51 Iconic Design Objects from Mid-Century, Postmodern, and Contemporary Designers
Some decor objects are so much more than their appearance – the most iconic designs often come with a rich backstory, occupying an important place in the history of modern design. In this post, we have collected 51 decorative objects with such ingrained star-power that serious design aficionados might be able to recognize them from just a single glance. Adding one of these legendary design objects to your interior can create a cultural touchpoint, a tangible way to anchor your decor to the era that inspired it. Many are true investments that will retain their value throughout the lifetime of the piece. Get inspired with the compilation below.
Eames Elephant: Originally created by legendary Charles and Ray Eames in 1945, the first Eames Elephant combined the duo’s love for these gentle giants with the molded plywood fabrication techniques they were pioneering at the time. The original plywood construction proved too expensive and complex to produce – today, this charming elephant is crafted from smoothly formed polypropylene in a range of expressive colors.
Magis Puppy: Eero Aarnio, perhaps best known for his groundbreaking Ball Chair, created the Magis Puppy with a similarly playful composition and perfectly one-of-a-kind silhouette. This multifunctional piece can be used as a small footstool or as a children’s toy, but it most famously graces the pages of design magazines as an iconic decor accent.
POPek The Pooping Balloon Dog: Modern pop artist Jeff Koons made headlines when one of his balloon dog sculptures fetched one of the highest prices for artwork by a living artist in history. Now, smaller versions of this mischievous dog are available for placement in the home without the multi-million dollar price tag. This cheeky design is part of a highly limited series, each one signed and numbered by the artist.
Gufram Cactus: Guido Drocco and Franco Mello created the iconic Cactus in 1972 – a perfect reflection of its adventurous era, viewed through the charismatic lens of pop art. This textural totem stands at nearly 70 inches in height, its proportions lending any room an almost dreamlike atmosphere. This model is called Another Green and serves as an open edition alternative to the highly limited runs that preceded it.
Marching Bear: Bend Goods has developed a beloved reputation for its smart geometric furniture formed from expertly bent wire in brilliant colors. The playful Marching Bear leaves no question as to which design firm is responsible, its wireframe construction an ideal reflection of the furniture style that has propelled this company to fame. Select from four finish options and use to decorate a favorite shelf or table.
Lucie Kaas Kokeshi Dolls: Designed by SKETCH.INC for Lucie Kaas, the Kokeshi doll collection consists of individual wooden figurines inspired by historical figures and pop culture icons. The series pictured here showcases a few selections from the famous artist series. Other series feature legendary musicians, characters from movies, public figures, and more. Each one is made in Denmark and reflects a passion for traditional craft.
Bearbrick Figurine: Bearbricks are a highly collectible toy often sold in a blind box format – but also as oversized larger than life sculptures. Through collaborations with the best-known names in art, fashion, and design, these pieces have developed a devoted following in the streetwear community, propelling the prices of sought-after designs to dizzying heights. Individual pieces are often imported from Japan and are only available on the resale market.
KAWS Figurine: KAWS is the professional name of artist and designer Brian Donnelly, whose previous work as a Disney illustrator helped to inform the distinctive stylization of his wildly popular vinyl figure series. New figures tend to sell out immediately, leaving the casual buyer to seek out quality reproductions or purchase authentic figures on the highly competitive resale market.
Seletti x Diesel Starman Vase: Seletti is an Italian design brand known for its subversive styling and creative collaborations. The versatile Starman vase is a standout selection from their collaboration with Diesel Living – crafted from porcelain, finished in gold, and suitable for use as a vase or placed alone as a decorative accent.
Girard Sun: Alexander Girard designed this decoration in 1966 for the Compound restaurant but also for his own home – a personal piece that the world is now able to enjoy through its continued production by Vitra. This beautiful accent is crafted from luminous brass with a charming happy face.
Rise and Shine Mirror: Since its debut, the Rise & Shine mirror by Hunting & Narud has become a contemporary staple and a favorite for decorators and concept visualizers alike. The materials are kept simple and classic – natural wood, weighty brass, and a minimalistic frameless mirror.
Fornasetti Wall Plate: The illustrious 19th century opera singer Lina Cavalieri has taken an unlikely place in history – as a design icon. Fornasetti’s eponymous founder, Piero Fornasetti, felt captivated by her visage and created a series of variations on her portrait that continued throughout his life and career. These unique variations grace the surface of these elegant porcelain plates that can be hung from the wall or displayed on stand.
Georg Jensen Moneyphant: Perhaps even more charming than the Moneyphant is its background, the design a family affair from start to finish. Jorgen Moller created an elephant bottle opener with his grandchild in 1987, then in 2010 collaborated with his great-grandchild to create the sleek yet charming coin bank you see here. This timeless design is finished in a radiant silver to coordinate well with any interior theme.
Philippe Starck Juicy Salif: Although controversial as a juicer, Juicy Salif is an undeniable icon of modern design. Philippe Starck designed the Juicy Salif in 1990 and it remains a favorite display piece today – sculptural, sleek, and sure to start passionate conversations among the culinary-minded.
La Stanza dello Scirocco Bowl: Milan-based architect Mario Trimarchi created the La Stanza dello Scirocco series for Alessi, each piece presenting an almost ethereal and weightless form as if it could be blown apart in a breeze. In fact, the name for the collection is a nod to places where people can take shelter away from the hot Mediterranean wind.
Kostick Foldable Star: John Kostick transformed his education in physics and mathematics into an enduring icon of modern design with his foldable, collapsible, and geometrically fascinating collection of stars. Introduced in 1965, these stars retain every ounce of their charm as a nostalgic decoration and as an interactive toy for idle moments.
Nagel Candleholder: The history of the Nagel candleholder spans a world war, a minor skiing accent, a chance meeting, and years of waiting. This intriguing piece finally launched in the late 1960s but has remained illusive to the contemporary buyer until relaunched by Danish design company STOFF Copenhagen. Each piece is made from radiant brass, the components stackable and reconfigurable to create endlessly intricate compositions.
Bill Curry Style Oversized Jacks: As a pop art decor stable throughout the 1960s, oversized jacks were produced in a number of vibrant colors and cast metal finishes. The most popular models were attributed to William “Bill” Curry and his company Design Line. These objects are still produced around the world today for use as bookends, tabletop accessories, and more.
Nelson Ceramic Clocks: George Nelson is considered one of the definitive figures in the world of mid-century modern design – not only for his unforgettable furniture, but also for his numerous iconic clock designs. His small ceramic clocks are favored for their versatility and ease of display, easily adding a pop of color to bookshelves and tabletops around the home.
Panthella Lamp: Verner Panton designed a lamp in 1971 that was so far ahead of its time that it would be impossible to economically produce until its mainstream introduction in 2016. Now produced by Louis Poulsen according to Panton’s original drawings, this piece has claimed its rightful place as an instant classic.
Flensted Mobile: The first Flensted mobile was created in 1953, a simple arrangement of storks created to celebrate the christening of Christian and Grethe Flensted’s first daughter. More designs followed and these sleek designer mobiles exploded in popularity. Today, there is a Flensted mobile to suit any space. This model is the Mirage hanging mobile – handmade in Denmark from beech wood, balanced enough to spin gently with just the subtle movements of ambient air circulation.
Toikka Birds: Toikka birds are more than just a beloved ornament. Each is a work of art, handblown from colorful glass at one of Finland’s oldest glass factories. No two birds in a series are exactly alike, each one signed by the artist and shipped with a collector’s tag to confirm authenticity.
Alvar Aalto Glass Vase: Ranking toward the top of the most well-known designer glass objects in the modern world, Finnish architect Alvar Aalto’s 1936 Savoy vase continues to captivate imaginations. This piece continues to be produced in Iittala’s respected glass factories alongside its companion bowls, tall vases, and other complements.
Echasse Vase: Theresa Arn created an instant classic when she introduced the Echasse collection. These mouthblown glass vessels are elevated on slender stilts, lending stability while giving each piece a sense of graceful weightlessness. Empty or filled with fresh picks from the garden, these vessels have so much to offer.
Jonathan Adler Dora Maar Urn: Known for his exciting and abstract ceramic artworks, it seems only fitting that Jonathan Adler choose Picasso’s famous muse for the subject of this stately urn. This statement piece looks fantastic from every angle – ideal for shelf and table placements alike.
Pols Potten Bottles Set: Pols Potten is a thriving design brand whose interior accents and furniture put a fresh and sometimes subversive spin on traditional Dutch design. The Bubbles & Bottles set is one of the most popular, often sold in sets with contrasting colors that find unity through the distinctive silhouette that each piece shares.
Ettore Sottsass Tahiti Lamp: Architect and designer Ettore Sottsass was a pivotal player in the trajectory of the postmodern movement, especially through his development of the Memphis style through his founding role in the Memphis Group. The distinctive Tahiti Lamp could be considered a pure distillation of the Memphis style and is a must-have for any serious collection.
Ultrafragola Mirror: The bold Ultrafragola Mirror (1970) is another enduring iconic design by Ettore Sottsass – one that has managed to gain popular awareness even outside of design circles as a generation of creatives find self-expression through inventive selfies. Recent widespread coverage has made vintage models difficult to find, but the Sottsass estate still allows for fully authorized productions through select retailers including 1stdibs. These authorized productions ship direct from Milan, Italy.
Kubus Bowl: The delightfully formed Kubus bowl from By Lassen is based on original drawings by the legendary Danish architect Mogens Lassen. Each one is a clever nod to the Bauhaus movement – form following function without sacrificing an ounce of beauty.
Kink Vase: Earnest Studio created the Kink Vase for Muuto in 2018 – an instant hit, and now a beloved part of many collections. This piece features an unglazed exterior to create a soft and diffused visual appearance, the inside tidily glazed.
Lassen Frame Box: With its bold contrasting frame, this storage box looks almost two-dimensional from a distance. This piece was designed by Denmark’s legendary architect Mogens Lassen himself – timeless, functional, and beautiful however you display it.
Station Alarm Clock: Tradition is steeped into every detail of this stylish yet understated alarm clock by the renowned architect Arne Jacobsen. The old-school bell alarm mechanism is as pleasant as the clock’s iconic half-orb shape.
Nelson Sunburst Clock: The dramatic Sunburst clock is among the most recognizable of the many exquisite clocks introduced by George Nelson Associates. This 1949 design is still produced by the Vitra Design Museum today and is available in its iconic multicolor colorway, in a dramatic red, and with a walnut wood finish.
Strøm Jug: Inspired by the modernist still life paintings of artist Vilhelm Lundstrøm, designer Nicholai Wiig Hansen created the Strøm Jug with careful attention to its elegant proportions and soft diffused finishes. Each one is hand-sculpted and finished in a silky glaze.
Bullet Planters: Once ubiquitous, the playful yet practical bullet planter design has now resurfaced as a favorite for those who want to accessorize with authentic mid-century flair. Because no designer has ever been credited for this planter format, many companies were able to produce them – vintage options are readily available secondhand. But for a more recent take, the Hip Haven bullet planter provides a clean start in a range of contemporary and retro-inspired colorways.
Vitra Miniatures: Ever wish you could own some of the most iconic chairs in modern design history? Vitra makes it possible with their expertly crafted miniatures collection. These are not just figurines – the detailing is exquisite, the materials top-notch. Now you can enjoy the Barcelona chair at your bedside, the Marshmallow sofa on your library shelf, the Wassily on your desk, and so many more.
Areaware Blockitecture Set: Not just a toy – the Blockitecture series by Areaware has become a cult favorite among design industry professionals. James Paulius created this series for adults and children alike, each piece made from painted pine wood. Select from themes ranging from brutalism to deco, combining and rearranging the pieces as the mood strikes.
Alexander Girard Wooden Dolls: Alexander Girard created his original wood doll collection for his own home in 1953, and now you can see these pieces in the homes of design professionals and afficionados across the world. These wooden dolls are inspired by traditional craft but reimagined with a dramatic pop art flair. Vitra’s fir wood dolls are fully authentic and perfectly collectible.
Cubebot Extra Large: David Weeks designed the Cubebot as a nod to traditional Japanese kumiki puzzles. Cubebot is both a toy and a smart contemporary interior accent – the pieces made from smooth hardwood joined together with elastic bands, allowing for endless pose possibilities. Cubebot can be folded down into a perfect cube for fun puzzle functionality.
Man Ray Chess Set: Surrealist artist Man Ray was primarily known for his innovative use of photography materials to create his distinctive “rayographs”, but he considered himself to be a painter first and foremost. Man Ray designed this beautifully surreal chess set himself, the pieces making frequent cameos in his work. This set is still produced under license by the Man Ray Trust, expertly constructed from solid beech wood.
Rosendahl Monkey: Kay Bojesen’s delightful 1951 wooden monkey is a Danish classic. The articulated limbs allow for easy movement, the hands curved so the figure can hang from everyday objects around the house. Each one is made with a combination of limba wood and teak for unique charisma that will only deepen with age.
Pikkupässi Figurine: Created by designer Kaija Aarikka as a symbol of Finnish perseverance, this charming ram figurine is crafted to last a lifetime. Each one is handmade in Finland by skilled artisans using natural beech and pinewood.
Benjamin Hubert Basket: Excellence in craft can transform even the simplest materials into a stately work of art. This multifunctional basket is made from a single piece of gently curved ash wood veneer, a smooth bentwood handle arching to join each side. Use on the floor to hold magazines, place on a table to hold dried flowers, use on an entryway credenza to capture pocket miscellanea, or simply display as a sculptural statement piece anywhere.
Kin Figures: Lars Beller Fjetland perfectly captured the spirit of Danish craftwork and design with the playful Kin series. This 2018 collection spans multiple sizes so that you can create wonderful little families, communities, or pairings – or you can display them individually. The articulated heads can tilt upward or downward to capture a wider range of emotion. Each piece is made with maple, walnut, and rich mahogany.
Kristian Vedel Birds: Kristian Vedel’s series of wooden birds were a mid-century sensation in Denmark, and they retain much of that popularity and collectability today. Each one is handmade by skilled artisans using natural oak wood and deeply smoked oak wood. The heads float freely within a supportive divot carved into the body – there is one divot on top and one divot on bottom, allowing you to experiment with different body orientations and head positions.
Hans Bølling Duck: Created by Hans Bølling in 1959, the delightful duck and duckling series can be used as individual pieces or grouped as a whimsical family. Each piece is carved from solid teak wood, the head posable for added personality.
Sigurjón Pálsson Shorebird: Sigurjón Pálsson gained inspiration for his shorebird collection by looking at the elegance and charming activity of waders – the tall curlew, the busy redshank, and the playful sandpiper. Each one is lovingly carved from solid oak and perched atop sturdy varnished steel stilts.
Beak Birds: Known primarily for his crucial contributions to Danish lighting design, Svend Aage Holm-Sørensen also created accents with a more down-to-earth touch. The gorgeous Beak Bird collection was actually found in the attic of the designer’s family home and has only recently been made available for the public through production by Warm Nordic. Each piece is shaped from oiled teak.
L’Oiseau Bird: Ronan and Erwan Bouroullec have already landed furniture design and lighting designs in the most prestigious museum collections around the world – yet this simple, charming bird carved from wood still captivates collectors enough to stand out on its own. L’Oiseau continues the theme of Nordic folk art aesthetics for the contemporary home, its minimalistic form carved from solid maple for a lifetime of uncomplicated beauty.
Eames House Bird: The famous House Bird began its rise to fame in a humble way – one of these folk art birds, carved in 1910, was acquired by the legendary Charles and Ray Eames during their travels through the Appalachians. It became a favorite piece of decor in their own living room and slowly began making cameos in their product photoshoots. Vitra eventually decided to make a faithful reproduction by 3D scanning the original, allowing anyone to enjoy one of these mid-century icons in their own home.
Eames House Whale: Charles and Ray Eames were prolific collectors of folk art. A carved wooden whale that measured over two meters in length was another especially quirky item that graced their product photoshoots, an unsigned piece of Coast Salish art. Vitra’s reproduction is a scaled-down version carved from ash wood and lovingly painted to match the original.