Furniture in the 1950s was very modern - it was streamlined, functional, unencumbered by fancy detail but produced in interesting shapes. Designs were comfortable and featured a lot of wood, sometimes combined with chrome. The style has also been referred to as 'Scandinavian' because of the clean lines and functionality and the heavy use of natural woods. In the preceding period, Art Deco had dominated, with it's clean geometric lines but often elaborate and decorative details. Deco was a kind transitional style between the overly ornate Victorian style and the new 50s era, which took the modernity of Art Deco a few steps forward.
A notable feature of 50s furniture was it's egalitarianism -that is, whereas the status of furniture of the past could be judged by its level of detail and ornamentation, consumers in the 50s were much more interested in comfort and utilitarianism. There was thus less obvious differences between furniture in a poorer home as there was in a wealthy one. It was also the great age of mass production and cheaper copies of more expensive pieces could be purchased by the mainstream.
Comfort and Utility
Interestingly, this concern with comfort and utility has carried through to the 21st century - there are few contemporary homes featuring ornate, elaborate furniture and by far the vast majority favour relatively sleek, clean lines and comfortable seating over stylized design. The idea of practicality, minimalism and clean lines in furniture, owes much to the pre-war, avant-garde German Bauhaus, which was a modernist influenced school of design that sought to merge art and industry and bring high design to the masses.
Over the last few years, many of the shapes, textures and design features of the 50s have become popular once again, with the fashion trend having lent toward the retro look in modern furnishing. From woven bucket chairs like the one below to spindle-legged resin coffee tables and sleek modern, natural wooden cabinets, the '50s influence can be found in many of the contemporary designs of today.
Furniture designers Charles and Ray Eames (husband and wife) had an innovative approach to furniture design in the 1950s and pioneered the production of furniture in new materials such as molded plywood, fibreglass, wire mesh, aluminium and plastic resin.
Charles Eames was influenced by Finnish designer Eliel Saarinson and he later formed a partnership with the latter's son, Eero Saarinen. The Eames produced hundreds of designs from functional furniture to toys and encouraged their staff to experiment, believing this was the way to stimulate ideas.
Their distinctive look was both playful and functional and striking in its very modern simplicity. Many Eames pieces still grace some of the most significant modern buildings in the world and their famous Eames lounge chair has a permanent place at the Museum of Modern Art.
Deservedly, the Eames's are regarded as hugely influential in modern furniture design and their work highly sought after by collectors, with some pieces fetching six figure sums at auction..
In the 'atomic age' '50s, designers were also influenced by technology and space themes were common. Lamps like those above were made with vivid metallic finishes in silver, gold or brightl colours. Utilitarian objects like lamps featured flying saucer-like shapes or conical sheres, shaped like the noses of rockets.
Although the 1950s were concerned with function and simplicity, it was never at the sacfrifice of comfort - chairs and couches were upholstered in durable vinyl or fabric over thick, comfy cushions.