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What is Modern Furniture?

By S. Mithra
Updated: May 16, 2024

Generally speaking, modern furniture refers to furniture from the latter half of the 20th century and on into contemporary styles. Designers use the term "modern" furniture more narrowly to refer to the furnishings manufactured in the 50s and 60s in post-war America, and to a lesser extent Europe. Modern furniture experimented with new synthetic building materials, like vinyl and tubular metal, as well as developed an understated monochromatic color scheme, integrated modular elements with multiple uses, and featured curvilinear shapes.

Sometimes modern furniture is nicknamed "mod" or spelled "moderne" to distinguish it from all contemporary pieces. After World War II, families reconceptualized their living spaces and demanded mass-produced, comfortable, affordable, and stylish furniture to match their new perspective. Designers such as Herman Miller, Florence Knoll Bassett, Hans Knoll, and Charles and Ray Eames defined the era of modern furniture with pedestal tables, modular sofas, sleek sideboards, shiny stools in place of chairs, and abstract light sources.

A pop sensibility informed how the influential designers wanted their furniture to function in the average home. To usher in a futuristic design they turned to vinyl instead of leather, bright prints in place of dark brocades, acrylic and plywood rather than carved hardwood, and tubular steel instead of wrought iron. New types of fabrication allowed them to manufacture sturdy, oversized, non-symmetrical, and fluid furniture that redefined elegance as bright, open, and minimalist, in place of ornate.

Many pieces of modern furniture fulfilled multiple functions and changed the organization of informal living spaces. Kidneys, ellipses, oblongs, S's, and flares replaced the circles, squares, and rectangles of a pre-WW II home. Rich Art Deco colors became dated as the public desired captivating monochromes like gray and black, highlighted by contrasting hues like turquoise, ruby red, chartreuse, and tangerine. Giant blocks of color added to the modular, puzzle-piece effect when they were set off against clear acrylic, blonde plywood, or shiny chrome. Modern furniture flaunted style, yet perfectly complemented the new generation of families and their homes.

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Discussion Comments
By khaleddream — On Mar 24, 2016

Most people love modern furniture. Thank you for this article.

By LisaLou — On Jul 15, 2011

When my daughter was decorating her first apartment, she chose a very modern look. While this is not my style, it was fun shopping with her and looking at all the modern furniture designs.

I must say the style has grown on me a little bit since then. Her apartment is very stylish and fits her personality, and I like to find modern accessories that will fit in with her decor.

By julies — On Jul 15, 2011

I love the sleek, simple look of modern furniture, and have always said the next time I move I am going to furnish my home with this look.

It has a very smooth, uncluttered feel to it that is very appealing to me. I could spend hours browsing through modern furniture stores to get ideas and prices.

I know it would be very expensive, but I would want my whole house to have this style of furniture. I think it would look funny to have one room decorated with modern furniture and another room with a country look.

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