There’s nothing over-the-top or flashy about it, but the style is unmistakable. Effortless and elegant with a relaxed contemporary feel, mid-century modern is the epitome of cool.
For a design movement that technically only spanned between 1933 and 1965, its influences are still with us everywhere, from lamps and lounge chairs to rugs, toasters, and clocks.
It’s as popular and contemporary today as it ever was – and what’s more, you don’t need to be a professional interior designer to get the look.
What Exactly Is Mid-Century Modern?
Just after the Second World War, America experienced an unprecedented period of population expansion as well as rapid growth in its economy.
Prominent architects, artists, interior designers, and furniture designers of the time, set out to meet the ever-growing need for affordable housing and well-designed everyday products, that would better suit the needs of modern-day lifestyles.
Taking advantage of new design and manufacturing techniques, they combined manmade, materials such as glass, metal, fiberglass, and molded plastic with more natural materials such as wood and molded plywood to produce well-designed, stylish products that were affordable for everyone.
For the first time, we had stackable, foldable, and above all comfortable furniture.
The emphasis was always on simple good design – without fuss – and made to the highest standard of craftsmanship.
Architect and furniture designer, Mies van der Rohe’s often quoted “less is more” perfectly sums the style up.
The characteristics of the style can be briefly summarized by the use of crisp, clean straight lines, soft organic curves, and rich earthy tones that add a pop of color to an otherwise neutral palette.
Your living room is the heart of your home so this is something you want to get right.
Mid-century modern style is very much in the minimalist camp.
The idea is to create a sense of harmony – so you should aim for a clutter-free environment. Now is the time to donate, sell or trash anything that you know shouldn’t really be there.
Choose Your Color Pallet
Mid-century modern design has a distinctive color pallet. Think deep muted earthy tones, bold pops of bright orange, red or yellow, or pale blues with chocolate brown.
The key is to start with a neutral base color like bone, linen, stone, or gray. This will be the foundation color that will tie your décor together and help to create a harmonious look.
And it’s OK to mix your neutrals together, just make sure they don’t compete with one another.
You are now ready to build on your foundation by adding in one or two bold, deep or bright colors. Use these as an accent to add interest and warmth to your room. But keep it casual – don’t be tempted to add too many.
Lastly, the style may be predominantly minimal, but that doesn’t mean everything has to be plain. Patterns were hugely popular in the 1950s. Abstract geometric and organic shapes were all the rage, as were nonrepresentational botanicals.
You can use the 60-30-10 rule to help make your color scheme work:
- 60% neutrals – walls, ceilings, sofa, carpet, etc.
- 30% bold colors – an accent chair, rug, throw pillows and drapes.
- 10% pattern – wall art, throw pillows, rug, and drapes
Iconic Mid-Century Furniture
Every room should have a focal point. If you start with one statement piece, it will pull your room together more effectively than anything else you do!
Adding an accent chair is a great way to make a statement in your living room. There are a few iconic lounge chairs that have never been out of production.
Charles and Ray’s Eames lounge chair (1956), Eero Saarinen’s womb chair (1946), and Ludwig Mies van der Rohe’s Barcelona chair (1929) are still hugely popular.
Originals are pricey, but you could see them as an investment. They hold their value exceptionally well and are designed to last for decades.
Alternatively, you could look for a second-hand version or choose a chair that captures the look of the original design.
When choosing furniture, you can use the 70-30 ratio to help you get the look right:
- 70% clean straight lines – sofa, cabinet, sideboard or buffet, and bookcase.
- 30% organic curves – accent chair, coffee table, side tables, and ceiling lamps.
Bring Nature Inside
Mid-century modern designers believed in creating light, airy, open living spaces. Rather than separate us from nature they wanted to bring the outside in.
Plants help to promote a calm and relaxed atmosphere they are also a great way to add a splash of color and add texture and shape to your décor.
Popular mid-century modern plants include:
- Fiddle Fig Leaf
- Snake Plant
Lighting can make a huge difference to the overall look of your room. It can be used to brighten up a dark corner or highlight a focal point.
Like everything else mid-century modern, lighting veered towards minimalism and they were often designed using natural materials such as molded wood or plywood.
Here are some ideas:
- The Sputnik Chandelier – Sputnik lights are very much back in vogue at the moment, and they can really help to create that classic mid-century look.
- Arc lamp – one of these will make a huge statement in your living room.
- The Saucer Pendant – soft organic curves are a key feature of mid-century modern design, and you can easily do that with a pendant light.
Accessories can easily make or break a room. Too many, and the place will look cluttered. Too few, and your room will just feel soulless.
Accessories you may include:
Vases – group smaller vases together, rather than dot them about.
Throw pillows – they’re a great way to add that pop of color, but your sofa shouldn’t be overfilled with them. Just add one or two.
Wall art – when it comes to wall art, go big! A small picture on a large expansive wall will only look lost. The mid-century modern room is the perfect setting to showcase a large abstract modern art print.
Clocks – If there was ever a time to experience clock envy, it was the 1950s. George Nelson took the humble wall clock and turned it into a spectacular work of art. Most notable of the period are the ball clock and sunburst clock – and they’re fabulous!
Rugs – look for short piled rugs with very simple geometric designs.
Mid-century modern is one of the most versatile styles you could go for. You don’t need to go so far as to recreate an entire 1950s living room in order to get the look.
You can add as much, or as little, of it as you like, and it even mixes well with other styles. Boho-mid-century modern works really well, for example.
Whatever you do, go with what you love and have fun!