Generally speaking, modern furniture refers to furniture from the latter half of the 20th century and on into contemporary styles. Designers use the term "modern" furniture more narrowly to refer to the furnishings manufactured in the 50s and 60s in post-war America, and to a lesser extent Europe. Modern furniture experimented with new synthetic building materials, like vinyl and tubular metal, as well as developed an understated monochromatic color scheme, integrated modular elements with multiple uses, and featured curvilinear shapes.
Sometimes modern furniture is nicknamed "mod" or spelled "moderne" to distinguish it from all contemporary pieces. After World War II, families reconceptualized their living spaces and demanded mass-produced, comfortable, affordable, and stylish furniture to match their new perspective. Designers such as Herman Miller, Florence Knoll Bassett, Hans Knoll, and Charles and Ray Eames defined the era of modern furniture with pedestal tables, modular sofas, sleek sideboards, shiny stools in place of chairs, and abstract light sources.
A pop sensibility informed how the influential designers wanted their furniture to function in the average home. To usher in a futuristic design they turned to vinyl instead of leather, bright prints in place of dark brocades, acrylic and plywood rather than carved hardwood, and tubular steel instead of wrought iron. New types of fabrication allowed them to manufacture sturdy, oversized, non-symmetrical, and fluid furniture that redefined elegance as bright, open, and minimalist, in place of ornate.
Many pieces of modern furniture fulfilled multiple functions and changed the organization of informal living spaces. Kidneys, ellipses, oblongs, S's, and flares replaced the circles, squares, and rectangles of a pre-WW II home. Rich Art Deco colors became dated as the public desired captivating monochromes like gray and black, highlighted by contrasting hues like turquoise, ruby red, chartreuse, and tangerine. Giant blocks of color added to the modular, puzzle-piece effect when they were set off against clear acrylic, blonde plywood, or shiny chrome. Modern furniture flaunted style, yet perfectly complemented the new generation of families and their homes.