Classic mid-century design has become the modern antique of choice in contemporary homes, embodying that perfect synthesis of form and function and elevating a space with the era’s distinct air of elegance and style. Read on for our guide to investing.
“The beauty of classic 20th century design is that it still looks modern today,” enthuses Rory Guthrie of de Veres, Ireland’s only auction house to host sales dedicated to this era. “The style and design of this period of furniture enhances modern, clean lines and sits perfectly in a contemporary living space.”
But what exactly does ‘mid-century design’ mean? Irish expert Killian McNulty, founder of mid-centuryonline.com, explains that this is a hot topic of debate. “The purists want ‘mid-century’ to cover pieces from the 1950s and maybe, at a push, the early 1960s,” he explains. “But, in reality, the term now encapsulates furniture from post war to 1979.”
Rosewood sideboard flanked by Niels Møller and Finn Juhl chairs, all mid-1960s, from deVeres
It was during this period that designers picked up the ground-breaking baton from the trail-blazers of the early 1920s and 30s (such as Le Corbusier and our own Eileen Gray) to craft ever-more beautiful, ergonomic pieces, using tubular metal, chrome, plastic, bentwood and plywood; Founding the ‘form follows function’ design ethos that has come to define the mid-century movement.
It is the subtle developments on Art Nouveau and Art Deco that mid-century embodies that first drew Michael Mortell, one of Ireland’s most admired fashion designers in the 1980s, to specialise in the area. “My admiration for mid-century came about as a development of taste on my part,” explains Mortell.
“I was a big admirer of Nouveau and Deco and then when I discovered mid-century (particularly French and Italian furniture) I was immediately struck by the level of craftsmanship and the sublime aesthetic. These are pieces that will sit equally at home in a grand classical Parisian apartment or an urban new build; they simply represent great design.”
Pace Collection sideboard by Leon and Irving Rosen, circa 1978, from Killian McNulty
When investing in mid-century furniture, Guthrie advises buyers to be aware that there are two types. First is the unattributed item that, in good condition, will certainly hold its value into the future. The second is one that is directly attributable to a specific designer or maker, they fall into the category of ‘collectable’ and can fetch vast sums at auction.
If the piece bears the specific designer’s stamp or label, they are even more valuable. “We sold a pair of sofas last year,” says Guthrie, “known as The Poet Sofa, by Danish designer Finn Juhl, upholstered in the original fabric, and we had bidders on the phone from New York, London and Copenhagen. They sold for €12,500.”
But as Mortell affirms, it’s equally important to buy with your eye. “When I buy for my shop, I buy what pleases my eye, and what pleases my eye is a high regard for the aesthetic and a high quality of craftsmanship. The only question I ask myself is ‘would I love this in my own home?’ – and don’t forget quality does not end on the outside; you can tell a lot by examining the inside too. A beautifully crafted, well-made piece of furniture will always be a good investment.”
Four-shade lamp, 1950, the Cross Gallery
Dates for your diary
The 52nd annual Irish Antique Dealers Fair will be held in the main hall of the RDS from September 21-24, 2017.
Mid-century Modern‘s next show takes place October 15, from 10am-4pm at Erno Goldfinger’s Hahgerstown School in Hackney, London.