The midcentury home is nothing without its iconic pieces—and the iconic men and women who crafted them. Many of these furniture designers were multi-disciplinary, trained as architects or sculptors as well, and their holistic approach to design yielded stunning results that continue to beautify homes and inspire design today. Discover new facts about your favorite designers or learn about a few names you may have not had on your radar.
1. Charlotte Perriand
Versatile and one of modernism’s precocious pioneers—she designed her famous lounge chair at the age of 23—Charlotte Perriand’s work ranges from rational, minimalistic chrome to organic wood. Over the span of her long career, while her materials changed, her design philosophy of harmony did not. Perriand wrote, “The extension of the art of dwelling is the art of living—living in harmony with man’s deepest drives and with his adopted or fabricated environment.”
2. Charles + Ray Eames
It is hard to avoid the work of Charles and Ray Eames. They pioneered the technique of molded plywood that could be produced commercially. Their famous Eames Lounge Chair and Ottoman is an iconic example of this technique. Their molded plastic chairs are another staple of the era that continues to enjoy popularity today. In a 1972 interview with Madame L. Amic, called Design Q & A, the Eameses explain their view of design, which also happens to aptly describe their own success and legacy as designers:
Q: “Does the creation of Design admit constraint?”
A: “Design depends largely on constraints.”
Q: “What constraints?”
A: “The sum of all constraints. Here is one of the few effective keys to the Design problem: the ability of the Designer to recognize as many of the constraints as possible; his willingness and enthusiasm for working within these constraints. Constraints of price, of size, of strength, of balance, of surface, of time, and so forth. Each problem has its own peculiar list.”
Their innovation at working within design’s constraints inspired the likes of Arne Jacobsen in the midcentury and designers and craftsman today like Nicole Hodsdon of Ciseal.
3. Isamu Noguchi
An abstract sculptor as well as a furniture designer, Noguchi’s furniture and lighting designs are unmistakably sculptural. Think of his namesake coffee table and Akari light sculptures (including table, floor and ceiling lamps). Noguchi was born to a Japanese poet and an Irish-American teacher, and his work reflects both Western and Eastern influence.
4. Arne Jacobsen
A Danish architect inspired by an Eames plywood chair, Jacobsen designed his three-legged Ant Chair. His iconic chair designs include the Egg Chair, Drop Chair, Grand Prix Chair and Swan Chair. His furniture designs grew out of his specific architectural projects—the Egg and Swan Chairs were for the SAS Hotel in Denmark. His architectural approach to furniture is evident in his well-proportioned design. While elegantly proportioned, the designs also have a personal touch with their playful shapes resembling a free-form drawing.
5. Harry Bertoia
“The urge for good design is the same as the urge to go on living. The assumption is that somewhere, hidden, is a better way of doing things,” Bertoia said. Whether it was jewelry, sculpture or furniture, Bertoia’s search for a better way of doing things yielded some of the midcentury’s most iconic designs. Multi-talented, Bertoia also had very talented friends. He was classmates with Eero Saarinen, Charles Eames and Florence Schust (Knoll) at Cranbrook. He and Charles worked on an award-winning bent plywood project. His friendship with Florence Knoll became a fruitful one as she commissioned him to design for the design company Knoll. His Diamond and Bird Chairs came from this commissioning.
6. Eero Saarinen
Considered a leader of the second generation of Midcentury Modern, Saarinen introduced the curvilinear into the MCM landscape. Educated at Cranbrook with talented friends such as Charles Eames and Florence Schust (later Knoll) and with an artistic heritage from his parents—architect Eliel for a father and textile designer Loja for a mother—Eero Saarinen was well-positioned for an illustrious career.
His designs feature sculptural contours, and he was fastidious in revising for just the right proportion. His enduring, influential furniture designs include his Pedestal Table, Tulip Chairs and Womb Chair. He explains his wholistic view of design: “Always design a thing by considering it in its next larger context—a chair in a room, a room in a house, a house in an environment, an environment in a city plan.”
7. George Nakashima
While part of the Midcentury Modern movement embraced mass production with industrial materials and production as a way of making designs more affordable, other designers within the movement called back for the natural and handcrafted. (Sound familiar, hipsters?) George Nakashima was one of the foremost designers in the American Studio Craft Movement, which also included Sam Maloof. Nakashima worked primarily with wood, and his designs embraced the uniqueness of the natural material.In fact, his memoir is titled The Soul of a Tree, reflecting his profound respect for the wood out of which he formed his life’s work. His designs feature classically modern clean lines as well as organic shapes.
8. Hans Wegner
With over 500 chair designs to his name, Hans Wegner is commonly dubbed the “Master of the Chair.” An important figure in the Danish Modern movement, the elegant simplicity of his designs and respect for materials such as wood gave him international renown.
He drew inspiration from various sources—his iconic Wishbone Chair design came from his admiration for chairs from the Ming Dynasty. “A chair is to have no backside,” he said. “It should be beautiful from all sides and angles.”
9. Jens Risom
After emigrating to the US from Denmark, Jens Risom and Hans Knoll formed an influential partnership. Through his relationship with Hans Knoll and his role as the design go-to as Knoll was beginning his furniture company and later through his own eponymous furniture company, Jens Risom is credited with introducing the American public to Danish Modern. His most famous designs include the Risom Rocker, desk and lounge chair. “Good design means that anything which is good by itself will go with other things,” he said.
10. George Nelson
“Total design is nothing more or less than a process of relating everything to everything,” George Nelson said. His designs related previously unrelated things in ways that changed the shape of furniture design. His Storagewall, for instance, introduced the world to modular storage. His Bubble Lamps also reflected his ability to put unrelated things together. Inspired by the design of lamps he’d seen in Sweden that were prohibitively expensive, he came upon the solution for making an affordable variation on the design when he read about self-webbing plastic spray which the military used to “mothball” planes and ships. Nelson’s designs as well as his tenure as Director of Design at Herman Miller makes him a towering, influential figure of the Midcentury Modern movement.