5 gifts under $100 for mid-century modern design lovers

Olga Mosina
Nov 21, 2018 · 5 min read

Iconic mid-century designs you can actually afford

Mid-century modern design is more popular than ever, and authentic pieces by those masters of simple, timeless design are getting VERY expensive.

Even knock-offs and ordinary everyday items from your grandma’s house are suddenly in vogue and going for hundreds on Craigslist. But here is a list of iconic mid-century designs that you can still find affordably (under $100) and bring that touch of modernist magic to your home.

Akari print by Isamu Noguchi, $50

As soon as I hear ‘Isamu Noguchi’, his iconic glass-topped coffee table instantly springs to mind. I’m sure you, too, have seen it myriad of times on TV shows, in design magazines or fancy home ads. The American-Japanese designer, artist, architect and sculptor, Isamu Noguchi (1904–1988) created bold, sculptural and very memorable forms.

While Noguchi’s furniture and lighting are sought after and carry a price tag in the hundreds or thousands of dollars, posters based on his 1950s light sculptures can make an stylish — and much more affordable — gift.

The abstract, expressive “Sun” and “Bowtie” posters in red, green, grey, orange and yellow will look great in most mid-century inspired interiors. The posters are made in Japan on mulberry bark paper and are available through the Noguchi Museum in New York.

‘Unikko’ cushion cover by Maja Isola for Marimekko, $45

Textiles are hard to beat when it comes to creating a warm and cozy home. When textiles feature the quintessential 1960s pattern by Finland’s textile design icon Maija Isola, that’s a double win!

Maija Isola created the striking ‘Unikko’ (Poppy) print for Marimekko textile company in 1964. The print has been remarkably enduring, having been produced in over 100 colorways and on a huge number of products over the years. The bold, bright pattern has become something of a trademark for Marimekko.

I like the muted beige, dark grey and brown colors of the cushion cover currently offered by Marimekko — they are both versatile and distinct. For $90, you can get two cushion covers and have a bit left over for inner cushions.

Espresso cup with Arne Jacobsen’s typeface, $22

When the great Scandinavian modernist Arne Jacobsen designed Aarhus City Hall in 1937, he created an architectural landmark full of extraordinary craftsmanship details and custom-designed furniture (he collaborated on furniture with another famous Danish designer, Hans Wegner). Even small details, such as doorknobs, were custom-made, as were informational signs outside and inside the building. For the signs, Jacobsen drew by hand a new typeface - perfectly simple, sharp, and geometric.

You can’t buy the furniture from Aarhus City Hall, but the font is another story! A Danish firm called Design Letters has in recent years obtained exclusive rights on Jacobsen’s typography and applied it to a wide range of household objects, from stationary to tableware to sports bags, with most of the items selling under $100.

My personal favorite of the range is a black or white porcelain espresso cup, which can be personalized by picking a letter from A to Z. Add a wooden lid ($12), flower holder ($15) or candle holder insert ($12), and the cup turns into a multi-functional object: a cup, a vase, a plant pot, a jewelry box, or a candleholder. Place three or four cups in a row, and you’ve got a perfectly instagrammable word sign art. In other words, it’s a remarkably versatile gift for well under $100.

Serving Platter, Alvar Aalto, approx. $60 for small, $95 for large

Mid-century loving foodies and home chefs will love this gift that combines a great functionality with the reference to an iconic piece by Alvar Aalto, Finland’s modernism titan.

The serving platter has the profile of Aalto’s legendary ‘Savoy Vase’, which premiered in 1937 and caused an instant sensation. The wavy, organic form is believed to have been inspired by the shorelines of thousands of Finnish lakes.

The serving platter in oak is beautiful to look at and will make a terrific background to delicious nibbles, cheeses, or sushi. It is made by Finnish Iittala in two sizes and is available from various online and offline stores.

Lovebirds by Kay Bojesen, 99 euros

A child at heart and anyone in love will delight in two charming lovebirds by the Danish designer and silversmith Kay Bojesen.

Bojesen is best known for his wooden toys designed in the 1950s, most famously a playful monkey. Songbirds were actually never put into production then and were only recently recreated by Rosendahl Design Group, based on old family photos.

Kay Bojesen, who embraced functionalism early on, wanted the design to be “round, soft and have a good feel to it”. His toys are full of humor and warmth, and are instantly recognizable.

The lovebirds cost 99 euros, so I’m saying that’s less than $100 per lovebird!! (It’s my article so I make the rules!) You can always buy the ubiquitous mini-monkey for 70 euros (approx. $80), which is in fact a common christening and graduation gift.

I hope your mid-century modern loving family members or friends will enjoy these gifts.

If you have other ideas, please share them in the comments!

Happy stylish celebrating to everyone!

Olga Mosina

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I love travel, design, food and wine. I publish travel stories in my local newspaper and design stories here on Medium. Follow me @ParticularlyNice on Instagram