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Mid-Century Modern Design: Overview

What Is Mid-Century Modern?

Mid-Century modern is a term first used by Cara Greenberg in the 1950s to describe a style of architectural, interior, industrial, and graphic design that emerged after World War II. Today mid-century modern is often used to refer to the period from the early 1930s through the mid-1970s. It has become a standard way of referring to design of the period that featured clean lines and organic shapes.

In his 1950 book What Is Modern Design? published by the Museum of Modern Art, Edgar Kaufmann Jr. set out the "Twelve Precepts of Modern Design." Modern design should:

1.  fulfill the practical needs of modern life.
2.  express the spirit of our times.
3.  benefit by contemporary advances in the fine arts and pure sciences
4.  take advantage of new materials and techniques and develop familiar ones.
5.  develop the forms, textures and colors that spring from the direct fulfillment of requirements in appropriate materials and techniques.
6.  express the purpose of an object, never making it seem to be what it is not.
7.  express the qualities and beauties of the materials used, never making the materials seem to be what they are not.
8.  express the methods used to make an object, not disguising mass production as handicraft or simulating a technique ot used.
9.  blend the expression of utility, materials and process into a visually satisfactory whole.
10. be simple, its structure, evident in its appearance, avoiding extraneous enrichment.
11. master the machine for the service of man.
12. serve as wide a public as possible, considering modest needs and limited costs no less challenging than the requirements of pomp and luxury.


Mid-Century Modern Design: The Big Picture

Bosoni, Giampero. Italian Design. TS79 B67 2008.

Bradbury, Dominic. Mid-Century Modern Complete. NK1390 B73 2014.

Fiell, Charlotte, and Peter Fiell. Design of the 20th Century. NK1390 F525 1999.

Flinchum, Russell. American Design. TS23 F55 2008.

Forest, Dominque, ed. The Art of Things: Product Design Since 1945. NK1390 A7813 2014.

Franklin, Adrian. Retro: A Guide to the Mid-20th Century Design Revival. NK1390 F73 1013.

Garner, Philippe. Sixties Design. NK1390 G38 2003.

Hanks, David A., and Anne Hoy. Design for Living: Furniture and Lighting 1950-2000; The Liliane and David M. Stewart Collection. NK2395 H36 2000.

Here Design. Mid-Century Modern: Icons of Design. NK1390 a45 2018.

Jackson, Lesley. The Sixties: Decade of Design Revolution. NK1390 J34 1998.

Kennedy, Christopher. Making Midcentury Modern. NK2004.3 K46 2017.

Marcus, George H. Design in the Fifties: When Everyone Went Modern. NK1390 M27 1998.

Marcus, George H. Masters of Modern Design: A Critical Assessment. NK1390 M272 2005.

Meikle, Jeffrey L. Design in the USA. TS23 M4496 2005.

Quinn, Bradley. Mid-Century Modern: Interiors, Furniture, Design Details. NK2395 Q85 2004.

Thames & Hudson Dictionary of Design Since 1900. NK1390 J85 2005.

Find More

Find more resources in the Library catalog. Select the Books & Media option and search for the following subjects:

Design United States History 20th Century

Designers United States

Industrial Design History 20th Century

Find magazine and journal articles by searching databases listed on these library guides:

Databases for Art

Databases for Design



Mid-Century Modern Groups and Galleries

Modern Committee (ModCom). A group within the Los Angeles Conservancy dedicated to "preserving Modern resources throughout Los Angeles County."

App State Online

Distance education students have access to a wide array of Library services and resources. See the App State Online library guide for details.


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Suzanne Wise
Belk Library and Information Commons
Appalachian State University
Boone, NC 28608-2026
tel: 828-262-2798

Curator of the Stock Car Racing Collection