Mid-Century Furniture

Why I Hate Mid Century Modern Furniture! A Rant by Rachel LaBoheme

Mid Century Modern Furniture

I don’t want to begrudge anyone of the pleasure they get from Mid Century Modern furniture and decor. Certainly, there are many die-hard Mid Century Modern furniture fans out there. (If you are one, please consider reading my husbands take on MCM Furniture.) But many people walking into our furniture store over the years have asked, do you ever get any MCM furniture?

The answer is yes and no.

Over the years, we have sold a handful of Mid-Century Modern pieces. Honestly, these retro furniture pieces were kind of pretty in a weird way. (What can I say, we have great taste here at Bohemian’s.) 🙂

Mid Century Modern Furniture

Overwhelmingly, though, I hate Mid Century Modern furniture. Here are my Top Nine Reasons why.

What is Midcentury Modern furniture?

Simply put, Mid Century Modern furniture is furniture produced roughly in the years from 1940’s until the 1960’s. Design wise, however, Mid Century furniture typically has simple lines and very little ornamentation. Typically, because it has no fuss, it is regarded as very functional furniture. New materials like plastic, resin and plywood found their way into Mid Century style furniture.

Now for the Reasons why I dislike it…

  1. It’s Pretentious.
  2. Mid Century Modern ironically started in the 1950’s and 1960’s with the idea of “bringing design to the masses.” Many of the original proponents of this modern design trend like Bauhaus and Le Corbusier (how pretentious are these names?) actually designed simpler furniture so that it could be accessible.

    However, Mid Century furniture today is anything but accessible.

    Instead, it seems MCM furniture name-dropping helps the upper crust feel self-important and stylish. They brag about their Miller chairs and Eames pieces as if God gave them a special place in Heaven for spending way too much money on ugly furniture.

    Likewise, there is such snobbery that surrounds “original” pieces by famous Danish designers. To me, they look like simple prototypes for bad motel furniture. It’s as if Motel 6 decided to save money this year by making these plywood chairs for their lobby.

  3. It’s Mass Produced.
  4. I love furniture. And I love factory produced furniture by Vintage makers. But Good Lord, high end factory pieces often take hours of workmanship to produce. A single Kittinger Clawfoot leg, for instance, can take several days for a craftsman to carve.

    However, most MCM and MCM knock-offs are made by machine, and quickly. Indeed, the look of MCM furniture often echos this “machine aesthetic.” Stark, inorganic and cold, these mass produced pieces lack the handwork of other vintage furniture styles.

  5. It’s Overdone.
  6. Mid Century Furniture styles have been reinvented in a thousands of different ways by high and low companies. Let me tell you, there just doesn’t seem to be enough diversity to keep reliving it! How many low back square sofas with stick legs can we tolerate?

    As Michael Boodro (former Editor in chief of Elle Decor, of all places) says in this article from the New York Times, “Your eye does get bored. Twenty years ago, when midcentury was first being discovered, you could do a straight interior, and that was exciting. People want to go beyond the expected.”

    Twenty years, people. There are really only a few things with that much staying power. Maybe Michael Jackson. And reggae. But it’s time for this overdone style statement to be over! RIP Mid Century Modern.

  7. It’s not as comfortable as they say.
  8. I don’t know about you, but the comfort level of MCM seems to be greatly over exaggerated. I see these little square dining chairs or low seated living room furniture with 1.5 inches of foam and I fail to feel the urge to snuggle up and watch a movie.

    Give me a dated 1980’s rolled arm sofa over a 1960’s Danish nightmare any day!

    PA House furniture
    Say yes to (tasteful) 1980’s sofas! Say no to Stick Legged Furniture!

    Likewise, I feel the itchy mohair of many Mid Century Sofas to be less than ideal, which brings me to my next point…

  9. The materials used are cheap!
  10. Plywood, plastic, mohair, vinyl, fake wood! Tell me again why I should buy this thing for well over $1000? I guess the one thing that makes MCM attractive is that is generally not as heavy as fine furniture…?

  11. It’s Group Think on every Level.
  12. I just don’t like conformity that much. The ubiquitousness and popularity of MCM just makes me uncomfortable.

  13. The Design Versatility is Questionable.
  14. I hear people say it all the time. “It’s just so versatile. You can put it anywhere and with everything.” This makes me say, “What the…?”

    I get that some people find it “surprising” and “fresh” to “juxtapose” their Victorian house with “Mid Century Pieces” (sorry, that was a lot of air quotes!) but I frankly fail to see the design versatility. To me, a piece of Mid Century Modern sticks out like a sore thumb in nearly every setting.

  15. It encourages minimalism.
  16. Minimalism requires way too much purging and editing for me. I like to put all my pretty things around so that I feel life has a reason for living and that reason isn’t some sort of cruel joke. Sorry, minimalists. I don’t get it.

    After all, this isn’t Moscow (yet), and I want some variety of color, rich patterns and glamorous accessories! (The layered Traditional look calls to me in a much deeper way.)

  17. It reminds me that Millenials have no money, can’t think on their own and have to live in apartments to survive.
  18. Sorry snowflakes (aka Millenials)! This one is a tough one. I feel that our generation could be the most susceptible to marketing schemes. And to me, Mid Century Modern Furniture is like the Emperor’s New Clothes. In many ways, furniture stores and online conglomerates (Wayfair, West Elm, etc) found a gullible market in order to further their agenda of selling cheap low-quality furniture for high prices.

    Plus, they figure, we can screw a peg leg into a piece of sawdust (as long as it’s pre-drilled) after all those years of our pricey educations.

    Furthermore, since we have no money or job prospects, living four to an apartment until our late 30’s seems like a great time to introduce this lightweight and small apartment-sized furniture to the masses. Dare I say, Ikea?

      So that’s my little rant about Mid Century Modern Furniture!

      What are your thoughts on this design trend? I would love to know whether you agree that it’s time for MCM to die or whether this truly is a classic here to stay!

      Thanks for reading!
      Rachel LaBoheme
      Head Creative Director of Bohemian’s

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96 thoughts on “Why I Hate Mid Century Modern Furniture! A Rant by Rachel LaBoheme

  1. I grew up in part in a town in a 1950’s time warp wrapped in WWII green, and invaded by turquoise and the very creepiest oranges that have ever been found. MCM seems to me to reach out towards a number of things only to fall short, sitting in the diner halfway to something great, where quality goes to a creaky death. I like minimal, I like sophisticated, and I like a playful, funky chic as welcoming to pop artists as dutch master painters. I also love the idea of dropping down into a seating area, or approaching the use of any furniture from an unexpected perspective that makes the every day necessity an experience. But somehow, MCM, while putting the proverbial bow in its hair to nod at all these virtuous things, manages to add the dress that makes them seem a satire.

    I am a big fan of organic lines in architecture and design, and biomimicry, and I get so sad looking at MCM in part because Frank Lloyd Wright had in his creations the seeds of two movements, organic architecture, and brutalist architecture, and MCM pushed his legacy towards brutalism, swallowing a good few decades we all could have spent revolutionizing our living spaces towards the organic. Now we are finally making inroads into using new, grown construction material, chasing the expression of those organic lines and truths, and each time the impetus seems to have to come from the food industry, and not the builders or designers that set the tone for architectural norms, (with one or two notable exceptions). It is disappointing to say the least.

    Still, what makes MCM such a no go with me, at the end of the day, is a distinct lack of comfort. Quality furniture of minimalist design has a number of virtues: Its is easy to clean, light on its feet, and a showcase of craftsmanship, design, and focus, as there is nowhere left to hide. Still, a few of these qualities can be missing, and comfort will absolutely save the inherent value of a piece, or damn it in its absence. MCM eschews comfort as an antithesis to it’s entire aesthetic, and that is the line it crosses to become a true abomination. How can I look at most chairs in the style, and not see the visceral ghost of a boy with a permanent hunch and two left feet, failing to hide his agony, or his growing misogyny, and latent racism, being bullied by older, harder, and more narrow minded men in the room? If I were to become a person who started looking like my sofa… The places my mind goes to be haunted, I’m grateful to imagine a world of other furniture to own. Maybe a nice fainting couch, or a nice futon? All I can say is that there are seasons of American Horror Story I find impossible to get through purely due to the MCM design of the set.

    1. S, you are so right about the virtues of MCM. Of course, the aims of organic clean lines and minimalism seem to be there, but yes MCM furniture falls short of its promises. I think you are right: comfort makes the difference. Thanks for your comment.

  2. Yep! Spot on. I absolutely hate mid-century modern furniture, and I’m only 24. I much prefer 80s and prior art deco. It has a slick feel without that cold, clinical feel of mid-century modern.

  3. I found this by googling something like “What can I put in my MCM house that isn’t MCM furniture?” Anytime I get a designer in to look at my house (I just wanted color recommendations to make it look brighter without painting over the wood!), they tell me it’s all wrong and want me to go heavily in the MCM direction. It’s so boxy! And the lack of padding in the sofas just doesn’t make me want to curl up and read. I, too, am there for the rolled arms. As for ’60s construction– I mean, I guess if you’re comparing it with modern knock-down furniture, OK? I have some cheap barstools that always need to have their fasteners re-inserted because they work themselves out over time. On the other hand, I have ’60s pieces in my dining room which I was given as a gift and (theoretically) ought to be good quality, but I have to have all the chairs reglued every few years because the way they’re designed means they lever themselves to pieces if you use them regularly. So, how much better is the quality, really? I have 1880s oak chairs, by contrast, which are solid and never need any work, and other furniture from 1910-1940 that is likewise solid and completely functional. I don’t get the love affair with MCM furniture at all. I like the house– the rooms are huge, and that was my primary goal when buying a house– but I really don’t want to deal with the furniture.

    1. Well stated thank you. We like neoclassical designs in solid wood which look great when adding ginger jars or anything else for color. A nice hand knotted rug adds style color and comfort to a room. Look for 60’s and 70’s furniture from Kindel, Thomasville, Karges, Statton. Those brands did alot of traditional furniture but also branched out into some very unique designs as well, also don’t forget about Henredon. Thanks for sharing

  4. So, I stumbled across this article while actually looking for a bed frame for my *cough* apartment… I feel the same way. The thing is though mid century furniture is aesthetically pleasing, at least for me. The thing that bothers me most ( a point you touched on) is that it’s stark and cold, devoid of any history or craftsmanship. The issue I take with stuff you mentioned like kittinger is that it’s so big and heavy, dark and gothic.. so I guess what I’m asking, is there any middle ground for a guy who understands the modern furniture rabbit hole? I’m tired of deleting history for the sake of cost and minimalist trends, there’s plenty of time for our kin to live in plastic bubbles and eat algae.

    1. Yes, Willy. I think a nice traditional poster bed, sleigh bed or even a more traditional upholstered bed would be a stylish alternative to a Mid Century Modern bed. If you don’t like dark, heavy furniture, consider a lighter finish cherry, maple or oak bed. Vintage brands you may want to look for might be Stickley, Harden, Henkel Harris, Drexel, Pennsylvania House, Conant Ball or vintage Kling or Ethan Allen. All developed nice transitional lines that work in with a variety of styles. If you like clean lines, consider a pencil poster bed (without all the carvings). Hope that helps.

    2. Thank you for coming out and saying it! I found this post by searching “mid-century modern is ugly.” I’ve been looking for furniture for a new home and all I see is this plain, stark, boxy, overpriced painted particleboard that to me is completely devoid of personality. Please go away, MCM, so I can find some furniture I can buy without thinking, well, I really don’t like it, but this is what they’re showing now. As I continue to search, I always seem to gravitate toward Caracole, which to me, has a lovely personality.

  5. Couldn’t agree more with your article- and a couple of these comments. In fact, I’m astounded that there aren’t more rant-y articles about the visual vomit-fest that is Mid-century modern. The hideous angled peg legs all over the place (ooo, wow, so clever & appealing 🙄), the nappy sofas~ It all elevates craptastic to a nauseating level.
    The dressers you posted are definitely a visually appealing break from the norm of what I associate with MCM. But yes, when someone likes mcm style in general, it’s a huge, barfy, red flag for me.

    1. Yes, Colette. I am swimming against the current with my distaste for MCM but as the comments suggest, I am hardly alone. Thanks for your comment. Love the phrase “barfy red flag!”

  6. I agree with you 100%. I was looking for a sofa not too long ago and there were so many Mid-Century designs and I loathe that style. I was perplexed that multiple furniture stores hardly had much traditional furniture. It took awhile to find something I liked and I didn’t love it as much as my original sofa ( that had to be replaced due to wear and tear. I’m hoping Mid-Century goes back out of style very soon.

    1. Yes Lisa! It doesn’t appear to be waning, unfortunately. Sometimes (especially for sofas), you may consider buying vintage and having it reupholstered. Thanks for writing!

  7. I agree if you are talking about how mid century is done now. However, as with any redo, it is not the same as the original. As for quality, yes, the peices were mass produced back in the day, but even mass produced anything from before around 1980 is better quality than what is being made now. Secondly, you mentioned color. The current producers have tried to “modernize” (always a mistake) mid century modern by making it in neutral colors. This design does not work with neutral colors since the design is already minimalist as you said. Your house ends up looking like a doctor’s office. But the colors of the era were anything but neutral. My idea of true mid century style is from about 1955 to 1975. I love the bold, non-neutral greens, oranges, browns and yellows, as well as the turquoise, and softer lemon yellow and faded pink of the 1950’s. I am not a big fan of the red and black trend that people associate with the 50’s, not sure how common that actually was in the typical home. So try taking those clean lines and adding non-neutral colors with authentic quality peices instead of the made in China junk they sell now and you might be surprised. I will also say that mid century modern is not an easy style to do right. The simplistic end result is deceptive, which is why I think many people get it wrong.

  8. I totally agree with you. MCM furniture is ugly, uncomfortable, overpriced, and definitely has that “Emperor has no clothes” quality. The sooner this fad fades from view, the better.

  9. Thank you are a very enjoyable article. You articulated my thoughts about mid century. I am not a fan of right angles in furniture. It reminds me bad 1950-60’s office furniture, which I am not interested in having in my home.

  10. thank you for concisely articulating why midcentury give me hives. it’s constantly touted as organic and versatile when it is neither. If you want midcentury, you have to commit to midcentury, and before you know it you’re surrounded by cheap looking chrome and sterile color schemes and boxy uninviting sofas. People post pictures of perfectly restored midcentury kitchens and all I can think of are the depressed, stifled women who must have endured it the first time around. Today all it says to me is “I have many dollars but no clues”

    1. Leah, thank you for your comment. I think you are absolutely right: if you want midcentury, you have to commit to midcentury. There is no middle-ground. Fortunately, many people seek the alternative. Best, Rachel

    2. I felt compelled to respond to your comment because I found it self serving, phony, and ridiculous. Somebody needed to call you out. To associate a piece of furniture, kitchen ware, appliance; ergo, a non living object with the patterns of people who choose subjectively how and why\why not to use them is just dumb.

      You seem like you’re irrationally angry at furniture.

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