Cruise Craigslist or eBay for furniture and you’ll find literally hundreds of entries describing this or that as “mid-century.” What is that, anyway? Does anybody know, or is it just a random adjective people use to jazz up furniture descriptions?
A quick scan of today’s Craigslist furniture listings definitely raises some eyebrows, but before we take a look at the difference between modern and contemporary styles there’s one thing to remember that will help: Identifying a style often has nothing to do with <em>when</em> the piece of furniture was made, which is confusing because that’s how styles are classified – by historical period.
For example, the Modern movement (which includes “mid-century” styles) began in the early 20th century and didn’t evolve into Postmodernism until 1965 or so, which blended Modernism with the Pop Art movement. So, what does that mean? It means modern furniture looks like this …
[caption id="attachment_9191" align="aligncenter" width="140"]<a href="http://www.atgstores.com/bar-stools/alston-quality-industries-1-8824-slat-wood-breuer-counter-stool_g583368.html" rel="attachment wp-att-9191" target="_blank"><img class="wp-image-9191 " title="slattedchair" src="http://ourblog.atgstores.com/wp-content/uploads/2012/12/slattedchair-300x300.jpg" alt="Breuer Counter Stool" width="140" height="140" /></a> Marcel Breuer chair design, circa 1922-24.[/caption]
… while mid-century modern furniture looks like this …
[caption id="attachment_9180" align="aligncenter" width="143"]<a href="http://www.atgstores.com/coffee-tables/fine-mod-imports-fmi1119-tribeca-coffee-table_g914347.html?isku=7349919&linkloc=cataLogProductItemsImage" rel="attachment wp-att-9180" target="_blank"><img class="wp-image-9180 " title="moderncoffeetable" src="http://ourblog.atgstores.com/wp-content/uploads/2012/12/atgcoffeetable022-300x300.jpg" alt="Tribeca Coffee Table" width="143" height="143" /></a> Isamu Noguchi coffee table design, circa 1948.[/caption]
… then Andy Warhol made some stuff, the Contemporary movement began, and this happened:
[caption id="attachment_9205" align="aligncenter" width="146"]<a href="http://www.atgstores.com/accent-chairs/marthena-home-furnishings-mf4088-chair-blackred-hematite-accent-chair_g790042.html?isku=6788051&linkloc=cataLogProductItemsImage" rel="attachment wp-att-9205" target="_blank"><img class=" wp-image-9205 " title="contemporarychair" src="http://ourblog.atgstores.com/wp-content/uploads/2012/12/contemporarychair-300x300.jpg" alt="" width="146" height="146" /></a> "Hematite Chair" design, circa THE FUTURE.[/caption]
As you can see, modern furniture styles focus on clean lines without the ornateness associated with classic and traditional styles while often using natural materials, a neutral color palette and reflective surfaces. Meanwhile, mid-century modern, also referred to as “retro” or “mod” in hip magazines, adheres to Modern foundations while introducing more organic shapes and varied colors. It’s also where we see Pop Art’s influence start to materialize.
Contemporary style, on the other hand, is just a wandering departure from modern trends in an attempt to show us something different and unique without compromising structural necessity in the here and now. This often involves using "new" materials and manufacturing methods. Picture any wild or futuristic piece of furniture (or just see above) and you're likely heading in the right direction.
A chronology of the styles (with others thrown in for context) looks like this:
<li><em>Classic</em>: “Ancient times” to around 100 AD</li>
<li><em>Early Modern / Traditional</em>: 100 AD to the late 1700s</li>
<li><em>Revival (Gothic, Rococo, Mission, Neoclassic)</em>: 1800s</li>
<li><em>Modern</em>: 1900 to 1965
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<li><em>Mid-Century</em>: 1933 to 1965</li>
<li><em>Postmodern</em>: 1965 to the late 80s</li>
<li><em>Contemporary</em>: 1980s to whatever's happening now</li>
Design specialists and avid <a href="http://www.atgstores.com/furniture_1121.html?linkloc=topnav" target="_blank">furniture</a> shoppers may note that the “transitional” style is conspicuously absent from this list, and that’s because it doesn’t really exist as a movement. It’s a way to describe styles that fall into the gray area between traditional and modern, but have contemporary leanings …if that makes sense.
<a href="http://www.atgstores.com/" target="_blank">ATGStores.com</a> offers furniture in all of these design periods in their various forms and you can even search by style, which we think is actually pretty cool.