12 Best Mid Century Books to Consider Today

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Mid-century aesthetics have a distinct appeal that is largely missing from contemporary works. Can’t wait to dive into the next recommendation? You’ve come to the right place.

Whether you’re looking to sink your teeth into yet another architectural book, or you’re just looking for some design inspiration; we’re excited to help you! Mid-century architecture typically has breathtaking structural design, rich colors, and a distinct appeal, which not all will relate to.

To share our love for the old but gold, we have curated this list of the 12 best mid-century design books you should consider. Of course, you may have already read a few or even most of them. Nonetheless, this list will help you find a few new books to dive into.

If you are wondering what the right time to start these books is – we believe there is no time like the present.

So if you’re ready, sit back and explore our recommendations.

Best Mid Century Books

  1. Philip Johnson – A Visual Biography

Classy suits and black, round spectacles – who does this remind you of? Perhaps, a cultural icon and famous architect of the 20th century. This visual biography helps you learn more about the well-renowned American architect, Philip Johnson.

Sale
Philip Johnson: A Visual Biography
  • Hardcover Book
  • Volner, Ian (Author)

About The Author

A Manhattan-based writer, Ian Volner, has penned a profound literary work on the legendary Philip Johnson. His remarkable life, along with his lavish contributions to architecture, has been discussed vividly in this visual biography. The author has contributed his work not just to architecture, but also design and urbanism.

Why Should You Read It?

Volner has depicted the life of legendary architect Philip Johnson using a number of rare, archival tools. These include photographs, personal correspondence, and ephemera. Through his visual biography, he informs his readers about the vast power and influence held by Johnson.

A complete narration of his life – from his birth in a wealthy family in Ohio to his wide travels across Europe. Volner reveals how this famous architect soon realized his passion for architecture; and became one of the most significant cultural icons of his time. Employing over 500 photographs, this book is a must-read for architecture connoisseurs.

What Could’ve Been Better?

Although the language and style of writing are impressive, it can be a lengthy read for some. If you are looking for a coffee table book, then this one may be overly descriptive for you. 

Pros
  • Contains over 500 photographs
  • Talks in detail about his life and passions
  • Good for architecture enthusiasts
  • Good style of writing
Cons
  • Slightly lengthy
  1. Modern Retro Home – Creating Great Mid-Century Styles

As the name suggests, Modern Retro Home will give you enlightening tips and inspiration on how you can decorate your contemporary home with a classic, vintage feel. Although the book promises to take you on a journey to the past, it’s anything but dull.

About The Author

Written by Jason Grant, Modern Retro Home is his third book, following his viral works – A Place Called Home and Away at Home. Based in Sydney, Grant is an interior stylist with a passion for merging styles belonging to the ‘classic decades of design.’

Why Should You Read It?

Based on the singular passion of author Jason Grant, this book was conceived as one of the best works which introduce retro designs seamlessly into modern households. The brilliant layout of the book is accessible and captivating for all design lovers.

With each chapter dedicated to each room of your home, the book promises to deliver a picturesque depiction to enthusiastic homeowners. It gives you informative tips on how you can transform the interior decor of your home effortlessly.

Whether you have set aside a lavish budget for the redecoration of your home, or you’re working within a meager amount, you will find useful tips for any home.

What Could’ve Been Better?

Although the tips and inspiration were plentiful, there is no information on where you could buy the products from. Whether you’ll find them in vintage shops or just on eBay, is something you will have to figure out on your own.

Pros
  • Vivid, colorful photographs
  • Budget as well as exorbitant products
  • Easy to read
  • Great chapter-wise layout
Cons
  • No information on sourcing the products
  1. Mid-Century Modern: Icons of Design

An absolute must-have for mid-century modern design lovers. This classic book features over 90 pieces made by 60 designers and design duos. The subjects are arranged chronologically, giving readers in-depth information on chairs, tables, storage, lighting, product design, and industrial design.

Sale
Mid-Century Modern: Icons of Design
  • Hardcover Book
  • Ambler, Frances (Author)

About The Author

A guest editor at MidCentury Magazine, Frances Ambler, has written and illustrated this beautiful collection for her readers. The London-based author is also an art historian with a particular interest in 20th-century design. She is the author of several books, the most popular being The Story of Bauhaus and her “Brief Lessons” series.

Why Should You Read It?

What initially attracts readers is the bright, colorful illustrations on the cover of this small-sized book. It is filled with over 90 pieces that are not overly descriptive, yet, interesting enough to enthrall you. It is a useful reference for anyone who wants to introduce mid-century modern style into their homes or offices.

Each spread consists of a beautiful illustration, accompanied by a short overview. The pieces are digestible and don’t offer too much information to overwhelm readers. This unique touch is what makes it a great buy, not just for art and design lovers, but even for light-reading purposes.

What Could’ve Been Better?

The illustrations are made beautifully with great care. However, most of them are just cartoon-like sketches. It isn’t informative enough for some readers, and a few photographic examples would have made it better.

Pros
  • Small, lightweight book
  • Introduces readers to mid-century modern designs
  • Not overly descriptive
  • Good illustrations
Cons
  • No photographic examples
  1. Mid-Century Modern Living: The Mini Modern’s Guide To Pattern And Style

Looking for examples of mid-century aesthetics for your own home? This is a beautifully curated guide filled with photographs and ideas to inspire you. Whether you’re looking for interior decor ideas or love to sift through mid-century aesthetics, this is a must-read.

About The Author

Keith Stephenson and Mark Hampshire of Mini Modern lovingly refer to their design flavor as “pattern with a story.” They have carefully curated this book and filled it with photographs and the stories behind each design. The London-based designers pride themselves in their deep understanding and love for all things aesthetic.

Why Should You Read It?

Are you looking for inspiration to redecorate your home, and mid-century designs make you swoon? This book has been curated specially for people like you. Mid-century aesthetics don’t always complement your modern houses, do they? Well, you can make them.

In this book, you will learn the secrets of turning mid-century designs into beautiful pieces for your home. You can reupholster them, use paints, or just strategically place them next to other decors in your home. Learn how to tie up the looks to create a unique mid-century ambiance in your home – without having to fuss over the perfect designs.

What Could’ve Been Better?

Most of the information just lightly touches upon each topic without delving vastly into them. This is good if you like bite-sized information. However, there isn’t an abundance of information for those looking for more material on this topic.

Pros
  • Collection of every mid-century aesthetic
  • Well-researched
  • Good pictures and layout
  • Easy to follow
Cons
  • Not descriptive
  1. 100 Midcentury Chairs: And Their Stories

If you’re looking for inspiration for a new chair, then this book will be an exciting choice. As the name suggests, it offers an overview of 100 mid-century chairs – and the stories that follow them.

About The Author

Co-owner of an enormously successful brand called Modern Shows, Lucy Ryder Richardson writes online design blogs and brilliant books like this one. She also maintains a guide known as the Modern Marketplace directory, an invaluable repository for all dealers in mid-century furnishings. Moreover, it provides superb guidance to contemporary designers and retailers as well.

Why Should You Read It?

Are you interested in stories of breathtakingly beautiful chairs? Or maybe it’s the controversial ones that pique your interest? Well, this guide to 100 midcentury chairs tells you all about them with the most interesting, descriptive stories.

The most famous or interesting chairs designed between 1930 and 1970 feature here – with a brief description of their designers. Additionally, there are interesting quotes by the designers and fans as well. If you are more interested in the details, such as the construction, materials, and manufacturers, that is mentioned too.

An absolutely indispensable book for all design history fans, this book is a brilliant collection of stories.

What Could’ve Been Better?

The book is hugely informative and well-researched. But, it misses a couple of prominent designers of the era. Overall, it contains excellent pictures for each of the 100 chairs with incredible backstories.

Pros
  • Collection of the best chairs of the period
  • Well-researched
  • Contains pictures and entertaining quotes
  • A brilliant backstory for each chair
Cons
  • Misses some prominent designers
  1. Mid-Century Modern: Interiors, Furniture, Design Details

Most homes in the 1950s had a distinct style that didn’t appear before or after their era. Banishing all antiques and period furniture, these homes were first built under intense observation, before being presented for the masses. That’s what you’ll learn about in this book.

About The Author

A London-based curator and author, Bradley Quinn is a journalism graduate with an intense passion for design and the 20th century. He proudly completed a master’s degree in History of Art, graduating from the University of London. One of his proudest moments was when he was elected as a Fellow of the Royal Society.

Why Should You Read It?

Bradley’s classic – Mid-Century Modern explores the ideas and inspirations behind house designs of the ’50s. He describes with vivid fury about the utterly contemporary houses built during the era – each of them utterly bereft of antique pieces or period furniture.

The book takes you through a descriptive journey of houses of the ’50s and all their aspects. From the lighting employed, to flooring, walls, surfaces, furniture, and so much more.

Filled with exciting case studies that look into modern homes with mid-century designs, this book is perfect for anyone looking to implement the designs into their current homes.

What Could’ve Been Better?

It is noticeable that some of the pictures don’t match the text beside them. This may be because most of the text is general information, while the pictures are examples. If looked at separately, they make more sense.

Pros
  • An impressive collection of old and new pictures
  • Inspirational with decorating tips
  • High-quality paper and printing
  • Expansive and detailed
Cons
  • Some of the pictures don’t match with the text
  1. The Midcentury Kitchen: America’s Favorite Room 

A delightful guide that shows readers how technological advancement and design ideas introduced during the ’50s have shaped our current kitchens. It is a fascinating journey through the kitchens of American homes, focusing primarily on Americans’ optimistic consumerism and how they decided to showcase their wealth.

About The Author

Specializing in design and material culture, Sarah Archer, author, and curator currently lives in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. She has written books like Midcentury Christmas and The Midcentury Kitchen, all of which focus on her ever-growing interest in mid-century designs and kitchen.

Why Should You Read It?

Most homeowners are immensely proud of their kitchens. They have a deep understanding that anything is possible in this room. Sarah Archer shares this view and has expressed her passion for mid-century kitchens through her book. She has included not just photographs, but also advertisements, movie stills, and magazine pages. This book’s strategic design emulates the feeling of not just a book about a room, but of an entire era.

For those who want to understand their kitchen better – how the modern kitchen came to be what it is now, this is a must-have book.

What Could’ve Been Better?

Although the book is filled with old movie stills and magazine cutouts, most of the pictures are scanned and grainy. This may add to the book’s retro appeal, but better quality pictures could have been a plus point.

Pros
  • Filled with original illustrations
  • Talks about the history of kitchens
  • Inspirational ideas for the modern kitchen
  • Well-researched
Cons
  • Pictures are slightly grainy
  1. Atomic Ranch Midcentury Interiors

Ranch houses mushroomed during the period after World War II. What were the designs, ideas, and inspirations behind the ubiquitous ranch houses? This is what readers can explore in this wonderfully compiled book filled with tips, pictures, and guides.

Atomic Ranch Midcentury Interiors
  • Hardcover Book
  • Gringeri-Brown, Michelle (Author)

About The Author

Michelle Gringeri-Brown, the writer, along with Jim Brown, who is the photographer, publish a monthly magazine by the name Atomic Ranch. This joint project features ranch homes which have sprung up all over America. The duo is best known for the unquenchable thirst for ranch house designs and their histories.

Why Should You Read It?

Do you own a ranch house, or planning to buy one? The interior decor might be confusing or even overwhelming. This book explores eight examples of ranch homes built along the roads of upstate New York to Washington, D.C., to San Mateo, California.

The owners of these ranch homes share their personal tips on color, design, decoration, furniture arrangement, and so much more. It is a perfect guide and inspiration for those looking to add inexpensive touches to their ranches to make them look like a million bucks.

What Could’ve Been Better?

The information has been compiled beautifully and is a well-researched guide. However, all the pictures are in black and white, which can be slightly disappointing for some readers. Moreover, the quality of the photographs could have been better.

Pros
  • Filled with tips and guidance
  • Features 8 examples of ranch homes
  • Both vintage and modern designs
  • Easy to follow
Cons
  • Contains only black and white photographs
  1. Eames

Charles Eames (1907–1978) and Ray Kaiser Eames (1912–1988) were a dynamic duo who transformed and inspired America’s visual character during the ’50s. Their book is filled with brilliant illustrations and photographs and descriptive text for the enthusiastic designer and design lover.

About The Author

Author and architectural historian Gloria Koenig has published and lectured on a variety of topics throughout her life. However, her love for contemporary architecture is what motivated her to write this book. She also worked as a consultant for a documentary made about her late husband, Pierre Koenig, a modernist architect.

Why Should You Read It?

The happy couple is most famously known for their love for furniture. However, they have compiled a series of books that enthrall readers interested in textile design, architecture, photography, and films. The creative duo has dedicated their lives in the creative pursuit and even sold the best-selling Basic Art Series.

The book is perfect for all architecture lovers, designers, and anyone who knows and loves Charles and Ray Eames. It talks in vivid detail about the couple’s history and creations and is an excellent read for all.

What Could’ve Been Better?

All in all, the book is a great collector’s item and features vivid descriptions and photographs. However, it is slightly pricey, and may not be an affordable option for everyone.

Pros
  • A fascinating history about the couple
  • Cross-section of their projects
  • Very descriptive
  • Contains tips and guides
Cons
  • Slightly pricey
  1. California Captured: Mid-Century Modern Architecture

A beautifully illustrated book, capturing the architecture of mid-century modern California. All of the images are captured through the expert lens of Marvin Rand and compiled into this informative book for California and architecture lovers.

About The Author

The book is compiled by three authors – Emily Bills, Sam Lubell, Pierluigi Serraino. All three have a passion for architecture and design, creating this captivating book for art, design, and architecture lovers. While Sam and Pierluigi have authored other books, Emily is a Participating Adjunct Professor of Urban Studies at Woodbury University.

Why Should You Read It?

Marvin Rand has dedicated years of his life and passion for capturing high-profile architectural projects across Southern California. Through his lenses, the readers have the honor of observing his captivating eye for detail. This visual index of Modernist landmarks is a defining book and guide for those interested in mid-century modern California architecture.

The elegance and grandeur with which the authors have portrayed his work are enthralling for most readers. Crisp pictures and an eye for detail make this book a perfect companion for architecture and art lovers.

What Could’ve Been Better?

Many images in the book are spanning over two pages instead of isolated to a single page. This causes an amount of distortion in the picture. There is no way to observe the true, complete image without breaking the binding.

Pros
  • Captivating photographs
  • Good presentation of facts
  • Layout and design makes it an easy read
  • Very informative
Cons
  • Images spanning over two pages appear distorted
  1. Herman Miller: A Way of Living

Herman Miller is known for playing a central role in the evolution of modern and contemporary design. This book promises to take its readers through the journey of the inception of this furniture company – to its current time.

Sale
Herman Miller: A Way of Living
  • Hardcover Book
  • English (Publication Language)

About The Author

Sam Grawe, the author of the book and Amy Auscherman and Leon Ransmeier, has edited this book and finally borough it to life in 2019. Dedicating years of his life to his work and passion, Grawe has compiled several books and articles to elucidate his love for design and art.

Why Should You Read It?

If you are interested in design, then indeed, Herman Miller is a consequential name you would like to read about. This book compiles ten chapters and thousands of artistic illustrations, telling readers the story of Herman Miller like never before.

Miller has contributed to the design and art world for over 100 years. Long after his death, his ideas and inspirations resonate amongst creative minds and design lovers. The book beautifully depicts his life and his work, along with other defining moments in his career.

Not just that, it also tells readers about the central characters in his life’s story who helped him become what he was – a leader in postwar American design.

What Could’ve Been Better?

If you are looking for a large book filled with text and pictures, this is a great choice. However, it is quite heavy and not easy to lug around. It is not ideal for a coffee table book.

Pros
  • Extremely informative
  • Contains excellent illustrations and photographs
  • Retro textured cover
  • High-quality paper
Cons
  • Large-sized and heavy
  1. Eichler: Modernism Rebuilds the American Dream

The story of Joseph Eichler, who defied traditional and conventional standards and went on to hiring progressive architects to build homes with a concept in mind. His homes became hugely popular amongst the growing middle-class families in America during the 1950s.

Sale
Eichler: Modernism Rebuilds the American Dream
  • Used Book in Good Condition
  • Hardcover Book

About The Author

Authors Paul Adamson and Marty Arbunich published their biography on the pioneer developer Joseph Eichler in 2002. Their ever-growing passion for design and modernism motivated them to spend vast years of their life studying American homes built in the 50s.

Why Should You Read It?

Eichler Homes had built thousands of beautiful, innovative homes for the growing middle-class American families during the ’50s. Joseph Eichler uses creativity, innovation, and concept to introduce “built-in” s in kitchens, helping homeowners streamline their kitchen work. Moreover, other innovative ideas like multipurpose rooms and the classic atrium, melding outdoors with indoors, were introduced by this leading designer.

The book was written to sell Eichler’s vision and does so beautifully using abundant text, pictures, and well used white space. A classic read for any retrophile or architecture buff around the world.

What Could’ve Been Better?

Full of detailed text and pictures, this book is a great purchase or gift for architecture lovers or those interested in Eichler homes. However, it could have contained more color pictures, which we thought was a disadvantage.

Pros
  • Outstanding informative text
  • High-quality pictures
  • Sections and plans included
  • Well-researched
Cons
  • Could use more color pictures
  1. From A to Eames: A Visual Guide to Mid-Century Modern Design

A complete illustrated journey from the A to Z of mid-century modern design. The graphic book is a must-read for design and architecture lovers, filled with more than just a handful of bright, vivid imagery and wonderfully descriptive text.

About The Author

Written by Lauren Whybrow and illustrated by Tom Jay, the book was created to be an incredible journey for design lovers. The author and illustrator have made it a point to delve deep into the concept, ideas, and designs behind each letter, from A to Z.

Why Should You Read It?

If you have been looking for a complete guide to take you on a one to one journey through mid-century design and architecture – this is your perfect companion. Whybrow and Jay have done an outstanding job compiling well-researched information and using beautiful illustrations to capture the reader’s attention.

Moreover, each letter (A to Z) has been discussed in detail and depth, taking the readers through a fascinating journey. It is an excellent book for those looking for bite-sized information with great illustrations.

What Could’ve Been Better?

Although there are hundreds of great illustrations, there are a few texts and descriptions with no respective illustrations or images. This can get frustrating if you have to Google the text to look at the images online, just to get a complete picture.

Pros
  • Bite-sized information
  • Great illustrations
  • Easy to follow
  • A complete guide for most designs
Cons
  • Doesn’t contain all corresponding illustrations

Verdict

For lovers of mid-century design and architecture, this list is sure to take you on a journey that will stay with you for a long time to come. If you are looking for ideas or inspiration to renovate your home or office, you will find great ideas in these books.

Of course, if you are simply a design buff who wants to explore the architectural design world, each of our recommendations makes a great starting point.

For those who don’t mind the lack of pictures and are looking for well-researched text on your favorite pioneer designers, Mid-Century Modern: Icons of Design is a good option. If you’d rather look through interesting pictures and read biographies, then Philip Johnson – A Visual Biography or Eames is the safest bet for you.

With that, we are ready to wrap up our guide. We hope you find your next read here!

Until next time, stay safe!

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