Who were the most famous furniture designers?

When we talk about contemporary décor and interior design, it is almost impossible not to mention the exceptional designers that marked the golden days of mid century modern furniture and interior design. This era played a profound role in shaping the contemporary sensibilities and the 20th century idea of stylish and aesthetically pleasing interior design elements. Of course, furniture plays a huge role in this regard and one can argue that it was exactly designer furniture that defined the unique aesthetic and stylistic expression of now-famous mid century design style.

What makes mid century furniture design so special?

When this movement first started taking shape, it presented both a radical break from the approach to design characterizing the previous eras, but at the same time, also a continuation of some early 20th century innovations and movements in the field of design and architecture with Bauhaus, Organic Functionalism, and Danish Modern being arguably the most influential. What all these design movements and schools did that was so revolutionary at the time was to leave behind the cluttered world of excessive ornamentation and dark and heavy furniture reserved for the elite and offer instead sleek, modern and highly functional furniture affordable for the general public.

  • Modern
  • Functional
  • Affordable
  • Simple elegance
  • Form follows function

Although these ideas of pragmatic functionality varied to a certain extent, they were all profoundly shaped by the overall democratization of the market that peaked somewhere in the mid 20th century years. The reduction of ornamentation and focus on elegance through simplicity and form follows function postulates that started taking shape during the early 20th century got their complete development in mid century modern style, profoundly influencing and shaping its unique aesthetical expression.

Aesthetics of mid century modern furniture

Regardless of whether we are talking about dining chairs or lounge chairs, daybeds or sofas, lamps or shelves, mid century modern furniture comes with a consistent style rooted in the design philosophy that made it possible at first place. These iconic pieces feature a rather simple form that is unencumbered by unnecessary ornamentation. Every line, every angle, every curve tends to smoothly flow, providing the complete whole with an organic appeal. Comfort and functionality tend to be rather prominent concerns of popular mid century furniture designers, so it comes as no surprise that these models often feature an ergonomic design or a form that allows them to be highly practical.

  • Simple elegance
  • Comfort
  • Functionality
  • Organic shapes and forms

Questions such as whether a certain chair model is stackable, whether its lightweight, whether a lamp will ensure directed or diffuse light have never before been so carefully considered nor have they had such a profound impact on the overall look of the finished product. At the same time, the fondness for organic forms and curves was perfectly complemented by natural materials that were commonly used in some of the most iconic mid century modern classics. But, this doesn’t mean that popular mid century furniture designers didn’t experiment with artificially produced materials.

Furniture design for the democratic society

On the contrary, innovation and a clever utilization of contemporary materials and industrial production techniques is something that is very characteristic for mid century furniture design. Materials such as plastic proved to be highly valuable in reducing the production costs, while the mass production made possible by the 20th century breakthroughs in the industrial processes allowed these designs to easily reach thousands all over the world.

  • Lowered production costs
  • Easy mass production of stylish furniture
  • Democratization of the market
  • Affordability for all

In other words, the flair for experimentation with contemporary materials and production technologies perfectly matched the ever-increasing democratization of the market and the desire to make exquisite furniture available for all and not just the privileged few.

Who were mid century modern furniture designers?

The artists and creators, designers and architects who made mid century furniture design what it is today all went on to become some of the biggest names in this field, recognized to this day. With unwavering popularity and timeless appeal of their designs, they are among the most influential creators of the 20th century whose reach stretches well into contemporary times.

But who were these visionaries?

With global outreach of this design movement, it comes as no surprise that we can easily find influential creators from the period in numerous places, from Europe to the United States. However, many would argue that perhaps the most significant contribution was made by Scandinavian mid century furniture designers who anticipated many contemporary trends and deeply reshaped our very idea of stylish and functional furniture.

Let’s take a better look.

Scandinavian mid century furniture design

While many of the core postulates and approaches that characterize mid century modern furniture design developed early in the 20th century through movements such as early Modernism, Bauhaus or International Style, many of the experts in furniture design history would argue that the unique design philosophy of the movement was polished and made coherent through the work of an innovative and visionary generation of designers and architects working in Scandinavia during the post-war years.

The newly found optimism in the post-war Scandinavia was deeply connected with the ongoing efforts to remove the traces of the war and rebuild the deeply scared countries. This, in turn, had a very practical consequence of increasing the need for cheap, affordable and practical furniture that could be easily manufactured in order to meet the demands of the society.

But even more than that, many of the Scandinavian furniture designers proved to be highly innovative as manifested by their avant-garde cutting-edge designs such as Eero Saarinen’s Tulip chair or Eero Aarnio’s retro-futuristic masterpiece the Ball chair.

Scandinavian sensibilities and mid 20th century furniture designers

This social climate played a crucial role in embodying the typical Scandinavian sensibilities in a truly new form. The traditional Scandinavian furniture design and décor always leaned heavily towards unforced minimalism and simple elegance that was intended to reproduce the feelings of closeness and comfort. This aesthetic and sensibility are most famously manifested through the concept of hygge, a word present in Danish and Norwegian languages that can be roughly translated as ‘giving comfort and joy’. Most commonly, it is described as a unique sensation of coziness and comfort that is rooted in wellness and convenience in your everyday surroundings.

  • Stylish minimalism
  • Traditional Scandinavian aesthetics and sensibilities
  • Streamlined forms
  • Comfort and coziness
  • Reproducing sensations of wellness and convenience

This concept profoundly shaped the uniquely Scandinavian approach to design with its focus on unimposing comfort, stripped down, streamlined aesthetics and simple elegance. During the 1950s and 1960s, these same principles were merged with the increasingly globalized influence of various other mid century design practices, thus allowing the classic Scandinavian mid century furniture design to take form and leave a lasting impression on the era as a whole.

Mid century Danish furniture designers

Even though it is common to talk of Scandinavian mid century design, many often pay special attention to the influence of Danish furniture designers who created some of the most iconic classics of the era. And this is not without good reason – the big names of Danish mid century furniture design are often credited for being the most influential creators of the 20th century. On top of that, three of the biggest names do cover a variety of different furniture pieces and types.

  • Hans Wegner
  • Arne Jacobsen
  • Poul Henningsen

Hans Wegner

The first that comes to mind is, of course, world-famous Hans J. Wegner, ‘The Master of the Chair’, the creative genius behind the iconic Wishbone chair who revolutionized our very idea of the dining chair. With a flair for woodworking, this master carpenter left a lasting legacy with his collection of more than a hundred wooden dining chairs, some of which are continuously quoted as the best, most stylish or most influential designs of all time. But, while Wegner is most famous for his dining chairs, this Danish furniture designer was just as successful with his lounge chairs such as the Ox chair or the famous Papa Bear Chair.

Arne Jacobsen

Not less influential was Arne Jacobsen, another Danish furniture designer best known for his work on the ‘world’s first designer hotel’, namely the SAS Royal Hotel in Copenhagen which was not only designed by Jacobsen in terms of architecture, but also furnished with chairs, lounge chairs, lamps and even small details such as ashtrays – all designed by Jacobsen himself. Many of his best-known designs, including the world-famous lounge-chairs such as the Egg chair or Swan chair, were first created for this designer hotel, quickly ensuring global fame for the Danish designer. But, Arne Jacobsen is just as well known for his collection of minimalist-looking yet highly functional and stylish AJ lamps which remain exceptionally sought-after to this day.

Poul Henningsen

If Wegner revolutionized the idea of a dining chair and Jacobsen did the same with lounge chairs, then Poul Henningsen can undoubtedly be credited for kick-starting a completely new era in lighting architecture and lamp design. This pioneer of multi-shade lamp design developed a truly unique approach to ensuring comfortable and soft, yet functional light without harsh glare or uncomfortable sharpness. He achieved this by coming up with clever designs that will hide the direct light source and refract the light in a specific way, depending on the model. The result is a collection of world-famous lamps synonymous with elegance and luxurious style, with Artichoke lamp and PH Snowball being the most famous examples.

American mid century furniture designers

As mid century modern furniture design was a truly global design movement, it comes as no surprise that many creators from the other side of the Atlantic also contributed to the exquisite style that was developed in the mid 20th century. Florence Knoll is maybe the most famous name of all American mid century furniture designers. She not only created a significant number of truly outstanding designer furniture pieces, mostly intended to be used in the stylish 20th century living rooms, but also worked together with famous creators from across the globe, sharing her ideas and insights without which many of the classics (such as Saarinen’s Womb chair, to name just one example) wouldn’t be possible.

  • Florence Knoll
  • Charles & Ray Eames
  • Harry Bertoia
  • George Nelson

And of course, how can we talk about American mid century furniture designers without mentioning the world-famous designer couple, Charles and Ray Eames who created some of the most popular and still highly sought-after pieces of designer furniture. Their collection of plastic dining chairs with wooden or metal bases is still considered to be a quintessential part of any stylish and modern dining room, while their Eames Lounge Chair continues topping the lists of most influential lounge chair designs to this day. At the same time, the famous couple anticipated the increased importance of ergonomic considerations as well as ever more sedentary lifestyle of the modern man, creating a collection of highly mobile, adjustable and comfortable office chairs in response.

Equally well-known in the world of furniture design, creators such as American-Italian Harry Bertoia known for his collection of wireframe Bertoria chairs and George Nelson whose work is highly acclaimed and praised for its bold and innovative approach also left their mark on the American mid century furniture design with their amazing legacy continuing to influence to this day.

French mid century furniture designers

No list of designers or artists can be truly complete without mentioning the country traditionally associated with style and aesthetical innovation – France. And of course, France gave its contribution to the development of mid century modern furniture with talented and world-famous designer geniuses such as architect Charles-Édouard Jeanneret (better known as Le Corbusier) and his partner tasked with furnishing his architectural wonders Charlotte Perriand.

But, perhaps the most avant-garde mid century modern furniture designer from France is Philippe Starck who attained global fame with his transparent acrylic Ghost chairs that continue to impress with their ethereal appearance and ghostly translucent aesthetic. This visionary designer used the industrial capabilities of the time to the maximum and created these amazing designs that continue to captivate the audiences to this day.

Top mid century furniture designers list

Arne Jacobsen
Arne Norell
Charles and Ray Eames
Eero Aarnio
Eero Saarinen
Eileen Gray
Florence Knoll
Fredrik Kayser
George Nakashima
George Nelson
Greta Grossman
Grete Jalk
Hans Wegner
Harry Bertoia
Poul Henningsen
Philippe Starck