufacturing efficient, which meant that the Eames’ goal of “getting the most of the best to the greatest number of people for the least” could be achieved. Beyond being prolific, it achieved iconic status due to the comfort it provided – it was a sleek chair built for the human shape.
While the chair is no longer produced with its original fiberglass construction – it’s still being produced. All these years later the joy that this design brings is still cherished by the masses. Now that’s what I’d call a good ingredient!
Ah chrome. So shiny. So cool. So alluring. Chrome just makes it all better! While companies like Kromex brought the shine to household accents like trays and cups, the debut of Marcel Breuer’s Wassily Chair in 1925 is what brought chrome into the sitting room. A material once reserved for the industrial realm came crashing into the home and people didn’t look back. Breuer took his inspiration from the efficient (and oddly stunning) bicycle frame. Next, sprinkle in some influence from the De Stijl movement and you have the makings of an icon.
This trio is but a short list of why I love mid-century design. Tell me dear readers, what are the three “why’s” to your favorite era? Let us know in the comments…