Today midcentury modern has become a buzzword in the design world, taking over magazines (think Wallpaper and Dwell), contemporary restaurants, and even talk shows where there’s a good chance the chairs featured are by Eames, Bertoia, or Saarinen. But what does midcentury modern mean? Roughly it describes architecture, furniture, and graphic design from the middle of the 20th century (so from 1933 to 1965, though some would argue the period is specifically limited to 1947 to 1957). The term was coined by Cara Greenberg for the title of her book, “Midcentury Modern: Furniture of the 1950s”. The book was an immediate hit, selling more than 100,000 copies, and once midcentury modern entered the lexicon, the phrase was quickly adopted by both the industry and the mainstream. Below we give you the most glorious examples of this decidedly cool modernist movement.
The minimally chic meets the industrially raw at The Robey in Chicago, where a graphic balance of raw materials and elegant finishes provides the perfect backdrop for furniture by the likes of Edward Wormley, Harvey Prober, Paul McCobb, and Milo Baughman. Public spaces such as the street-level Café Robey (above) are outfitted with reclaimed retro furniture from local shops like Salvage One.
Set on the glorious Provence coast between St. Tropez and Cannes, Hôtel Les Roches Rouges evokes the spirit of the French Riviera in its midcentury golden age. Gems include the Charlotte Perriand 529 Rio rattan low table (above left) mixed with custom-made pieces by local carpenters. The choice of furniture brought together casually shapes an atmosphere that makes you forget the everyday.
Thanks to its retro “motel” sign out front (above right), The Drifter’s unassuming low-rise seems at first glance like a forgotten 1950s anachronism. But look past the period-piece signage and The Drifter reveals itself as an exercise in modernized nostalgia, both in terms of design and concept. “Because it is a building with a history, it was particularly important for me to respect and adopt the design of the late 1950s,” says Nicole Cota, whose design studio of the same name was responsible for the interior design of this New Orleans hotel.
High on a hilltop in Rio de Janeiro’s lush Santa Teresa neighborhood, Chez Georges is a showcase of transcontinental modernism housed in an impressive work of Brazilian Brutalism. The exceptional design is a stunning mix of midcentury European and Brazilian furnishings from names such as Nils Jonsson, Jo Hammerbörg, VB Wilkins, and Ricardo Fasanello (such as the Esfera armchair in the first slideshow image), as well as handpicked pieces from the antique markets of Paris, Brussels, Ghent, and Antwerp.
Lastly, The Qvest in Cologne links history and modernity by combining neo-Gothic architecture with a curated collection of furniture, contemporary art, and photography. The hotel’s interiors are filled with design classics such as the lounge chair and Wire Chair DKX-2 by Charles and Ray Eames and the Goldman table lamp by Ron Gilad (below left).