Dominic Bradbury’s Mid-Century Modern Furniture Is a Perfect Companion to Modernism Week

The new book on midcentury design will help you know what you're looking at in this year's show homes.

Steven Biller Current Digital, Interior Design, Modernism

The Farnsworth House, Plano, Illinois, USA by Ludwig Mies van der Rohe, 1951 

As we see each February — every year for the past two decades or so in Palm Springs — the appetite for midcentury modern architecture and design grows evermore insatiable. Collectors and enthusiasts crowd into the Modernism Show at the Palm Springs Convention Center and file in, booties over their shoes, any number of midcentury modern homes for a look at classic designs and rare, hard-to-find pieces.

To prepare for such an encounter, or navigate one on the fly, what you need is a copy of writer, journalist, lecturer, and architecture and design consultant Dominic Bradbury’s comprehensive and richly illustrated Mid-Century Modern Furniture, new from Thames & Hudson.

“The midcentury period was the golden age of furniture design,” Bradbury explains in his introduction in the book. “It was a time like no other, when innovation combined with creativity to produce an extraordinary range of furniture with both depth and breadth.”

 The 448-page volume digs into the inventive and exciting period between the mid-1940s and early 1970s — one of the most productive eras for objects and furniture in the home, driven by postwar optimism, innovation in materials and technology, and new modes of living. 

The book showcases a generation of design — everything from armchairs, sofas, and tables to cabinets, bookcases, and nightstands — “built upon the work of the pioneer modernists of the 1920s and 1930s, including Marcel Breuer, Mies van der Rohe, Charlotte Perriand, Eileen Gray, and others.” 

“As a result of the enduring popularity of the period, many pieces featured [here and] in the book are still in production and have been reissued. At the same time, the midcentury movement has become a valued source of reference and inspiration for contemporary designers.”

Here’s a sampling of the treasures to be found inside.


Ball Chair
Eero Aarnio, 1966
Asko/Eero Aarnio Originals
Courtesy of Wright 20

The Ball Chair is one of the most famous midcentury cocoon chairs, creating a womb-like microhabitat, or a room within a room. Originally made for Aarnio’s own home, the piece is constructed of a white fiberglass shell perched upon a single pivoting stem anchored by a circular base plate. The soft, upholstered interior cradles the occupant.


Up5 Chair & Ottoman
Gaetano Pesce, 1969
C&B Italia/BOB Italia
Courtesy of Wright 20

The Up5 Chair sits among a handful of midcentury pieces that can claim to have truly reinvented the typology in a radical way. It arrived vacuum-packed in PVC wrapping, with the polyurethane chair only expanding and growing on contact with the air. Once fully formed, the curvaceous and enveloping shape of the armchair reveals itself, while a round ottoman (Up6) sits alongside in a mother and child formation.


Model CH24 Wishbone Chairs
Hans Wegner, 1950
Carl Hansen & Søn
Courtesy of Wright 20

Not everyone was as radical with the form as Peace and Aarnio. Danish designers of the time were obsessed with the idea of functionality, crafting stunning takes on  classic furniture that nevertheless cut thoroughly modern figures. The "King of Chairs" Hans Wegner designed hundreds of sought-after Scandinavian seating options, many of which were mass produced and have become iconic representations of the era.