THE MAD MEN OF MID-CENTURY MODERN DESIGN

moderndesigners-july-1961-playboy

George Nelson, Edward Wormley, Eero Saarinen, Harry Bertoia, Charles Eames and Jens Risom Playboy Magazine, July 1961.

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For fans of Mid-Century modern design, this classic image above from Playboy, July 1961 is like the Holy Grail.  Design masters & fellow peers in their prime, beautifully captured in a time that was aesthetically crisp, uncluttered and innovative.

Oh, if you just so happen to have a large scan of this image, please send it my way…

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Bench by George Nelson, 1946.

george nelson bench

Introduced in 1946 the Nelson platform bench was part of George Nelson's first collection for Herman Miller and still stands as a benchmark of modern design. Like much of Nelson's work, the platform bench has clean, rectilinear lines, reflecting his architectural background and his insistence on what he calls "honest" design--that is, making an honest visual statement about an object's purpose.

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Living Room by Edward Wormley, 1953.

Edward Wormley

Edward J Wormley was a master of modern design with the creative ability to integrate international design philosophies into the American lifestyle. In his own words-- “Modernism means freedom—freedom to mix, to choose, to change, to embrace the new but to hold fast to what is good.”

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Tulip Chair by Eero Saarinen for Knoll, 1956.

tulip chair knoll

The Tulip chair was designed for the Knoll company of New York City primarily as a chair to match the complementary dining table. The chair has the smooth lines of modernism and is experimental with materials, and is considered a classic of industrial design.

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Diamond Lounge Chair by Harry Betoia for Knoll, 1950.

harry bertoia diamond chair knoll

Harry Bertoia’s 1950 experiment with bending metal rods into practical art produced a revered collection of seating, including the exquisite Large Diamond chair. Innovative, comfortable and strikingly handsome, the chair’s delicate filigree appearance belies its strength and durability. In Bertoia’s own words, “If you look at these chairs, they are mainly made of air, like sculpture. Space passes through them.”

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The Lounge Chair (and ottoman) by Ray & Charles Eames for Herman Miller, 1956.

eames-chair-herman-miller

The Eames Lounge Chair and ottoman, correctly titled Eames Lounge (670) and Ottoman (671) were released in 1956 after years of development by designers Charles and Ray Eames for the Herman Miller furniture company. It was the first chair the Eames designed for a high-end market. These furnishings are made of molded plywood and leather. Examples of these furnishings are part of the permanent collection of New York's Museum of Modern Art.

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Jens Risom chair, 1942.

jensrisomchair1943

This chair, of simple wood construction using surplus military webbing, was designed by Jens Risom for Hans Knoll, before Risom entered the Army during World War II. It was the basis for Knoll's first line of products introduced in 1942, virtually the only modern furniture available during the war in the US, and was patented in 1945.

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Below is my favorite work by Jens Risom, his breath-taking prefab weekend getaway.  Photos by John Zimmerman–

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jens risom home

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49 thoughts on “THE MAD MEN OF MID-CENTURY MODERN DESIGN

  1. that top picture is hot. do you know if there was a whole article or just the photo?
    if its a whole article, i’m definitely gonna buy that issue, could scan a hi res for ya.

  2. Hey Elliott,

    If you click on “Playboy, July 1961″ there is a link to the accompanying printed article– a great read. Enjoy, and keep me posted if you pick it up.

    Best,

    jp

  3. I just found your blog- wonderful! I found out today that Knoll now offers children’s sized chairs too – Risom and Saarinen’s Womb Chair. So, funny to have stumbled upon these images of Jens Risom’s weekend home too, it’s AMAZING!

  4. Wonder if my wife will believe the argument of “I bought it for the article!” if I try to ebay that issue of Playboy.

  5. JP ~ I found a copy of that Playboy for sale back when I ran the same photo. I’ll send you the link. The LIFE Archive strikes again! Great, great post!

  6. Pingback: Playboys of Modern Design « MRod says:

  7. good post.thanks for the share.this is just unbelievable.I am tired of living in houses built out of bricks.Wish i could live in houses like those shown here.

  8. I’m not a fan of a lot of mid-20th-century architecture or design, especialy the anti-human monstrosity known as Brutalism, but that bench is fabulous.

    The Wormley window treatments? Straight out of Japan. The rest of it is sooooo dated.

    Saarinen plastic chair? Always hated it. His Dulles airport designs are great on paper, but not so great in practice. Then again, that’s true of a lot of 20th-century architecture (students at Yale complain about the poor functionality of the Saarinen-designed dorms, I hear).

    My father had an Eames Lounge and Ottoman. Very nice. I think my parents got rid of it when they redid their interior spaces and it no longer fit in. Too bad.

    The weekend getaway is another a great idea that appears to be great in practice as well. Again, it’s only most of the mid-century stuff that I don’t care for, not all of it. Clean lines are nice; dehumanizing slabs and futuristic detritus are not.

  9. Man I want a getaway house like this. Love the shot with all the furniture on the lawn made to look like it’s in the house. Genius.

  10. You have an eclectic blog. This article with illustrations of these masters of mid-century modern design is delightful. I’m a huge fan of the period – more in terms of furniture design than many of the residences that were created. Chairs, especially, seduce me.

    And the New York School painters? I’m wondering if buried in your blog there are more goodies to behold. Though I feel compelled to meander over to the post on Andre the Giant and take a peek – having dated him (only once). Indeed. Size mattered.

  11. I love the images of the Jens Risom house! While the interior decorations are clearly of a different epoch, I don’t think that the overall architecural style of the house looks dated at all. I’d feel very fashionable living in this house today. Thanks for posting, this is beautiful!

  12. amazing blogg with nicely written content. i like it very much and promise to create some traffic the next days while reading through all the nice stories.
    great work!
    thanks
    @Robin: great uncle you have. nice houses. dont sell all of them!

  13. I love this stuff too. There is a tremendous amount of thought and ingenuity in these designs. I appreciate we are talking about a Playboy article but I’d like to put a plug in for the women who partnered with these designers and contributed hugely to their success. That is not intended to undermine the success of the men but to add to it and to add to human endeavour.

  14. Thanks for a trip down memory lane, my child-bearing years. The biggest deal was low, low tables and tall, tall (ugly) lamps. A few years later they looked pretty dumb and had no resale value.

    I still have one of the low coffee tables, six feet long, 18″ wide, pecan, made by Drexel. It keeps things off the floor on my back porch.

  15. The house in the pictures is very impressive. It’s interesting how open and transparent it is. Today it seems architecture has diverged from that: business buildings are often built with a glass facade, but it is usually reflective and gives the appearance of being transparent without being so; and homes have become more enclosed and separated from the outside (maybe because of a loss of privacy from gov’t and socially/online). Great post!

  16. hm… a very interesting design of this house. i do not like such a style much but i must admit it is rather nice! such a design is good for your summer house or villa.

  17. I’m not crazy about the bench myself. The slats are so narrow. Basic physics are this thing’s enemy.

    It needs more surface area to avoid your butt cheeks being crushed onto too little bench.

  18. Pingback: December 3, 2009: The Timelessness of Edward Wormley and His Long History with Dunbar Furniture « Decor Arts Now

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  20. From the original article: “a darkly mysterious couple, silent in movement, fiery in temperament, who blaze with a sense of the fabulous. ” Puh-leeze.

  21. That house! That was my dream house when I was a child. I loved the windows, but I could never figure out how you’d keep the ones waaay up at the top clean? And window dressing…holy cow, would that be expensive!!

    On another note, I believe I remember hearing somewhere that some of the props from Star Trek were designed by one of these gentlemen, to give it a futuristic look. I believe it was the man who made the Tulip Chair, Saarinen.

  22. JP, wonderful article hitting on all the great designs. In your photo of the classic Eames 670, you show a wonderful chair, but one that has been shoddily repaired, you’ll notice the 2 dark circles underneath the arm pad, At some point the rubber shock mount broke loose, the chair has been drilled thru and bolted, then repaired with putty and stained….. a shame when there are several companies offering correct repair found online these days.

    I recently found and purchased a very rare George Nelson bench with zinc plated bent steel rod legs. Many Interior designers complained about the visual weight and color of the black wooden base and Herman Miller came out with the rod leg version for a period of 16 months in 1949-50. it’s a piece ill always treasure for its rarity and lines… if you’d like a photo please ask.

    zach matthews
    chairfag.com

  23. My auntie had a house like that on Fire Island back in the 60s.I thought they were called “A Frames”Anyway,its still standing,dudes,ITS STILL STANDING TODAY!!!!

  24. Just stumbled onto the Mad Men of Design post, and enjoyed it. Any idea who took the photos of the Jens Risom house? They’re great! – the photographer deserves credit!

  25. Pingback: Mad Men’s new home: Still very 60s modern, but no longer truly ‘Mad’ | Chicago Top 100

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