You don't often see a home decorating trend that doesn't end up on next year's list of to-don'ts. Tuscan kitchens, nautical motifs, Ikat patterns. All of these concepts were fresh and popular in their day, but those days have passed and now the elements are clogging up thrift stores and yard sales everywhere.
So, when the industry is graced with an everlasting design concept like mid-century modern (MCM), it only seems right to incorporate it into your home's decor. This expert guide will teach you how to do just that.
Not only will you become better acquainted with this transcendent style, but you'll also learn how to blend mid-century modern design principles into every room of your home like a professional interior designer.
What is Mid-Century Modern Design?
Mid-century modern was a powerful design movement that is globally recognized for having a tremendous and lasting impact on home decor, architecture, and even graphic design. This movement was most prevalent between the 1930s and 1970s, but the echo of splayed wooden legs and the juxtaposition of materials continues to resonate with homeowners and designers to this day.
Mid-century modern is a unique result of the overlap between the Industrial Revolution and the Modernist Movement. Both of these influential time periods have left a permanent mark on the mid-century modern style, shining through the bold declaration of function before fashion and the raw appearance of materials.
While this style started blooming in the early 1900s, it wasn't always so clearly defined and widely recognized. Author Cara Greenburg solidified and named the movement in 1984 when she released her book, Mid-Century Modern: Furniture of the 1950s.
Shortly after publication, the book sold over 100,000 copies and the term "mid-century modern" began to appear in interior design catalogs, fashion magazines, architectural galleries, and a variety of other publications. Elements were defined, shapes and colors were assigned, and this 50's style with a modern twist became an everlasting favorite.
Why Is Mid-Century Modern So Popular?
There isn't any one reason for the popularity behind the mid-century modern movement. What's not to love about a style that embraces open spaces, a myriad of patterns and textures, and an unapologetic expression of the past?
If we had to narrow it down, though, we'd credit the wide-spread popularity to these three key components of mid-century modern decor.
It Is Extremely Customizable
There are many interior design styles, like industrial design, that require a specific setting or certain architectural components in order to blend well inside a home. The beauty of mid-century modern design is that the core fundamentals can be stretched, picked apart, and applied to almost any decorating style.
You can blend the core concepts with other complementary styles, adopt a warm or cool color palette, and add in your own personal mementos and keepsakes without disrupting the vibe.
Whether you live in a bare-brick loft or a modernized apartment complex, you can easily pull off the 1950's vibe to whatever extreme you prefer. Go all out with geometric wallpaper behind a sunburst clock, or stick to a mellow base of core elements. However, you choose to decorate, remember the wise words of Kelli Ellis, Celebrity Designer & RST Brands Ambassador: "BUT YOU MUST ADD classic mid-century eye-catching accessories."
It Caters to Bright, Airy, Open Spaces
Near the end of the 20th century, just as mid-century modern was gaining popularity, more and more residential developers started to embrace the open floor plan. Being that the new and improved 50's-style home decor was considered "new and modern" in its time, it makes sense that the trend was designed to shine in the new-age open floor plans.
However, coordinating trends aren't the only reason that mid-century designers were partial to open spaces. Mid-century modern is nothing if not intentionally functional. This decorating style gracefully and subtly turns away from needless formalities such as having different rooms for different occasions. Instead, this style aims to create a comfortable, liveable environment.
Additionally, classic examples of mid-century modern furniture are often large and curvy, which makes them better suited for larger rooms. In a closed-off floor plan with smaller rooms, adding mid-century furniture could easily result in a cramped, stuffy setup.
If you're trying to implement mid-century modern decor into a smaller living space, we suggest you stick with the smaller furniture pieces and bring it all together with 50's-style accents like geometric shapes, sunburst mirrors, and funky lighting.
It's Fun, Fresh, and Creative
If you keep an eye on the home decor trends that circulate through Pinterest and other binge-worthy design feeds, you can almost feel the steady rise of bright colors and bold shapes in trending design.
Take a closer look, and most of the time, you'll find that those images contain at least a small handful of mid-century modern design elements. This decorating style employs a delightful display of colors, shapes, textures, and materials that can be fashioned effortlessly in a fun and creative way.
Mid-century modern decor appeals to the child-like wonder in all of us. At the same time, it allows us to create a mature and sophisticated space in which we can gather and entertain like bonafide grownups.
Mid-Century Modern Design Elements
While MCM decor offers a high level of personalization, it still adheres to a foundation of key elements. To achieve the perfect blend of modern accents and 50's fashion, we recommend you keep in mind these 10 fundamental mid-century modern design principles.
- A focus on functionality
- Mixed textures and patterns
- A contrast between natural materials and non-traditional materials (i.e. wood and vinyl)
- Organic and geometric shapes
- Sleek, clean lines
- A lack of clutter
- White walls and patterned wallpaper
- A great variety of color
- Unique, eye-catching lighting
- Shapely, bold furniture
What Is Considered Mid-Century Furniture?
With so many different kinds of mid-century furniture, this topic can be a little tricky to define.
RST Brands Ambassador, Kelli Ellis, says, "There are specific design elements that make a piece mid-century. Splayed wood legs are the most prevalent and easiest to incorporate into a timeless design. Also, look for contrasting piping in cushions and pillows."
Mid-century furniture comes in a variety of unique shapes that are either organic or geometric. Armchairs and sofas are often supported by wooden legs, either splayed or hairpin style. Cabinets, coffee tables, and other surfaces often integrate the same style of leg, which is usually the defining factor.
As you become more familiar with the curvy, retro furniture that plays on clean lines and colors, you'll be able to easily identify mid-century modern pieces. Here are a few iconic examples of MCM furniture, all of which were imagined by renowned interior designers in the mid-century.
- Eames Molded Plywood Chair
- Eames Lounge Chair and Ottoman
- George Nelson Marshmallow Sofa
- George Nakashima Cabinet
- Ludwig Barcelona Chair
Mid Century Modern Living Room Furniture
Create a cozy, comfortable living room for your friends and family to gather in. Don't be afraid to let a single piece of bright furniture steal the show, or keep to neutral furniture to allow other elements of the room to take center stage.
Opt for spacious living room sectionals, a mid-century coffee table, and swap out your TV table for a Nakashima-style cabinet with hairpin legs. Add an accent chair or two, a geometric rug, some retro lighting, and you've got a flawless combination of mid-century elements.
Mid Century Modern Kitchen
The kitchen is a perfect room to explore bold colors or patterns in a controlled way. You don't want to create a cacophony of clashing colors, but rather, make a statement with a refined color palette.
Always commit to smooth, clean lines in the kitchen. Swap out ornate, curved cabinets for flat, wood options. Invest in stainless steel appliances and marble countertops. When it comes to flooring, the flatter and smoother the better. Throw in an egg-shaped dining table surrounded with Eames Molded Plywood Chairs and a couple low-back bar stools to complete the modern 50's feel.
Mid Century Modern Bedroom
Just because you're decorating with funky furniture and pops of color doesn't mean you can't create a relaxing and comforting bedroom design. Opt for clean neutral colors for furnishings and bedding, limit your ornaments, and choose gentle colors for your accents, like soft shades of blue and green.
For a space that feels open and uncluttered, we suggest you stick with classic wood bookshelves, nightstands, and dressers. You can even add in a tufted armchair for a pop of color or a neutral addition.
Mid Century Modern Office
The office is a perfect example of how neutral colors and clean lines can create a perfect atmosphere. You can choose a thick, statement-making power desk like the one in Don Draper's office, or you can go for a simple, lightweight desk made from light wood or plexiglass with the hairpin legs, of course.
The sophisticated Eames lounge chair captivated the attention of designers during this period, but if it's not your favorite, don't be afraid to try something new. There are plenty of different mid-century chairs out there that would suit your new office design.
Just remember to stick with clean lines, uncluttered surfaces, and a mix of traditional and non-traditional materials.
What Are Mid-Century Modern Colors?
Because MCM is such a versatile design, it's no surprise that the style is capable of incorporating a wide range of colors that complement one another in high contrast. For an iconic mid-century home, create an even balance of neutral shades and vibrant streaks of color.
To give you a few ideas, here are some classic color palettes for a mid-century modern home.
- Bright orange and warm brown
- Soft greens and blues paired with varying shades of gray
- Cream, brown, and pops of teal
- Stark white with deep brown
- Varying pink shades with brown wood
How to Decorate Mid-Century Modern on a Budget
The versatility of this style makes it a great choice for budget-conscious decorators who can't afford to redecorate their entire home in one fell swoop. You can add pieces little by little without getting stuck in that awkward in-between phase where everything clashes.
Here are a few more expert tips on how to pull together a mid-century modern design on a budget:
- Focus on developing a good blend of patterns, textures, and colors.
- Start with mid-century accent furniture, instead of splurging on an entire living room set.
- Paint old pieces to adhere to your new MCM color palette.
- Scour thrift stores, estate sales, and flea markets for authentic vintage finds and antiques.
- Add affordable mid-century style accents, like a sunburst mirror or a funky lamp.
What Patterns and Textures Go with Mid Century Design?
Mid-century modern design embraces a heavy mix of bold patterns and overlapping textures, which add a great deal of depth to any room. The style employs geometric and organic shapes, vivid prints, clean lines, and high-contrast graphics.
As far as textures are concerned, a picturesque mid-century modern home is often draped in the thicker, heavier materials, such as fur, burlap, and wool. Not only is this an indication of price and quality, but it also adds the perfect textural spread.
Mid-Century Trends to Watch For
Mid-century modern homes celebrate the beauty found in natural stone floors, including terrazzo. This year, the rest of the interior design fashion world has decided to join in the fun. Of course, terrazzo can be used in more than flooring. You can also expect to see it showcased in countertops, showers, etc.
Each of the major players in the color world releases a color of the year. While current color trends range from blue to red to black, they all have one thing in common: bold hues.
The trick to using bold colors in the mid-century modern design is using them as accents rather than backgrounds. For instance, a bold red door or piece of furniture can serve as an excellent focal point for a dining or living room.
An accent wall featuring patterned onyx wallpaper can add a bit of glamour to an otherwise neutral room. If you're going to go with a heavy color like onyx, though, make sure the room has plenty of natural lighting to balance out the color choice.
Wood is back and better than ever. Mid-century modern decor has always capitalized on the use of contrasting materials in the home, and woods like oak and walnut are popular staples. While wooden wall panels might not make a comeback, the use of natural wood in design is returning to favor in the design world.
A chair, table, modern bookshelf, or headboard are all excellent options for incorporating wood into various rooms in your home.
The true fun of using mid-century modern decor is the freedom it gives you to truly make your home a reflection of your unique personality. Above we've discussed various ways to incorporate mid-century modern design elements to various rooms in your home. With a few guiding principles and your individual creativity, you'll be well on your way to creating this timeless look for your home.