Few interior design trends have been as iconic or as long-lasting as the mid-century modern look – and for good reason.
The movement, pioneered by talented and influential post-war architects and designers such as Ludwig Mies van der Rohe, Florence Knoll, and Charles and Ray Eames went on to define 1950s America.
Inspired by the idea of creating open and tranquil living spaces, the architecture of the day took the form of airy living spaces with full length windows that sort to bring the outside in.
Most notably, the movement believed in good design, not just for the wealthy – but for everyone.
Combining natural materials like wood, with man-made or manufactured materials like plywood, glass, metal, plastic, and plexiglass, they created organic forms that were as aesthetically beautiful as they were comfortable and practical – but most importantly, they were affordable too.
With such sound design principles as these, the mid century modern style is not a trend that will outdate in the way that other minor trends have come and gone.
What’s more, it’s easy to create the timeless elegance of the mid-century modern style without going all out and spending a fortune on high-end furniture and accessories.
If you know what to look for, you can easily pick out elements of mid-century design in so-called modern pieces that are more competitively priced.
Shell chair replicas, (often referred to as the Eiffel chair) are a case in point. They are the latest trend and easily affordable.
In fact, they’re so à la mode, they look like they are the latest thing in thing in furniture design – all be it with a nod to the 1950s.
But the chair is, in fact, more than 70 years old – a true mid century modern piece, designed by Charles Eames in 1948.
Similarly, modern sofas are often based on original mid century pieces. The one shown below isn’t just inspired by mid century modern style in general – it’s specifically based on Florence Knoll’s iconic design.
You don’t have to go for replicas, any piece that has a mid century vibe to it will work, but if you want a truly authentic look, a good tip is to do a little research and choose furniture inspired by the most iconic designers of the period.
Here are just a few of the top mid century modern designers to check out: Florence Knoll, Eero Saarinen, Arne Jacobsen, Edward Wormley, Ludwig Mies van der Rohe, Hans Wegner, Hans Wegner, and Charles, and Ray Eames.
So now we’ll take a look at how to get the look.
Simple tips to get the mid-century look.
1: Back to Basics
Many mid century modern interior and furniture designers were also architects. We can see this influence in the clean lines and organic forms of their furniture. The most iconic chairs of the period are undeniably architectural in style.
Interiors were simple – almost minimalist in style.
You will no doubt heard the saying “less is more.” It was in fact a prominent mid century modern architect and furniture designer of the time, Ludwig Mies van der Rohe who first coined the phrase.
Decluttering costs nothing and it’s always a good look – regardless of the style of decor you choose.
The idea is to create a feeling of openness and space and you can’t do that with a room that’s full of clutter.
Too many items of furniture or too many ornaments, pictures, books, or throw pillows and the room starts to feel small.
Simplicity is the key. And if you or donate those nonessential items you’ll love the feeling of tranquility that only space can provide.
2: Choosing Mid-Century Furniture on a Budget
Often the whole tone of a room can be set by one key item of furniture. If your budget will allow, investing in just one iconic piece, like an accent chair, sideboard, or dining table will give you a good foundation to build your style on.
You can go down the second-hand route or you could choose a good quality reproduction of one of the iconic pieces from the era.
You will no doubt instantly recognize the soft organic contours of the womb chair, the plywood shell of the famous 1950s Eames chair or the simple architectural elegance of the Barcelona chair. Each, a classic example of the style.
Although all three chairs are still in production today authentic ones will set you back upwards of $5,000, but you can buy an exceptionally well made Barcelona, womb, or Eames chair replica based on the original design at a much more affordable price.
If you can stretch to it, you may wish to add to the look by adding other pieces such as a coffee or side table.
3: Set the Mood with Color
One of the most distinctive features of mid-century design is its color palette of bold, earthy shades – a selection of which you can see below:
Ideally these colors should be added as an accent to a neutral shade such as gray, or cream or as a contrast color to black or dark brown.
Generally speaking the number of colors you add from the palette should be proportional to the amount of the color that you use.
For example, if you have a gray sofa you could add a big block of color by choosing a mustard yellow, dark teal or burnt orange accent chair.
Any additional colors you then add should then be kept to a minimum.
Alternatively you may prefer to keep your furniture neutral. In this case, you could add a couple of throw pillows in one or two of the bolder colors listed above..
If you like, you can add more colors but keep them limited to smaller items such as a small group of vases or even an iconic accent piece such as the famous George Nelson wall clock which has the full pallet range incorporated into its design.
Just remember to keep things simple and you can’t go wrong.
4: Bring the Outside In
One of the main principles of the movement was to bring the outside inside.
The architecture of the period took the form of open living areas with large full-length windows while interiors were designed to create a relaxed and informal living space.
Architectural plants with big arching leaves were all the vogue and a great way to add color to brighten up a plain corner or wall.
Choose one or two statement plants but do check that they will thrive where you intend to place them.
For a dark corner you may want to consider choosing an artificial plant.
Artificial plants have come a long way in recent years and there are some good quality, and quite realistic ones, available on the market these days.
If you’d like a live one here’s a quick rundown of MCM house plants
- Snake plant or mother in law’s tongue (below)
- Fiddle Fig Leaf (above right)
- ZZ Plant ( Above – being potted)
- Umbrella plant
5. Add Lighting
It’s easy to overlook the importance of good lighting. While a pendant ceiling light is a great way to add another accent of the mid-century style to your decor, a room that’s just a blanket lit from above can look less than warm and inviting.
Why not light up a dark corner with a simple floor lamp or add a table lamp to draw the eye to a statement piece like a sideboard or cabinet and, of course, add a lamp to a side-table to light up a sofa or accent chair.
Look for lamps that are minimalist in design or those that use natural materials such as wood or plywood.
Lastly, you are welcome to download some free mid century modern wall art to complete your look. And for further reading hop over to the reading room for some great mid century modern book recommendations.
Above all, have fun.