Why Modern Design Still Dazzles

Mid-century Chrome rocking chair, 1960, Milo Baughman-style, Open Air Modern

The mid-20th century marked a pivotal moment for the genesis of forward-thinking design and architecture. American and European designers experimented in a new style of sleek, minimal, and ergonomic furniture and decorative arts that continues to see strong demand at auction today. Tim Andreadis, head of 20th-Century Design at Freeman’s, notes that American designer George Nakashima’s market “continues to expand outward, attracting new collectors at every price point.” Modern works from important commissions and rare or exceptional forms with unusual woods and attractive graining, he adds, also “rank high on collectors’ wish lists.”

In Europe, beyond Scandinavia, France and Italy were at the center of the modern design movement. Graziella Semerciyan, co-director of the Design department at Piasa, says northern Italy played an important role in the expansion of design during the second half of the 20th century. “What is very sought after are the important names of the transalpine creation: Max Ingrand, Gio Ponti, Pietro Chiesa, Franco Albini, BBPR, and Angelo Lelli,” she says. “We can also be sure that works by these names that come from important collections or historical places will encounter great success.”

From vibrantly colored sofas to sleek wooden tables, here’s a preview of modern design on offer this month, handpicked by design specialists and our team of editors.

Lot 33, Tea ceremony platform by George Nakashima, 1964, for Kent Hall, Columbia University,
American black walnut and woven grass “tatami” mats, Freeman’s (October 16)

“This work was created for one of George’s most important commissions, the East Asian Languages and Cultures Department at New York’s Columbia University, in 1964. It is one of a dozen or so such pieces and, as far as I’m aware, the first such piece to come to market directly from Columbia. Interestingly, it is a tea ceremony platform, designed specifically for a ritual of importance to several Asian countries. Very few of these platforms were made by Nakashima prior to or after this commission.” – Tim Andreadis, Head of 20th Century Design, Freeman’s

Lot 349, Eames lounge chair & ottoman for Herman Miller, c. mid-20th century,
leather, walnut, rosewood, aluminum, and steel, Concept Art Gallery (October 22)

“The Eames Lounge Chair and Ottoman is an absolutely iconic example of modern design, but it’s also one of the few modern chairs that can be situated in a more traditional or antique setting and not look out of place, thanks to the lovely wood veneer. They’re also incredibly comfortable – Charles Eames compared it to a well-used baseball mitt, and just like a mitt, they really just get more comfortable with use. As a result, I think it will continue to be one of the most consistently sold modern design objects for quite some time.” – Alison Brand Oehler, Gallery Director, Concept Art Gallery

Teak ice bucket, c. 1960, by Henning Koppel for Georg Jensen,
teak lined with insulated plastic, Open Air Modern

Made in Denmark, this mid-century ice bucket is clean and functional, reflecting the minimalism of Scandinavian design. The inset circle design on the side mirrors the circular hollowed lid. This simplicity represents the philosophy of designer Georg Jensen, who in his lifetime produced hollowware, watches, jewelry, and home goods.

Lot 128, Arteluce Suspension, c. 1950, metal and glass, Piasa (October 12)

“Lucio Fontana settled in his apartment, 12 Via Porpora in Milan, in 1951 and his friend Osvaldo Borsani helped him furnish his domestic space. This set is a moving testimony to the artistic movement in Milan in this time, each intervening in various artistic practices thanks to occasional partnerships and collaborations. From this period, which became essential for the construction of Italian design identity, we find the objects and furniture that Lucio Fontana was surrounded with until his death in 1968, and that remained intact in their original setting until his heirs sold his apartment two years ago.” – Graziella Semerciyan, Co-Director of the Design Department at Piasa

Minerva Sofa by Peter Hvidt and Orla Mølgaard Nielsen for France & Son,
1960, teak with wool upholstery, Open Air Modern

This chic, popping purple daybed is both practical and sculptural. Newly upholstered in Tonus wool, it was made by Danish designers Peter Hvidt and Orla Mølgaard Nielsen, who together ran a studio in Copenhagen from 1942 to 1975. The two designers also worked on architectural and housing projects during the peak of their popularity, and became known for their overall light and simple style.

Explore minimal, streamlined sofas, tables, lamps, and vases by modern makers up for auction this month including Piasa’s Italian Design (October 12), Freeman’s Design (October 16), Freeman’s British & European Furniture & Decorative Arts (October 18), Concept Art Gallery’s 19th Century, Modern, Contemporary Fine Art, Antiques, Jewelry, Signatures, & Modern Design (October 22), and more.