Mid Century Buying Guide
What and when is Mid Century?
Whilst this question might look remarkably simple, it’s a little more complex than one might initially think.
Generally speaking, when most people refer to Mid Century they are talking about a time that spans the late 1920s to the 1970s. However, some people think this is too broad and condense it further to between 1947 and 1957.
Now we know when it’s from, what is it and why is it everywhere?
That Mid Century look is seemingly everywhere, just turn on your TV and you’ll see the infamous Eames Soft Pad on Mastermind. A walk down your average high street a few years ago and you would have even seen Arne Jacobsen’s Egg Chair in McDonalds! Fancy a seat on the platform on much of Transport for London and you’ll probably be on some Toro seating by Robin Day.
The well known Finnish designer Alvar Aalto once said “Beauty us the harmony of function and form” and this sums up that Mid Century look. Mid Century is a by-word for great design, for great functionality and simply put, it's timeless.
Oh and by the way, if you asked someone to draw a stool, they’d probably draw an Alvar Aalto without even knowing!
Whilst Mid Century is a well used and accepted term, be it for lighting, furniture, architecture, home décor to name but a few, there are many terms that are also commonly associated with similar fields. A quick search on eBay and you’ll see others say Vintage or Used or Second hand or Mid Century Modern (MCM) or Retro or even Antique. Despite the myriad of names and titles, perhaps with the exception of antique, we think it’s easier to just consider these as different cheeks of the same backside.
Who are Mid Century Designers and does it matter?
Whilst a list of mid century designers would be too long to reel off here, (even if we only took them from the items we have for sale!) there are some names that are synonymous with mid century furniture.
Whether it be the moulding undulations of a Pierre Paulin Tongue chair or the sublime elegance of paper-cord and wood combined in the Hans Wegner Peacock chair, to many people, it really matters who designed what they decide to sit on come the reading of the Sunday papers.
Although we plan to go into particular designers in way more detail (watch this space!), we generally find it easier to break down designers into nationalities. As with many aspects of culture, the furniture and design from specific nations tend to follow similar cues and inspirations. For example, the plastic pop-tastic designs of the Italian duo Harry Bertoia and Joe Colombo or the metal bending buddies Marcel Breuer and Mies Van Der Rohe hailing from Germany or those British post-war panacea Ernest Race and Robin Day.
Therefore, when looking at your favourite Pinterest pinboards or scrolling through those Insta posts, if your eyes are always drawn to sleek lines of Danish teak then it stands to reason that your favourite designer might be Danish.
At the end of the day, you might not care who designed your newly purchased Mid Century sideboard, but the implications of the fact that a piece of furniture had a particular designer can dramatically affect the price.
So, is Mid Century furniture expensive?
Well, in regards to certain designers and manufacturers, it can be, but it’s a question of perspective.
We’ve all heard the story, generally from that overachieving, messianic friend, of the Rosewood armchair found at the mouth of a wood chipper or the dining set found underneath a fridge-freezer at the bottom of a skip. Unfortunately, this is not how most of us come across the furniture that graces our home, so why should we go to that fancy shop in East London and pay ‘so much’ for a stool? Here are just a couple of reasons…
It’s a question of scarcity. There are simply fewer pieces of original Mid Century furniture in the market, therefore the price maintains a certain value. However, not all “Mid Century” furniture is actually very old at all. Due to the ever growing popularity, reissues, remakes and fakes, tend to dominate the market. After a quick glance online we found an original 1971 S chair by Verner Panton for around £800, whereas you could probably pick up a fake for 50 quid. If you only want that ‘look’ then buy the fake, but if you truly take an interest in design, mid century furniture and reusing to benefit the environment, then go for the original, plus there’s an even better reason we’ll mention later…
Again, who designed it. Just in the UK there were many companies making furniture during the period, some used famous designers of the day and some didn’t. Therefore, if you’re just looking to replicate that style then it can actually be done fairly cheaply. But if you’ve seen a particular sideboard designed by Koefod Larson for G Plan, then rest assured that someone else also wants it, so you’ll have to dig a little deeper for that one.
Better quality. If you’ve ever had shift a sideboard from the second floor of a block of flats with no lift, then you’ll know just how well they’re made! It never ceases to amaze us here when another piece of furniture comes into the workshop and it’s over 70 years old, and no doubt will last another 70!
What Materials were used?
Yes they were incredibly well made, but the quality of materials used was also extremely high. Here is a brief outline of the materials used in Mid Century furniture.
Wood. Ubiquitous with the period was the use of Teak, it not only looked great but was durable and considered high quality. There was also Rosewood, to some more beautiful and more expensive, it still garners a high value today.
There were different forms of wood, from veneers to bent plywood, which not only helped companies mass produce more easily, but also allowed for more elaborate designs and engineering, emphasising the fact the period was highly innovative.
In terms of price the materials used in a cabinet, for example, will often dictate how much you will spend. It could be a veneered chipboard or it could be solid wood and this could drastically effect the price, along with the other things already mentioned.
Metal. As mentioned above, some designers really enjoyed bending tubular steel. It gave a strength and masculinity that couldn’t be replicated by bending wood. It was also combined with softer materials like leather to make it more attractive in the living room, the stunning and almost absorbing Le Corbusier’s LC2 Armchair comes to mind.
Plastic. With the passing of time came great innovation in materials and their usage. From moulded fiberglass chairs to injecting polypropylene, it’s fair to say that most peoples introduction to Mid Century furniture started in their schools, because they were probably sitting on a Robin Day chair.
Should I buy Mid Century?
There are countless reasons to buy Mid Century furniture and items and we will focus more deeply in an upcoming blog post, however there is one main reason we’ll touch on here briefly.
We were recently in a very well known Swedish meatball restaurant that sells a bit of furniture and it amazed us just how many people were there, and how full their trolleys were. Intrigued, we had a look around and glanced at a well known chair that they sell for around £200. On the drive home, we saw no less than three of these self same chairs, discarded, thrown out, rubbish, trash. That is because as soon as you leave that shop, what you have bought is practically worthless, this, fortunately, is not the case with Mid Century Furniture.