Short version: 

Function led to form. 

Clean lines inspired by geometry or organic forms. 

Minimal ornamentation. 

Natural materials and non-natural materials such as fibreglass, nylon parachute chord used in innovative ways, sometimes in juxtaposition with natural materials to enhance design. 

Looooooong version.... As part of my learning about the mid-century Modern design movement I wanted to get to the crux of what makes a piece fit into the style I love so much.  The rules which make it easier for me to home in on the pieces when I am out hunting. There is other furniture from the 40's, 50s, 60s and 70s such as Art Deco and Kitch which although mid-century do not appeal to me in quite the same way as the Modern style so I wanted to really dig to define what it was about the vintage pieces I love that made them Modern with a capital M. And what better way to go about this than to read up about what the designers had to say about their pieces themselves. So here goes. 

The first rule which defines a Modern piece of design is that the famous quote from architect Louis Sullivan  "Form follows function" . The prime forerunners of this movement were all Architects, hired to re-design and rebuild lives for a post-world-war generation. The first thing an Architect does when they are hired to design a building is look at what the occupants want to use it for. They then design, based on the functions to be performed in the building to make those activities work exceptionally well.  Homes designed by architects will incorporate lots of built in furniture because this is all part of a home's function. And the architects wanted to extend their design to cover other furniture to go in their buildings. The free standing furniture designed by architects is  designed the same way they design a building. By looking at the function of the furniture first. 

"To whom does design address itself: to the greatest number, to the specialist of an enlightened matter, to a privileged social class? Design addresses itself to the need" - Charles Eames

"True architecture exists only where man stands at the center" - Alvar Alto

"A house is not a machine to live in. It is the shell of man, his extension, his release, his spiritual emanation" - Eileen Gray

"One cannot create happiness with beautiful objects, but one can spoil quite a lot of happiness with bad ones" - Finn Juhl

The second rule seems to be that the designs all share lines inspired by geometry, the circle, isometric triangles, right angled triangles and golden rectangles being the obvious ones seen throughout both the buildings and the furniture designed as part of this movement. This comes from the need to simplify design to the essentials, removing unnecessary ornate carving in order to minimise materials therefore making the pieces as economic and affordable at the time for the huge numbers of post-war baby-boomers in the 50s needing new homes. The desire for clean un-fussy lines was also born from a desire to move away from the designs of the past, following the world-war atrocities that had occurred, and create something fresh and optimistic for the future. 

"We should work for simple, good, undecorated things" - Alvar Alto

"The future projects light, the past only shadows" - Eileen Gray

"Simplicity is the ultimate sophistication" - Leonardo da Vinci (So ahead of his time - I know he's not really one of the mid-century designers)

"Simplicity is not the goal. It is the by-product of a good idea and modest expectations" - Paul Rand

And the third rule I've realised is the colours and materials used to make mid-century modern furniture follow a pallet of neutral colours, natural woods, black, cream or tan leathers, glass, wool tweed used for upholstery, yellow, brown and red clay ochers.  Non-natural materials also started being used for furniture such as ply wood, aluminium, tubular steel, fibreglass, paper and parachute chord. This came from a need to be innovative with materials due to post-war shortages of hard woods and certain fabrics.

""Given the shortage of hard woods, the demand for furniture will be tremendous...The designs should not simply follow in the footsteps of the Old Masters, but should utilise the materials available, aluminium, steel, and plywood, to give functionality, durability as well as visual appeal" - Engineer Noel Jordan in a letter to Designer Ernest Race

I'm sure I'll come to know more rules of this design style as I'm sure there will be other commonalities. One thing I know is that if you love this style you are probably an architect, engineer, designer or a creative of some type (so you probably hate that you've just been put in a box). You like to get straight to the point when it comes to relaxing at home. You want your home to work well, making your life easier and happier. If you can think of more rules please feel free to get in touch and I will build them into an updated set of rules in the future.

If you liked this then feel free to Like my Facebook page. You'll also get sneak peeks at pieces I find whilst out treasure hunting there. 

I'll leave you two more of my favourite quotes relating to design. Enjoy! 

"Good design means that anything good will go equally well with other equally good things" - Jens Risom

"Learn how to see. Realise that everything connects to everything else" - Leonardo da Vinci

"Eventually everything connects - people, ideas, objects. The quality of the connection is the key to quality per se"

And just one more ;-)

"Learn the rules like a pro so that you can break them like an artist" - Pablo Picasso.  I'll remember this one when I start designing my own chairs...