The midcentury modern style was once called modern, but now can be referred to as “vintage.” As the name suggests, this style emerged and flourished roughly two and a half decades in the middle of the 20th century, from the mid-1940s to around 1970s. This is a natural, uncomplicated and fresh style that arose from people’s desire to propel post-war America to the modern era. Maybe because of its freshness, simplicity and graceful curves, this interior design style has a timeless appeal that keeps it well-loved by many until today.
The midcentury modern style, which timeless quality has endured, was based on earlier styles like the Bauhaus from Germany, and the International style, which grew from the Bauhaus style in America. After World War II, many Bauhaus architects and designers migrated to the United States as a result of the post-war changes in Germany. During that time, there was an expansion of cities and suburbanization in the US. Technological advances also led to the production of new materials, making it possible to explore different textures, colors, effects, and forms.
Since midcentury modern is one of the most influential design movements of all time, this iconic style wouldn’t flourish without the talented designers behind it. Some of the best-known designers of this period include:
- George Nelson
- Arne Jacobsen
- Charles and Ray Eames
- Eileen Gray
- Florence Knoll
- Edward Wormley
- Isamu Noguchi
- Eero Saarinen
- Harry Bertoia
- Verner Panton
- Alexander Girard
If you want to adapt the elements of this timeless style in your home, here are some design tips on how to achieve the midcentury modern look:
1. Choose neutrals and natural colors
Midcentury modern interiors are filled with warm and earthy colors, as the palette is drawn straight from nature. Start with basic, warm neutrals like creams, grays, and tans. You can bring in colors like mossy greens, avocado green, sky blues, teal, oxblood red, sunny yellow and gold. Just stick to warm earth tones and wood elements. Avoid girly pastels, blushing pinks, and pale lilacs as these colors don’t work well with this style.
For a room to receive a striking mid-century modern feel, add a stroke of two or more contrasting rich colors. For instance, you can paint your living room walls with cerulean blue, then bring in a big avocado green couch with opposite sunny yellow chairs.
2. Celebrate simple lines and pure forms
Midcentury modern interiors are all about simple lines and pure forms. Classic and understated, the midcentury modern style features clean lines, focus on functionality and minimal ornamentation. Furniture with clean lines is set upon an unfussy backdrop. Floor plans and furnishings are stripped down to their essential forms, with no unnecessary detailing. Couches and chairs are designed with slim legs and simple upholstery so the floor will be visible and the room will feel bigger.
3. Bring in signature midcentury modern furniture
When the midcentury modern design was at its peak of popularity, mass-produced furniture in distinctive styles ruled the interiors. Furniture is both functional and serves as a piece of art for the interior. Seating pieces like marshmallow sofas, womb chairs, and egg chairs scream midcentury modern style. These furniture pieces became iconic trademark elements of the style. Add a set or a couple of these and you can easily achieve the style.
One advantage of adapting this design style is that you can easily find a piece that is surely “midcentury modern.” Furniture with this design style can be bought from retailers such as:
- Herman Miller
- Design Within Reach
- Crate and Barrel
- Room and Board
- Restoration Hardware
Also, you can take note of the midcentury modern designers mentioned earlier. Familiarize yourself with the look of furniture they designed to guide you as you shop.
4. Create a smooth indoor and outdoor flow
Back in the ‘50s, the concept of indoor-outdoor living was a revolutionary idea. Designers took advantage of this fresh idea and brought the outdoors in and vice versa. To do this, one important element was to have sliding doors, wide windows, and patios with inviting furniture. At your indoor spaces, you can add greenery like palms and ferns, or install wallpapers with a natural motif. Leave windows bare to keep the outdoor views unobscured, or you can consider installing skylights to let more sunlight in. Meanwhile, keep your outdoor spaces furnished. Add a simple cane or rattan sofa set with sleek, elegant lines for a natural feel on your patio or porch. To make it feel homier, add some outdoor upholstery and pillows for your couch set.
5. Blend different materials
Because the era focused on looking towards the future, mid-century modern designers moved away from using purely traditional materials. But they didn’t remove them all entirely. Wooden furniture is still a huge component of the design, but these are blended with other non-traditional materials like metal, glass, plastic, vinyl, laminate, Plexiglass and Lucite. Plastic and laminate are used for their own qualities rather than be used to imitate wood. Bring in furniture pieces made of natural and man-made materials.
6. Weave in graphic patterns and geometric forms
The furniture and backdrop for midcentury modern rooms may be understated, but the patterns used in the rooms are not. Graphic patterns and geometric forms are common in a midcentury modern interior. Bold shapes, sensuous curves, and whimsical motifs can be added through wallpapers, pillows or textiles, rugs, wall hangings, window coverings, lighting, and even furniture. For Little polka dots or checkered patterns do not fit in with the style.
Geometric forms are especially important for this style, so think about this while looking for furnishing pieces and accessories. Mix and match round and rectangular furniture then decorate with accent pieces featuring smaller-scale geometric shapes.
7. Hang statement lighting
Midcentury modern lighting is sculptural. They double as art and add some drama. During that period, designers really got creative with lighting, bringing birth to iconic light fixtures such as Sputnik chandelier, Arco floor lamps, and bubble lights. Let them serve as the star of the room. If you can’t find these type of light fixtures, the best fit is to find something reminiscent of the era. Just remember that the lighting must be striking.
8. Keep kitchens sleek
Since the period embraced the futuristic ideals of the time, midcentury modern kitchens are home to the latest kitchen gadgets, appliances, and sleek materials. The lines are streamlined and unfussy – the simpler, the better. Adapt slab or frameless cabinet doors, plain countertop edges, and a simple color palette. Choose bright yet solid patterns for your backsplash tiles and floor tiles.
9. Use period art as accent pieces
Artists of the midcentury era were very bold and innovative, that’s why the style they pioneered still appeal to homeowners today after many decades have passed. To really create the authentic midcentury modern look, add period art as finishing touches. When choosing wall hangings, pick bold abstract prints and hang it against a simple wall with a solid color. Display classic midcentury accessories like a George Nelson clock and Eames Hang-it-All. Pieces designed by Hockney, Pollock, Lichtenstein, Knoll, and Warhol can bring midcentury modern art to your space, but you don’t need to save up for their original pieces to achieve the look. A bold and abstract-looking piece will most likely bring the period to life in your home.