Japanese Influence on Classic Mid-Century Design

During the 1950s Japanese culture permeated into the American mainstream. Although WWII had just ended and the Japanese had been so recently regarded as enemies, Americans, particularly the philosophical and design communities, began to explore the wisdom and aesthetics of Japanese culture.

Zen Awareness and a Connection to the Outdoors

A new awareness in Zen Buddhism became the principle force leading the surge of interest in Japanese culture. Buddhism inspired many influencers of the era, such as philosopher and author Alan Watts, author Jack Kerouac, and poet and author Gary Snyder. With Buddhist philosophy came Japanese designs and heritage.

0 Traditional Japanese House with Verandas

The Japanese revered nature, bringing it willingly inside their homes, in such a way that seemed extraordinary to Americans. The custom of connecting the outdoors with the indoors is not purely for aesthetic benefits, but is also for practical reasons. Due to the frequency of earthquakes, homes were built using lightweight materials, making both interior and exterior walls easy to move. The Japanese could move their walls to frame particular views, taking in singular elements or multiple subjects. This was it’s own study and had great impacts in MCM design. Additionally, minimalism was standard as an important component of Zen philosophy.

1 Traditional Japanese House

MCM architects and designers were fascinated with how the Japanese embraced the outdoors. The appreciation of nature, minimalism and focus on function in Japanese design carried into building trends and interior design of the mid-century era. For example, the introduction of glass walls in mid-century modern residential design, such as in Eichler homes, mirrored the moveable walls of Japanese architecture.

2 Eichler Home with glass walls

Within the successful designers of the period were a number of highly regarded Japanese designers – most notably, George Nakashima and Isamu Noguchi. The two were independently well known for their wondrously unique designs, each exhibiting a distinctly Japanese flair.

5 Isamu Noguchi

Isamu Noguchi

George Nakashima, architect and furniture designer, changed the way we view furniture in the 1940s. Nakashima was interned during the Japanese internment of WWII, where he learned to use traditional Japanese tools and joinery. Nakashima is most famous for his smooth-surfaced, rough-edged large tables with captivating joinery, as well as his Conoid Chair, a chair that seemingly defies gravity.

4 Nakashima Conoid Chair

Landscape architect, furniture designer and artist Isamu Noguchi was a legend of his time. The American-born Japanese designer collaborated with Herman Miller Company, partnering with Charles Eames, Paul László and George Nelson. It was with Herman Miller that Noguchi designed his most famous piece, the Noguchi table, in 1947. He also later designed furniture and lamps for Knoll Company. Notable Noguchi landscape works include the Garden of Peace at UNESCO headquarters, Paris, and Twin Sculpture in Munich, Germany.

6 noguchi table herman miller

Thinking about creating your own MCM Zen-inspired space? Contact us today to let us help you get into your dream mid-century modern home in Southern California. Trust us, we know where all the good ones are!

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