Image courtesy of String Furniture, Sweden
By Jo-ann Fortune
Mid Century furniture for compact spaces
We can’t all live in large, open-plan homes, but the same mid century gems can be used to furnish compact new-builds and Victorian conversion flats. Neat storage solutions coupled with minimal forms can still be purchased by those on a limited budget; good quality modernist mid century pieces not only have a reasonable asking price but also act as solid investments in terms of longevity.
Mid century furniture: it’s popularity in the UK
In the UK, the revolution in modernist furniture design came about as a result of numerous social changes that saw people living in smaller spaces during the 1940s and ‘50s, coupled with developments in manufacturing that meant even those on low incomes could buy into designer aesthetics. After the Second World War, purpose-built modernist housing blocks, such as the Park Hill Estate in Sheffield, rose up in cities and traditional home-life structures shifted, seeing young people leaving their families earlier in life to set up home with partners, head off to university or move into house-shares. This created a need for low cost, versatile furniture, and mass-produced mid century furniture fit the bill. Worth bothering with Park Hill?
New furniture was designed with form, functionality and budget in mind. “Mid century furniture was created to combine aesthetics and practicality in order to bring beautifully designed pieces to the man on the street,” explains Interior Designer Clare Pascoe of Pascoe Interiors, “This was made affordable by advances in manufacturing techniques, which enabled furniture to be mass produced.”
The modern house: a shortage of space
Recent studies show that our homes certainly aren’t getting any bigger. The Royal Institute of British Architects’ 2011 Case for Space study revealed that the average new-build in England is only 92% of the recommended minimum size. Research by the Joseph Rowntree Foundation in 2003 found average home sizes to be in fact shrinking, and analysis of EU Housing statistics in 2005 showed that UK homes are among some of the smallest in Europe, with new-builds 35% larger in the Netherlands and a whopping 80% more roomy in Denmark.
Mid century furniture: versatile and multi-purpose
Multi-purpose pieces of furniture will work harder for those living in smaller spaces. One of the most practical multipurpose designs from the 1960s is the Ladderax shelving unit. Combining mid century design with great versatility means that although the design may appear regimented, the aesthetics do not. Tracy Goslar, who co-runs the Brighton Retro Fair, lives on the 15th floor of an ex-council block overlooking Brighton seafront. She chose this shelving for both her living room and bedroom. “Ladderax can be reconfigured into so many different forms that it shouldn’t just be thought of as a bookcase”. The modules can be assembled with any combination of open, glass-fronted units and wooden-fronted cupboards.
Poul Cadovius, Willem Lutjens and WK Mobel are among other designers and manufacturers who created innovative open-wall shelving units, with the latter’s WK 409 incorporating a bureau, which nowadays is perfect for computers. The mid century 606 Universal System, designed by Dieter Rams for Vitsoe in 1960, is still in production, and so is the String Shelving System, which dates back to 1949. With both, you can select the exact combination of units to suit the proportions and function of your room.
Mid century furniture: ‘floating’ off the ground
Raising furniture off the floor makes a room seem larger – you see the entire expanse of the floor. This was well suited to the compact layouts of post-war homes and continues to work well in small living spaces today. “Advances in manufacturing meant that the legs could now be finer and no longer had to be integral to the structure. They still needed to carry the weight of course, so mid century furniture was designed with slimmer lines and dimensions”, says Clare Pascoe.
Floating furniture, using wall-fixing systems, is a space-creating mid century legacy, with companies like Ikea and Habitat continuing to sell their own versions. The minimal design gives the impression of more space through the extended continuity of the majorative surface, such as the wall or floor.
The mid century sideboard: the return of a classic
The humble sideboard is another much-loved mid century piece. Having largely come to prominence in the Victorian period, sideboards returned to popularity in Britain during the ’50s and ’60s, due to an increased interest in modernist Scandinavian design. British firms and designers, such as A Younger Ltd and Archie Shine followed the lead, designing Scandinavian inspired sideboards for the UK market with new timbers, such as teak. Less imposing sideboards were then developed by manufacturers like Ercol, which were better suited to smaller rooms while still providing spacious storage solutions.
Mid century furniture: aesthetics and affordability
It’s not just the functionality of mid century furniture that enhances contemporary homes. Clare Pascoe advises, “The mid century aesthetic works within contemporary interiors, as the clean and fluid lines suit contemporary colour palettes and spaces. The richness of the veneers gives an often much-needed element of pattern and age to an interior that may otherwise lack depth of personality.”
There are still fantastic examples of Mid Century Modern sideboards available to the dedicated shopper but, as recognition and demand for these pieces grows, inevitably so does the price tag. Interior Designer Ruth Phillips of Pascoe Interiors highlights a few contemporary equivalents, “Among the fantastic new designs on the market are the ‘Ply Feet’ sideboard from Unto This Last, priced from £330, available in a range of sizes and finishes, making it ideal for smaller spaces and even smaller budgets. Another great option is the Bergman cabinet by designer Mattias Söderberg, available at Made.com, priced from £249.”
Claire Pascoe explains, “Purists who want to furnish their home strictly with pieces from the leading designers such as Finn Juhl, Ole Wanscher and Borge Mogensen will pay a premium, while those who create their own more eclectic style, by for instance pairing an Ercol day bed with a Moller chair or G-Plan side table, will be on a more affordable path.”
Mid century furniture: still accessible on a low budget
Although we’ve seen a surge in prices for mid century furniture in the UK, there are still affordable pieces for those on lower budgets if you look in the right place. For instance, we’ve noted an increase in affordable vintage furniture sourced from Eastern Europe and it’s worth remembering that many dealers are happy to buy mid century items back if you are wanting to upgrade or change.
Useful Links and Information
Check out Jo Fortune’s article in MidCentury issue 03 Small But Perfectly Formed: Maximising a Minimal Space