It's hard to think of Mid-Century furniture without bringing up one of its key elements- Danish Teak. But how did a tropical tree become associated with a cold, dark Scandinavian country and its sleek furniture designs? And how did it get to be so popular in the US? Here's some history roughly pieced together from around the web.
There are rumors (We couldn't properly fact check this, so take it with a grain of salt but it does fit the timeline) that Danish King Christian X was in cahoots with the Royal Thai Family in the early 20th century. As part of that relationship, King Christian made a trade agreement that included importing the very tropical Teak wood to the very not tropical Denmark- there was suddenly a large supply which made it a cheap material. Danish Modern design was also beginning to take off during this time period because of industrialization and the Bauhaus school where many Danish designers studied and created together. These factors collided and thus Danish Teak became a staple of design. And despite its initial use because of its economical price/ease of acquirement, teak wood quickly became appreciated because of its functionality, durability, and color.
Then the European post World War II boom happened. There was a sudden need for fast housing and furniture. The teak pieces that had been hand-made in Denmark for years pre-war were easily adaptable to machine manufacturing which meant that they were perfect for the need of the time. Danish teak became the flavor of the moment throughout Europe (again, somewhat because of necessity). But! There were still many Americans still stationed in Europe post-war as things were being rebuilt. But when they left, the trend followed these service members as they returned to America, with fond memories of those warm-toned furnishings of Denmark. So Americans ordered Danish Modern pieces from catalogues to furnish their mid-century homes all over the country and into Canada. From dining tables to bedroom furniture to smaller items like dishes and trays, teak saturated the North American market through the 1960s.
So much so that old growth teak trees were almost completely wiped out from demand. This was an unfortunate side effect of the teak trend, but it also means the appearance of mid-century teak furniture is different than that of contemporary teak pieces which are made from new growth- the older pieces are generally more dense and have a more distinct wood grain it which makes them even more desirable now.
So there you have it- Danish teak in a nutshell (pun intended).
In the world of mid-century modern furniture, there are many distinct and unique pieces. The Eames Lounge Chair, the tulip table, the gondola sofa, just to name a few. But there's also a lot to be said about the simpler elements of MCM design.
Mid-century designer Florence Knoll was (and still is!) a ground breaking force in furniture and interior design. She pioneered the Planning Unit which was a design consultant service made up of a team of designers who would look at a project from all angles and put spaces together as a collaborative effort. She even invented the textile sample system that's still used in modern day interior design.
But Knoll also designed her fair share of furniture. Her pieces are basic, sleek, and often overlooked because of their simplicity. At the same time, her furniture can be used as the "meat and potatoes" of a room- a term she humbly coined herself. Tables that are functional and discreet. Sofas that are perfect as a place to sit, but aren't the focus of a room. The background architecture that spaces need as much as they need bright showpieces.
And perhaps that's why, after nearly 70 years, Knoll's pieces are as popular as ever and even still being manufactured. She achieved the perfect balance of function and beauty- the backbone of modern design.
We have a lot of awesome customers and perusers here at Mid Mod Collective. And one of the top pieces of furniture they ask about? The Eames Lounge Chair. It's seriously the Holy Grail of mid-century furniture. Everyone wants one (or thinks they have one), companies and designers have been making knock-offs for years, and you see it constantly in film and television.
But Charles and Ray Eames were so much more than that (obviously incredible) chair. They were a husband and wife team that came up with incredible ideas and inventions, had an impressive portfolio of architecture and film work, and happened to design furniture as well.
Their overall philosophy was that function is important to everyone- no matter who they who they are or what their status is in life. So even things that are incredibly "high end" or "designer" still come back to humans' basic need for functionality. Charles touched on this in a speech he made about design that has become known as the "Banana Leaf Parable." With that philosophy as their guide, Charles and Ray became some of the best well known designers in modern history- very much because their design was intended for all people.
But with genius design and creativity, comes both popularity and mimicry. This is how the Eames became mid-century poster children. You can find plastic versions of their famous fiberglass shell chairs all over the internet now. Even a copy of their coat rack is sold with dorm room supplies every fall. People are buying things they don't even know can be credited to the Eames. All they know is they like it, it mixes well with many styles, and it's wonderfully functional and useful.
So next time you walk into a hip coffee shop with a bunch of sexy seating or an office with sleek, modern chairs, notice how much of it can be attributed to Charles and Ray- you might be pleasantly surprised.
AMC's hit television show Mad Men had arguably the best mid-century set decoration and costuming in modern day TV history (nods to The Wonder Years and That 70s show too, among others). They got every detail right- the furniture, the dishes, the wallpaper, even the technology. The show's plot started in 1960 and continued for many years after that, and the sets' styles impeccably changed with passing time.
In season 1, the suburban New York homes are decked out in plaid wallpaper, colonial motifs, and fruity tablecloths. By the end of the series, the scenes are much more "Mod" with bright pops of color, lots of funky textures, and clean lines. Throughout the entirety of the show though, there are two consistent themes- Smoking and drinking- any amount, anywhere, anytime.
Besides entertaining the masses with retro drama story lines, Mad Men also had a noticeable effect on modern-day interiors. Suddenly folks realized how beautiful mid-century design was again or at least felt sudden nostalgia that had been long lost. Thus, the Mad Men effect.
Is it a blessing? Or a curse?
15 years ago, people were just trying to get rid of grandma's stuff. Huge ceramic lamps and orange sofas were being put out on the curb. Now you can't go to a thrift store without seeing prices that would make grandma blush!
But on the bright side- modern home interior design has gotten a boost of sophistication from designers like Charles Eames, Florence Knoll, Adrian Pearsall and many others who had timeless taste and ideas. Furniture has become sleeker instead of chunky. Color is alive and well. And ash trays and bars have made a comeback...even if smoking and drinking aren't the norm at every work lunch anymore.
Some may call it trendy, but Mad Men has been off the air for 3 years now and mid-century design is alive and well. So cheers to that (it's what they would have done in the 60s) and many more years to come!
I came across an interview in New York Magazine the other day with Jens Risom. We had one of his gorgeous chairs a few months ago in the showroom. So, when I saw this article, I wanted to share it. Mr. Risom is 99 years old and still designing furniture! Here are a couple pictures of the Jens Risom design chair we had.
Blake and I loved to go to yard sales. We would pile our vehicle so full, we could barely get into it to continue hunting. We would come home and reimagine our finds into useful, and sometimes not, pieces for our home. Both of us have a creative streak, and we like working together on projects. One Saturday, we came across a wooden chair, with some kind of weird rubbery straps and no cushions. It was low to the ground and had clean lines. We had never seen anything like it and we had to have it! I started searching online for this chair and found out it was mid century modern and could possibly be DUX by Folke Ohlsson. Huh? What and who in the world is that?
The wonderful world of Google then led us to many pictures and websites about mid century modern furniture. And we fell in love with what we saw. Broyhill Brasilia, the Eames lounger, the Noguchi table, and the Adrian Pearsall gondola sofa. I could go on and on! We were hooked. We found a couple who sold MCM furniture in Knoxville. We went to check out what they had, and thought to ourselves,
"We could be doing this too!" We got a booth and called ourselves Warehouse 41 (diehard Dave Matthews Band fans here) and we started selling our MCM treasures.
So, here we are with that same couple and 4 more MCM dealers, running our own store, Mid Mod Collective. Instead of going to yard sales on Saturday morning, we hunt and pick for our MCM treasures all over the U.S. and abroad, everyday of the week. Stripping, sanding, staining and upholstery is a regular part of our lives now. We love bringing worn and faded furniture back to its former glory. We want Knoxville, and the surrounding area to have the best selection of mid century modern furniture and accessories. We hope to see you soon at MMC!
Blake & Shannon
Mid Mod Collective has been open for nearly 4 months now. We are humbled and appreciative of the support we have received from the Happy Holler, our city of Knoxville and the surrounding area. We had goals and expectations, and they have been far exceeded. Thank you Knoxville for the Mid Mod love!
You may be familiar with what MMC looked like before we opened the doors in December. But if you aren't, here are some throwback pictures of where Mid Mod Collective started.
The empty mechanic bays...... Now our current showroom.
Office space for the Higginbotham's....... Now John Coleman, Bookseller's area.
The Higginbotham parts and customer service area...... Now our extended showroom.
The auto & air sign........ Now the MMC sign.
The parts & sales counter....... Now the MMC sales counter.
An old metal doorway....... Now our Mondrian wall.
And last but certainly not least, the floors....... Sanded, sanded and sanded some more.
Post by Allyson - Feb. 26, 2015
The partners at Mid Mod Collective are constantly learning about different furniture, designers, and manufactures from the mid 20th century. One thing we did not expect to learn was how to repair a danish modern chair with a paper cord seat. Chris decided he was up for the task. The partners found a set of Moller teak chairs. The frames were in amazing shape, but five out six seats needed to be repaired. So, we did the obvious. We ordered a 40 lb spool of paper cord and Chris watched a video multiple times.
Chris started by ripping out the seats of the damaged chairs. He cut the seat out with a utility knife. He then bent each nail so he could use them as a hook. The instruction video said you may break them while bending them. Chris used a pair of needle nose pliers and removed the cord before bending the nail. This allowed him to take his time and not damage any of the nails. His goal was to try and salvage the original Danish L shaped upholstery nails.
You will notice the tack that is holding the cord in place. These will be used throughout the project to secure the cord as you finish certain section.
The process begins with the front to back weave. You will also start on the left side.
The next step will include wrapping the front and back of the chair. You may have 5 or more rows between your front-to-back weaves. It all depends on the size cord you're using.
The next step is the side to side weave. You will be weaving the cord over and under the front-to-back weave. Once you reach the other side, you hook the cord on the first nail. You will then return alternating the under and over pattern. Pay close attention at this stage. It is easy to miss a weave.
The image above shows how the nails are used as hooks.
The finished chair seat should not show any wood on the front, back, and side rails. That means the weave is good and tight.
This post is a glimpse into the process of repairing these chairs. There are some great videos out there that will walk your through the process. There are also some great websites with instructions. If you live in the Knoxville area, you should stop by and check out Chris's handy work. I think he has discovered a new hobby.
Post by Shannon - Feb. 24,2015
I stumbled upon something fun the other day while pinning to MMC's Pinterest board, Everything Eames. One might think that in this business, with as much research that I do, I would have seen this before now. But somehow I had not, and now I am going to have to have it!
Charles and Ray Eames did many things in their lifetimes to shape the world of architecture and design. They designed homes, created furniture, textiles, wrote books, made toys, just to name a few. And now for that thing I just have to have!
Charles said this "Toys are not really as innocent as they look. Toys and games are preludes to serious ideas." In the 1950's they created the House of Cards, which are slotted cards with images on both sides, depicting the animal, mineral and vegetable kingdoms. You can assemble these cards in all sorts of ways, large or small. Let you imagination run wild. A serious idea may just happen! These fantastic cards come in small, medium and giant. I am going to buy mine and take them to MMC to see what the Collective can create. You can buy yours here.
Posted by Shannon - Feb. 19th, 2015
Eero Saarinen is widely known in the mid century modern community for his Tulip and Womb chairs and other great furniture designs. But did you know he was a graduate from the School of Architecture at Yale University? Pushing the envelope in design started with his architectural projects. You might be surprised to find that buildings or landmarks you have visited, were designed by Eero Saarinen.
The Gateway Arch in St. Louis, Minnesota
The TWA Terminal at Kennedy Airport, New York, New York
MIT Chapel in Cambridge, Massachusetts
Dulles International Airport in Washington, DC
Mid Mod Collective offers Knoxville a premier mid-century modern shopping experience. We are a collective of dealers who share a passion for the amazing designs of the era.