MID-CENTURY MODERN INTERIORS: What Is It and How To Do it

Poppy, retro-tinged, and iconic. 

The mid-century modern style defined the 40s to the 60s. Sleek lines, organic shapes, bold colors, and innovative materials made it a completely fresh approach to architecture and interior design. 

An incredibly versatile style that blends well with various aesthetics, making it a design style that stays relevant time and time again. 

Why else has this style stand the test of time? The design shows off timeless elegance and practical use with an emphasis on simplicity, functionality, and organic minimalism. At the core of its design, mid-century modern style creates a casual, lounge-ready look, making any space feel relaxed and comfortable.

Photo source: Wikimedia Commons

When furniture shopping, chances are, you’ve seen or heard about the mid-century modern design style. After all, the era was defined by iconic pieces that continue to be a household staple in any type of home.

To understand more about this design , let’s first start with a brief history of the Mid-century Modern interior style

Mid-century Modern is a versatile design style that has grown in popularity over the decades. Entering in the late 1950s, it was largely influenced by the German Bauhaus design and architecture style of the early 20th century, which emphasized geometric shapes, clean lines, functionality, and a futuristic look.

Post World War II, many German designers emigrated to America and brought with them new modern design ideas. During this time, the retro-futuristic design started to become more widespread in American homes. Mid-century modern home decor like chairs, couches, lighting fixtures was mass produced, making it possible to come in multiple colors and reach more people.

Living room following the mid-century modern style

Photo source: David Papazian

The style was only given its name in the 80s, with author Cara Greenberg’s book, Mid-Century Modern: Furniture of the 1950s. After which, more people began incorporating it into architecture, furniture, and interior design projects.

Later on, through the proliferation of art, movies, and television, the style grew in interest and was revitalized in the 21st century. Loved for the nostalgic appeal, form, and function, we see more people continue to embrace this look.

Living room following the mid-century modern style

Photo source: Unsplash | Sidekix Media

What is Mid-Century Modern Interior Style?

Being born after WWII, mid-century modern design strayed away from the opulence of traditional design, and opted to embrace minimalism. Unlike other aesthetic movements, it is streamlined, featuring clean lines, flat profiles, and simple shapes, all void of embellishments.

It also championed the use of new materials for home furnishing that have never been used. Some of these are fiberglass, plywood, lucite, cement, steel, plastic laminates, plexiglass and tubular metals. Aside from these innovations, there was also a focus on geometric and organic forms in furniture.

Since mid-century modern style revolved around design and functionality, ergonomics also played a big role in creating nuanced designs. Multiple architects and designers like Noguchi, Le Corbusier, Bertoia, Jensen, and Saarinen created furniture that were both efficient and sensible. Many of its iconic chairs were made to promote comfort and good posture.

Mid-century modern chairs in a living space

Photo source: Unsplash | Jason Goodman

Similar to other design movements, mid-century modern style has been reinterpreted in a number of ways to suit the interior sensibilities of the times. Recently, in the early 2000s, the millennial design style was all the rage as most people favored pastel hues, white open spaces, and mid-century modern design staples. 

The desired look gave rise to a more youthful and brighter version of the design style. So much so, that this movement veered more towards light, rustic touches rather than the understated but quietly glamorous Mad Men look.

Living room following the mid-century modern style

Photo Source: Max Pixel

From there, we’re now seeing mid-century modern move in the direction of embracing pastel hues, bohemian touches, and organic elements.

How do you do this in your space?

Mid-century modern is a great design choice for those looking to add an authentic vintage feel and a nostalgic touch to their home.

One big advantage is you don’t need to live in a big space, ranch, or split-level home to incorporate this era’s aesthetics. Given its simplistic approach and clean lines, this style can actually work in any type of home.

However, while the style boasts of charming and interesting decor, it should also feature practical, durable, and good quality pieces that all come together. 

Living room following the mid-century modern style

Photo source: Pexels | Max Vakhtbovych

Now that you’ve gained some foundational knowledge about the mid-century modern interior style, the next part becomes more hands-on. Keep reading to discover tips and tricks on how to incorporate it into your home.

1. Choose iconic Mid-Century Modern furniture

Furniture from that time was all about utility and ingenuity. Stripping off the superfluous elements and keeping only the essentials produced iconic pieces that we still love and use today.

For example, sculptural chairs designed by Le Corbusier, Bertoia, and Saarinen in the early 1950s were known for their comfort as much as their design. Saarinen’s ‘tulip’ table replaced the four-legged traditional table with its singular central pedestal allowing more chairs to fit comfortably. 

These mid-century modern staples have become vintage pieces you can collect to immediately add some vintage flair to your home.

Saarinen's tulip table, a mid-century modern staple furniture design

Photo source: Alle Ideen

Other hallmarks of the mid-century modern style include furniture with hairpin legs, plastic shell chairs, cocooning lounges, and low streamlined seating. For an eclectic mix, try combining eccentric chandeliers, wishbone chairs, oddly-shaped coffee tables, and slightly curved sofas.

Naturally, this wouldn’t be complete without talking about the era’s emphasis on natural woods, like birch, ash, and teak. There’s a strong focus on the organic approach inspired by shapes found in nature. Therefore, iconic pieces like Ray Eames’ lounge chair, George Nelson coconut chair, and Isamu Noguchi’s coffee table would be great additions in today’s modernist homes.

Eames lounge chair, a mid-century modern interior furniture staple

Photo source: Piqsels | Showcasing Eames’ Lounge Chair

With these furniture recommendations, a great place to start would be your living room. Focus on the harmony of your furnishings while highlighting statement pieces. 

Arrange your pieces in such a way that gives the eye something to hone in on and bounce off throughout the room. Additionally, make your space more visually interesting by using warm colors mixed with a pop of bright hues.

Photo source: Pexels | Max Vakhtbovych

If you want to get more creative, incorporate statement pieces like furniture made from plastic and acrylic to introduce different textures and styles in your space. Better yet, build your room around these statement pieces.

You can do this by choosing one or two signature mid-century modern pieces to design around. This can be a metal sunburst wall hanging or an Arne Jacobsen ‘Egg Chair’. Then, use the rest of your design elements – from the color palette to artwork – to complement and highlight those statement pieces.

Pro tip: Mid-century modern furniture is anti-fuss with a penchant for Scandinavian simplicity and silhouettes. So, while decorating your space, don’t overdo it. Allow some open area so that your space won’t feel stuffy and tight.

Photo source: Pexels | Jonathan Borba

2. Play with color

Mid-century modern style leans towards white walls and medium-toned teak woods. Therefore, colors that complement this would be warmer earth tones like burnt sage, muted reds, mustard yellows, avocado-greens, rust, and teal. These moodier colors are the bedrock of mid-century modern and do great as a base tone.

Contrastingly, if you’re looking for more oomph, go for playful colors like turquoise, sunny yellow, bright orange, and other saturated colors. These are ideal for occasional accents to enliven the place and give it a modern twist.

Playful colors like mustard yellow and turquoise in a mid-century modern living room

Photo source: Pexels | Houzlook

Despite that, don’t be afraid to incorporate bright colors. Unlike minimalism, mid-century modern design embraces the use of poppy hues that is reminiscent of Piet Mondrian’s color-blocking paintings and graphic art of the era.

Try experimenting with color through a bright rug, an art piece, accented dining room chairs, and your throw pillows. At the same time, prioritize retro colors like sage green, butter yellow, or cyan blue to give it that mid-century modern feel. Just be sure each room is grounded with some neutrals to keep the mix balanced.

Photo source: Piqsels

You can also do this by incorporating wood furniture and accents. Try using a black walnut with a darker finish or use a variety of furniture made of teak or mahogany. These natural pieces bring the warmth of brownish hues that will make your space feel more rich and sophisticated.

3. Make a statement with geometric prints

One of the simplest ways to have a distinct mid-century modern aesthetic is by incorporating geometric shapes. You’ll notice the movement’s print direction is playful, abstract, bold, and full of geometric graphics that are proudly retro and sometimes, even overdone.

Geometric flooring with bright orange-red mid-century chairs

Photo Source: Pexel | Max Vakhtbovych

To bring this design element into your home, use small doses to avoid an overly kitsch approach. Instead of using geometric prints on everything, just have it on your floor, pillows, throws, drapes, or wall art. Keep it minimal so as not to overwhelm.

Another way to get this geometric look is by updating your bedroom with new drapes. Then, other elements like your mirror, pillows and rug can follow suit. These design choices give your room that eye-catching retro look without overpowering the rest of your interiors.

Geometric throw pillows on a bed

Photo source: Unsplash | James Hollingworth

4. Go for bold and creative lighting

When it comes to lighting, mid-century modern embraces quirky pieces that have function and an artistic purpose. Lighting is not only an afterthought; it is a bold and creative choice that can accessorize your modern home.

With the innovative approach to design, it’s no wonder that mid-century modern lamps were completely different in style and materials used. Many lamps from the era had adjustable brackets that enabled them to project light along the wall or up towards the ceiling by rotating them. 

Several lamps also produced a shadow-box effect that radiated a soft light, creating an ambient effect that complements the light background well. Table lights and floor lamps were also favored as these illuminated certain areas of the home to break the space and create privacy.

Lighting accent piece on a bedside table

Photo source: Unsplash | Christopher Jolly

Pro-Tip: Use multiple lamps, whether they be floor lamps or table lamps to illuminate your space. Do take note curvy, circular or organic shapes can give your space a softer look. On the other hand, lighting with black or brass finishes can make your space look cleaner and more minimalist.

Circular and asymmetrical sputnik chandelier in a dining space

Photo source: Pexels | Vecislavas Popa | Featuring an asymmetrical sputnik chandelier

Just like the furniture then, many lighting pieces have also become iconic, such as the Sputnik chandelier inspired from the satellite. This lamp features several antennas in varying sizes and metal finishes, making it a statement piece that would surely look amazing in your living room.

The Henningsen’s 1958 Artichoke lamp is another timeless classic. This lamp features multiple copper panels cascading around a circular center, gently diffusing light to be free of glare. Fully imitating the warm glow of candle light, ensuring that the illumination remains intimate, relaxing, and flattering to all who sit beneath it. Lighting like this would do well for your dining space or bedroom, where relaxed lighting is preferred.

For casual spaces, use an overarching curvilinear floor lamp, iconic for its shell-shaped shade and linear stem. This is a great lighting choice for relaxed spaces like a reading nook or your living room. 

Overarching curvilinear floor lamp in a mid-century living room

Photo Source: Pexels | Charlotte May

While Noguchi’s Akari light sculptures made of bamboo and washi paper, are also interesting alternatives for light and installation pieces. If you are looking to bring some Asian influence in your home, you can opt for these pendant lights to bring traditional Japanese materials to a modern home.

Noguchi Akari light sculptures of washi paper for a light Japanese touch

Photo source: Pinterest

5. Don’t forget to accessorize

Mid-century modern homes feature spare surfaces and a love for simplicity. However, that does not mean a lack of accessories. Rather, it simply means you should go for a few decorative pieces that are unique enough to stand on their own.

For your mid-century home, source decorative accessories that evoke the 50s and 60s. Some examples are porcelain vases with interesting patterns, sculptures in varying sizes, and wall hangings showcasing graphic shapes in vivid hues for a pop of color.

Go for abstract prints and art pieces that reflect the arts and crafts movement of the era. While extras like an oversized chair, an oddly-shaped table, or a multi-arm floor lamp are interesting additions that can introduce flashes of playful silhouettes in your home.

Abstract prints and playful coffee table shapes in a bright living room

Photo source: Home Design Lover

Take this living room above as an example. Instead of brand new furniture, it uses vintage options like this kidney-shaped coffee table, low cabinet table, and the mid-century modern chairs.

They are then paired with framed art pieces, a vibrant patterned rug, record player, a stand-out lamp and chandelier. With all of these elements, we have a space full of mid-century modern accents that blends well.

Eames lounge chair beside a vintage looking upright piano

Photo source: Unsplash | Lauren Mancke

Pro-Tip: Scour through local flea markets, secondhand shops, and antique houses for one-of-a-kind finds that can surely bring more mid-century modern vibes into your home. Lucky for you, these decorative pieces are not hard to come by.

6. Keep it natural by bringing the outdoors in

Bright and well-lit environments are key in mid-century modern designs. Therefore, take advantage of every window you have to let the light in. 

Liberal use of windows is a great way to allow light to flow into the rooms from a range of angles, effectively reducing the need for artificial lighting. To maximize the natural light, source for sheer drapes, blinds, and window treatments that you can easily retract to take in the sights outside.

Three large windows bringing in ample natural light

Photo source: Unsplash | Emily Wang

If you have large windows that overlook the natural landscape, choose interior colors that can complement your view. Take the example below wherein the use of light wood and touches accentuate the greens that surround the living room.

Mid-century modern style also has a deep connection with nature and incorporates natural elements whenever possible. In this case, the use of natural elements like wood give off a warm and comforting feeling. This softens the industrial materials used, creating a balanced environment that’s grounded in nature.

Keep it natural by taking advantage of exposed wooden beams and panels. This way, you infuse untouched beauty, texture and visually interesting elements into any room.

Photo source: Unsplash | Francesca Tosolini and Alberto Castillo Q.

Aside from this, potted plants are also an easy way to introduce nature into your interiors. Try using large potted plants for wide open spaces and using succulents as centerpieces to decorate your dining room table.

Want to go for a more rustic or boho look? Add more plants and continue to mix and match different colors, textures, and patterns to create a mid-century modern look that embraces the eclectic nature of Bohemian design style.

A mid-century modern space made more eclectic with plants

Photo source: Pexels | Rachel Claire 

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