The Timeless Appeal of Mid-Century Modern Style
Story as it appeared on The McEnearney Associates Blog
Today, the mid-century modern look is everywhere. Search the phrase in any furniture retailer, and you’ll likely come up with hundreds of results. The pieces get snapped up in moments when listed for resale online, and it’s a popular style to use when staging homes for sale.
In a follow-up to last week’s post about the mid-century modern style of architecture and homes, this week we dive into the design of mid-century modern furniture. But what’s the basis for its wide appeal? And what sets MCM-style furniture apart? We also spoke with local artist, Katie Banks of CMB World Designs, who is refinishing pieces for sale in the DMV area.
The mid-century modern style of architecture refers to the wave of homes built between the end of World War II in 1945 and the mid-1970s; for furniture, however, historians cite the 1950s as the time this style of furniture was made. The style went out of fashion by the 1960s, but became popular again in the 1980s, and by the mid-1990s, collectors had started driving up the prices of original pieces. Simultaneously, furniture manufacturers began selling pieces directly to retail shoppers (rather than to designers and architects only), which allowed for easier acquisition.
The basis of MCM’s appeal is the simplicity of well-designed objects that have a timeless, classic look with clean lines. These pieces look great in modern homes, while still feeling fresh and contemporary. Since they were originally designed to fit in the smaller homes that were constructed after WWII, they still fit well in today’s houses — particularly in the DMV — where owners or renters may not have the luxury of space. In short, the designs have stood the test of time.
Familiarity is also a factor, according to an article written by Curbed. “Baby boomers who grew up with midcentury designs are certainly part of the market for both the originals and the reproductions. The trend toward urban living may also be part of what keeps the midcentury look alive.”
The style’s increasing popularity is one that local artist Katie Banks has felt the effects in her furniture refinishing business, CMB World Designs. “I think mid-century modern is such a simple vibe and can go with any style,” Banks said. “A mid-century piece of furniture in a traditional room just works.” Banks, who started her business more than six years ago, said her love for the style came out of her restoring the old George Mason University fraternity home she bought with her husband. The couple redid the home themselves and built an addition, transforming the home to be a combination of both modern and historic. “I started small; I’d always liked to paint furniture so I started with a couple of pieces, and then thought I’d enjoy doing this on the side as a business. I got my first mid-century modern dresser in and completely fell in love. It was the super simple construction of it, so if something were to go wrong [while refinishing it], it wasn’t hard to put back together.” Banks said she’s also seen a shift in her clientele from mostly Washington, D.C. to being split 50-50 between D.C. and Virginia. She mainly sells pieces via her Instagram account (@cmbworlddesigns), with the company name a nod to her three sons, Collin (a McEnearney agent), Mason and Blaze.
What remains Banks’ most popular and sell the fastest are all-wood credenzas with sliding doors or opening drawers.
“People like an open space that they can see,” Banks said. “I’ll modify pieces, remove the drawers behind the sliding door and just leave shelves, or just an open space.” Also frequently requested are matching nightstands, which are hard to come across in pairs. Banks attributes this to when the pieces were originally produced, only one nightstand came with the set and would be arranged between two twin beds in the owner’s suite. To accommodate today’s buyer expectations of two nightstands, Banks usually waits to find two from separate sales before refinishing and selling them as a set.
Lastly, bathroom vanities are popular for Banks to refinish now. “People are asking me to convert pieces that have sliding or opening doors into bathroom vanities,” Banks explained, but said she prefers to work on pieces that she owns versus pieces from her clients. “Client’s pieces have sentimental value, and I don’t want to have to worry about someone else being upset” if the piece breaks or she can redo it as they wish.
Tips from CMB Designs
If you’re looking to add mid-century modern furniture to your home, Banks suggest looking for a few markings when trying to determine whether a piece is an original or reproduction:
Look for dovetail drawers
Originals will have true brass knobs, which may look black from tarnish, but with elbow grease, it will be shiny and new looking. Reproductions will have metal knobs that have been painted a brass color.
Original pieces will have a little stamp on bottom or back, but also inside of the drawers will be marked, of where the piece is from. A lot of pieces will have an inspection marking and the type of wood.
“There’s a reason the pieces have been around for 60-plus years,” Banks said, “and if refinished right, it’ll be around for another 60-plus years.”