Why Midcentury Modernism Design Works so Well for Events and Exhibitions

Currently, one of the hottest design trends for trade shows and exhibitions is an artistic movement that’s more than half a century old: midcentury modernism. While this style is cropping up in homes and designs nationwide, it seems uniquely suited for the exhibition industry.

Two years ago, the New York Times ran an article titled, Why Won’t Midcentury Design Die?

“In 1998, The New York Times noted a new design trend. Cool creative types were tossing aside their thrift store décor in favor of midcentury modern. Out went the funky votive candles and wrought-iron beds, and in came the clean-lined furniture of Arne Jacobsen, Eero Saarinen, Charles and Ray Eames, and Florence Knoll.

“For some reason, time stopped. Nearly two decades later, midcentury modern remains the rage. If anything, it’s even more popular. Flip through a shelter magazine, scroll on, or shop at a mass retailer like CB2 or West Elm, and it’s all variations on a spiky-legged-chair-and-Tulip-table theme. It’s as if the mechanism that refreshes cultural trends every few years has developed a glitch.”

Modernism actually began in the period between the World Wars. The core of modernism – across multiple artistic endeavors: art, architecture, design, and literature – was a focus on the most basic elements of daily life. In design and architecture, this meant sleek, clean lines and using steel, concrete, glass, and synthetic materials for construction.

Modernism was also a rejection of other design types such as classical and traditional, ornate styles that came before it. Modern designs are functional with no flourishes or ornamentation.


Photo Credit: Curbed

During World War II, modernism largely went away. Then, after the war, the style returned and flourished as midcentury modernism. While a throwback to the modernist movement, it was also a movement unto itself. Where modernism was a rejection of consumerism and capitalism, midcentury modernism was embraced by many capitalist cultures and became a driving force of consumer culture.

There are several famous examples of midcentury designs. Perhaps the most well-known furniture piece is the Eames Lounge Chair and Ottoman, a set was designed for Herman Miller in 1956. For graphic design, Saul Bass’ opening credit sequences are frequently cited. His work for “North by Northwest” and “Psycho” are great examples, but his most famous is likely for the 1959 Otto Preminger film “Anatomy of a Murder.”

Basically, just picture the entirety of Don Draper’s New York apartment. That’s midcentury modernism.

Midcentury Modern Shines at Events and Exhibitions

As evidenced by the New York Times article (and several others like it), people have several different theories why midcentury modern designs remain popular.

“When this stuff was designed, it was specifically made to be democratic and to be lived with. It makes sense that it has a wide appeal. It’s beautiful materials, classic simple shapes that can seem timeless. It’s not like a blob chair from the early 2000s. It just kind of goes with everything, somehow,” said Jill Singer, founder of design magazine Sight Unseen.

America is urbanizing again. The purpose this furniture served a long time ago is still a purpose it serves today: It’s intuitive to smaller spaces. I don’t know if there’s another time period with such a prolific amount of beautifully functional designs,” said Jim Brett, the president of West Elm.

Mr. Brett may have hit on the reason that midcentury modern designs remain so popular for events and exhibitions. When brands have such a limited space to tell their story, it is imperative to be economical and functional in form and design. With its attractive, clean lines and thoughtful use of space, midcentury modern is ideal in a trade show environment to both attract and hold an attendee’s attention.

This year’s Consumer Electronics Show (CES), where one might expect to see lots of contemporary or postmodern designs, actually showcased many midcentury modern displays. Several booths featured wood and other natural materials, and the furniture was functional yet warm.


Another show with several midcentury displays was the 2018 New York International Auto Show where luxury brands used the style to highlight not just the style they bring to their consumers but also their perceived level of sophistication.

For example, while the massive video walls in Lexus’ display highlighted the prowess of its vehicles and driver Scott Pruett, it was all ensconced in a huge, wood-paneled cabinet accompanied by attractive, understated seating. Volvo also featured wood paneling as part of its display. While experiencing Volvo’s virtual reality presentation, attendees were invited to sit in modest, functional furniture. Acura encouraged attendees to take a load off and rest in a quiet lounge space featuring midcentury modern chairs and coffee tables.

Midcentury Modern Made Easy

While it may appear that achieving that perfect midcentury modern look requires extensive thrift store shopping, customized exhibits, and/or barrels of money, there are some affordable options that look spectacular and are easy to achieve.

Event Architecture’s innovative Smart Chairs are one example. These chairs provide a sleek, modern look and are comprised of durable, weatherproof materials that feel like real leather. In addition, the chairs are inflatable and can be ready for use in less than 60 seconds. Also, once deflated, up to four chairs can be packed into a stackable crate that is easy and inexpensive to ship and store.

Smart Chairs are designed with ergonomics and comfort in mind. Plus, unlike fabric holstered chairs, cleanup is not a concern. No matter what hits the seat – red wine, mud, snow, mustard, or cheesy – these worry-free Smart Chairs repel the elements and food and beverage spills.


These mobile architectural structures are modular, so they can be mixed and matched as needed, and available in a variety of configurations that can be sized up and down to fit your exact requirements.

  • XPO: The XPO single story model is available in two sizes of approximately 20’ and 33’ wide. You can attach additional AirCells to extend the depth in increments of 8’ to create structures that stretch as far as you need.

  • XPODH: Need more height? Double it with the XPODH. Like the XPO, the depth of the XPODH can be extended by simply attaching additional AirCells.

  • xDek: To give guests a view from the top, expand space upward with the xDek. This sturdy steel and aluminum freestanding deck is designed to fit snuggly above an XPO.

  • Snoozy: What to provide some overnight options? Set up some Snoozys. Each pod sleeps up to two people, is equipped with a lockable door, and can be rigged with electricity (for lights, amenities, and device charging) and climate controls. These weatherproof structures take only 10 minutes to set up.


Our mobile architectural structures can be set up nearly anywhere in a variety of different environments, including outdoors on uneven surfaces like sand. Flooring panels lock in place to help stabilize the structures, which also leaves plenty of space under the floor to customize an electric grid. So, you can include a climate control system. Finally, the entire structures can be fully branded inside and out.

So, to attract attendees with a modern display at your next exhibition, give Event Architecture a call at 972-323-9433.