Mid-Century Modern 101

Posted by Mid-Century Aloha on

What is mid-century modern?  Depending on how you got here, you may or may not be familiar with the term mid-century modern (“MCM”).  Even if you know what it is, do you know when it is?

In basic terms, MCM is the name given to a design movement that happened during the middle of the 20th century.  The movement touched all kinds of visual creations like architecture, commercial art, and furniture. 

I studied art history in college and loved the classes where we sat in a dim lecture hall staring at slide after slide of artwork on the projector screen.  I can still hear the sound of the slide carousel turning as the professor explained this painting and that sculpture.  Something about it was so relaxing.  When class was over, it was back out into the bright Florida sun and the bustle of campus.  

While I enjoyed those classes, I didn’t so much like all the date memorization we had to do for tests.  Art history may sound like an easy subject, but exams required identifying tons of works and remembering lots of dates.

A text book would probably give a date range for the MCM movement of somewhere between the mid-1940s and mid-1960s.  Some would broaden that range from the early 1930s all the way into the 1970s.  Others would say it was strictly 1947 to 1957. 

The entry in the Merriam Webster Dictionary defines mid-century modern as "a style of design (as in architecture and furniture) of roughly the 1930s through the mid-1960s characterized especially by clean lines, organic and streamlined forms, and lack of embellishment." 

To me, the dates don’t matter so much as the “look” – you know mid-century modern design style when you see it.  It’s clean lines and functionality.  There was also an ethos to it: less is more.  

For architecture, the mid-century modern style was especially popular in American warm weather climates like California, Hawaii, and Florida.  Parts of the dessert city of Palm Springs in California remain a near museum of MCM architecture.

Hawaii’s statehood intersected almost exactly with the height of the MCM movement.  At the end of the 19th century, Hawaii’s monarchy was illegally overthrown by American businessmen.  After many years as a U.S. territory, Hawaii became the 50th U.S. state in 1959.  A building boom occurred across the U.S. after the end of World War II, and this momentum continued into a post-statehood building boom in Hawaii right in the middle of the MCM movement (as defined by many people).

There is something classic to MCM’s simplicity and optimism.  There is also a hit of nostalgia that comes from its origins in a bygone era.  While the original movement ended last century, the style remains popular and beloved as we steadily march farther into this century.

Mid-Century Modern style probably means something specific to you.  We hope you enjoy Mid-Century Aloha’s celebration of this spirit in Hawai’i. 

- R.B.