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XTRA Spotlight | Mid-Century Modern Icons: Meet the Masters and their Works

In case you missed it, we held an in-store exhibition of Mid-century Modern icons last month; in celebration of the Mid-century Modern style, pieces and most importantly – the legacy of the designers who created them.

To recap, here are six of the most influential designers and their most iconic designs.

1. The Architect and the Painter Charles and Ray Eames 

Look up Mid-century Modern and you’re most likely to find the works of Charles and Ray Eames. This unique synergy between the husband-and-wife team has resulted in groundbreaking designs that have paved the way for a whole new world of furniture.

Charles, a trained architect brings structure, while Ray, trained in the fine arts, brings sculptural qualities to their designs. Amongst their most notable works are the Eames Lounge Chair and Eames Moulded Plastic Chairs – groundbreaking, timeless and iconic.

The Eames Lounge Chair – A modern take on a traditional chair

Arguably the Eames’ most iconic design and the most recognisable furniture design of the 20th century, the Eames Lounge Chair and Ottoman began as a modern take on the nineteenth century club chair; and remains a classic piece promising comfort for people now and for decades to come.

Born from humble beginnings, the Eames’ wanted a “warm, receptive look of a well-used first baseman’s mitt,” designed for peak comfort and living.

To this day, in ensuring the highest level of quality and craftmanship, each piece is assembled by hand – setting this design apart from the rest as a classic and wholly authentic design.


2. Director, Architect, Writer, Designer, Teacher – George Nelson 

Dubbed the founder of American Modernist design, George Nelson was an industrial designer and lead designer for Herman Miller – where he and his design studio, George Nelson Associates, designed 20th century modernist furniture.

A visionary who brings play and fun into his designs, Nelson’s creative abilities have shaped the American design scene in his heyday; to bring innovative designs such as the Nelson Bubble Lamps and Marshmallow Chair – that remain iconic pieces to this day.

Nelson Bubble Lamp – A play on organic forms

With its forms inspired by elemental, organic shapes; the Nelson bubble Lamp came to be out of Nelson’s sheer ingenuity and resourcefulness.

Nelson, having discovered a Swedish hanging lamp furnished in silk that he coveted but found to be too exorbitant in cost, was motivated to create a version of his own.

Recalling that he’d seen Liberty ships being mothballed “by having decks covered with netting and then being sprayed with a self-webbing plastic,” Nelson had the idea to seek out the manufacturer of that very plastic to make the skin for his Bubble Lamp design.


3. Artist Technician Poul Henningsen

An influential and leading figure of  Denmark’s cultural life between the World Wars, Poul Henningsen’s venture into designing lighting systems stemmed from a fascination of the electric light bulb, at the time of its inception. Today, he is well-known for his PH Lamp and Artichoke Lamp.

The Three-shade Lighting System –  Shaping light

While Henningsen was trained as an architect, his professional interests in lighting paved the way for innovative lighting solutions, such as the three-shade lighting system.

His now-iconic PH lamp design was born from this three-shade lighting system that was first created through the Forum Lamp – which had three shades, with diameter proportions of the shades following a 4:2:1 ratio.

Motivated to recreate the soft gas lighting of his youth, the PH ceiling lamp is made up of concentric tiers of reflective metal bands and its form was determined by his goal for even light distribution and glare reduction. For versatility, different variations of the PH Lamp were designed and developed to suit the needs of a new generation – a classic design that stands the test of time to bring light and life to homes and institutions alike.


4. Master of the ChairHans J. Wegner

Part of the Golden Age of modern Danish design, Wegner is often referred to as a master of the chair, and rightly so for creating almost 500 chairs in his lifetime – most of them regarded as masterpieces.

CH24 Wishbone Chair A testament to Wegner’s craftmanship

His most notable work, the CH24 Wishbone Chair is emblematic of Mid-century Modern in its design, yet carries Nordic sensibilities with regards to its construction.

The Scandinavian characteristics are a result of simplifying the chair to its simplest and purest form – involving 100 steps carried out by hand to produce a truly iconic design and is a testament to his craftsmanship.


5. The Master of ColourVerner Panton

Most known for his innovative and unconventional designs; Verner Panton was an experienced artist by the time he first studied architecture in Copenhagen.

His early architectural endeavours cemented his reputation as an original and unique designer. Panton’s oeuvre was saturated with strong, vibrant colours and bold, playful geometric pieces – creating and experimenting with psychedelic and radical interiors; including furniture and lighting.

Amongst his most notable work is the Panton Chair and Panthella Lamp; the latter being a collaborative piece with Louis Poulsen.

Panthella Lamp – A timeless statement

Featuring a soft, non-glaring light, Panthella was born from an intention to create a lighting system wherein both its shade and stand could serve as a reflector.

Combined with its playful, organic form, the Panthella Lamp is emblematic of Panton’s ingenuity to create atmospheric lighting and remains a timeless statement even today.


6. A Revolutionary in Everyday Furniture – Pierre Paulin

“The man who made design an art.” The French designer, Pierre Paulin, designed with comfort as the constant starting-point.

However, before this notable figure become famous for his work in furniture and interior design; Paulin had dreams of becoming a sculptor and trained as a ceramist and stone-carver – a dream that ended right after a serious hand injury he had suffered in his youth. Though his dreams to become a sculptor were thwarted, many of Paulin’s designs became distinctive and revered for their unique sculptural form and qualities.

Paulin reached the height of his career during the ’60s and ’70s when he began working with Artifort as a privileged collaborator. Here it was that Paulin became an influential designer, creating iconic chair designs such as the Mushroom Chair, Ribbon Chair,  Orange Slice Chair and the Tulip Chair Family.

Tulip Midi Chair – Offering the perfect Equilibrium

For a long time, the Tulip Midi Chair had been the missing member of the Tulip family. A midsize armchair offering the perfect equilibrium between the Little Tulip dining chair and the large Tulip armchair, the Tulip Midi Chair is reminiscent of a blooming tulip – named so for its curved back and armrest that brings added ergonomic support.

In Paulin’s words, “A chair should be more than simply functional. It should be friendly, fun and colorful.” With this design philosophy, Paulin had gone on to create some of the most iconic and groundbreaking works in the field of chair design – designs that have proven to withstand the test of time and remains widely popular and revered to this day.


This in-store exhibition was featured as part of Xtra’s month-long Mid-Century Modern Special in September 2022. To discover Mid-Century Modern pieces and brands, click here.  

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