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A design in demand

Pop quiz: In 30 seconds, give a definition for mid-century modern design. If you’re stumped, you’re not alone. Mid-century modern design is a term that even stylists can’t agree on, and there is a lot of misinformation out there—along with products masquerading as authentic.

To clear things up, mid-century mod describes furniture, graphic design and architecture that grew out of 20th century Modernism art movement from 1933 to 1965. The designs tend to be lightweight and mobile (reflecting the needs of post-WWII society) created in the atomic style that was popular during the great “race to the moon.” (Think pastel pink sofas, Knoll Barcelona chairs, simple Danish design and natural influences.)

Although complicated to define, this design has held its appeal while other style trends fade—and is especially a hit with Generation X. And you may already be a fan: AMC’s period drama “Mad Men” became must-see TV for design professionals and décor fans and arguably a boom to the home furnishing industry. It was leading man Don Draper’s workplace and Upper West Side Manhattan penthouse that resonated most powerfully, bringing mid-century modern back into the mainstream and becoming a form of design shorthand.

Also ushering this style back into the mainstream are many home and design publications like Dwell that have championed this look, which is a perfect complement for today’s contemporary décor; art museums have built exhibits around it; and collectors are paying top dollar for period pieces—a Carlo Mollino table sold for $3.9 million at a 2005 auction.

How can you recreate a mid-century aesthetic for modern living? Experts say begin with a few pieces of décor may be lacking, work it in with your contemporary pieces and build from there. Introducing too many period pieces can look dated. And don’t be deceived: Stick with countries known to manufacture the real thing, like the U.S., Denmark, Japan and Italy.