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It's not unusual for styles from another era to make a comeback, and this is certainly true of mid-century modern. Learn where this iconic style came from and why it's still so influential in home design.
The Origins of Mid-Century Modern
The century referred to in mid-century modern is the 20th, specifically the years immediately following the Second World War, from the mid-1940s to the late 1960s. During this time, North America enjoyed a booming real estate economy and a booming population.
With WWII over and so many young families buying and furnishing their first homes, suburbs grew with newly constructed homes that reflected new building and graphic design techniques and the populace's desire for features that reflected their optimistic outlook.
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They wanted their homes to be different from those built a century before; they wanted more windows, more family-oriented gathering spaces, more efficient and functional designs. Parallel advances in science and technology brought new materials, textures, effects and forms to these homes. The resulting aesthetic is what we now call mid-century modern – and it’s a style you can’t miss. Despite being named in industry trend reports, year after year, as a fad that surely isn’t here to stay, mid-century modern has shown up diligently, year after year and even now into 2021, as one of the most beloved and secure styles in the U.S. Perhaps its persistence is due to a collective reverence for that time period when the television, microwaves and Barbie dolls were all the rage. Today, the style is like a living time capsule that captures both the simplicity and excitement of decades past.It’s iconic, focused and specific: a fresh alternative to the vaguer forms of modern and contemporary design in the 21st century.
3 Distinguishing Features of Mid-Century Modern
Even if you don’t know the names of its features, mid-century modern is one of the easier styles to identify. This is because it’s both unique and popular: the features aren’t found in any other style of design (so there’s no mistaking it), and, since it’s ubiquitous in many public spaces like restaurants and hotels, you are given, in a sense, many chances to observe and study it. While looking at images of the style – and, better yet, experiencing it in person – is the best way to familiarize yourself with it, knowing the terms of some of the key elements can help solidify your understanding of some of the subtler nuances.
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- 1. Chair: Flared blacks, tapered legs and pops of color keep the vibe clean and simple
- 2. Lamp: IN the 50s and 60s, bold shapes like domes, and materials like sleek chrome, gave a futuristic feel - providing stark contrast to the elaborate traditional style of the 20s and 30s.
- 3. TV Stand: Function takes over form with minimalistic, geometric designs.
The elements of Mid-century modern
Ever look at pictures of mid century modern and Scandinavian styles and find it hard to discern the difference between the two? You can stop kicking yourself – there’s actually a reason for it, and it has nothing to do with how well-versed you are in design. Scandinavian design, which is marked by simplicity and practicality, saw a growth spurt in the 1950s – the same exact time that American mid-century modern rose to fame.
The influence of American design on Scandinavian and vice versa, though gradual and lacking a concrete “point” at which it came about, is undeniable. While each carries its own spin on modernism (Scandinavian, in particular, favoring brighter colors and lighting and American favoring a darker palette). The two, however, also share an abundance of similarities – from warm tones, modular lines and “futuristic” materials like plastic and steel.
Movies and TV shows are two of the great promoters and mobilizers of the architecture, and perhaps the most well-known example of mid-century architecture comes from The Brady Bunch – the establishing shot of the outside of the Bradys’ low-roofed, split-level, stone-speckled home is all but burned into our conscious, whether we grew up with the show or not. Less well-known (but still important) examples of mid-century architecture in movies include establishing shots in The Big Lebowski, North by Northwest and The Graduate. If you are at all interested in mid-century design, watch these movies for the loads of visual design inspiration.
If you want to bring the mid century modern style into your home, try not to go all-out, all at once (as tempting as it may be!). Many pieces of mid-century modern tend to be bright and bold, so a space decked out in the full aesthetic may feel a little overpowering. This is especially true if you’re buying pieces just to buy them; as with other styles, make sure to build your vision slowly and steadily.
Bringing home mid-century modern style is easy, but as with any style, can seem daunting. With all the reverence for the style, all the ways the style has been lovingly tributed in movies and TV, all the style’s books and photography written and published (by some of the world’s most influential scholars, no less), can make it easy to feel like you’re missing something or not doing it justice, especially if you’re starting from scratch. The key, as always, is balance; incorporate a few iconic elements, and balance the rest in color, size and texture. When in doubt, go softer – mid-century modern is more neutral than it is bright.
Key colors of this modern home look include anything warm: oranges, reds, yellows, greens and teals. Key colored pieces of the look include major upholstery staples: try a chrome floor lamp, an avocado-green dining room bench, a mustard home office sofa, a tangerine headboard and a teal kitchen chair cushion. For balance, incorporate wood furniture and accents – black walnut (which has a naturally dark finish) was an especially popular parameter of the style, as were variations of teak and mahogany. Exact types of wood aren’t as important as the color; as long as the wood is naturally brown, rich and warm, it will fit into a mid-century space.
Each of these living room, dining room and office aesthetics has a mid-century interior design touch– whether it's tapered legs, low profiles or a pop of color. Here, see for yourself up-close how the design styles are brought to life with just a few key details in dining tables, coffee tables, lounge chairs, credenza and more
Mid-century decor: Mustard yellow + neutral wood.Here, colors pop and don't compete, and details like a tufted back and sculptural legs take the stage.
Mid-century decor: Sculptural decor.In modern design, simple, sculptural lines don't just take up space– they define it.
Mid-century home bar: Tapered legs.When the furniture legs look like they want to run away, you're doing mid-century right.
Mid-century dining room: Neutral colors.Here, the natural wood color and grain speak for themselves
One of the best ways to understand the force behind the sudden surge that was mid century modern in the ‘50s and ‘60s is by taking a closer look at the global Space Race that was happening at the same time. When it came to space, and in particular successfully sending off an orbiting shuttle, the Soviet Union and the United States were in a head-to-head battle to see who could do it first.
The effects of America’s obsession with the future – and the science and tech associated with it – rippled onto a domestic level. Objects, clothes, homes and even TV shows (we’re looking at you, Jetsons!) took on a new, more futuristic life.
Just a couple hours’ drive from the bustling hub that is Los Angeles, Palm Springs quickly became the getaway spot for celebrities as showbiz boomed in mid-century Hollywood. As more and more vacation homes for the stars were built in the area, what was once an overlooked desert city grew to become one of the most luxe resorts in America. To this day, Palm Springs has not lost its “mid-century magic”; turn any corner to find an iconic low roof home here, a vibrant orange-and-brown color palette there and charming, 1950s-inspired, Warholesque wall art – everywhere!
Mid-century modern style focuses on clean lines with a mix of both organic and geometric shapes. Simplicity rules, and some of the most basic mid-century modern furntiure pieces like coffee tables and chairs are often the most beautiful.What is considered mid-century modern? ›
The century referred to in mid-century modern is the 20th, specifically the years immediately following the Second World War, from the mid-1940s to the late 1960s.What are the main characteristics of mid-century modern design? ›
Elements of mid-century modern interior design include clean lines, muted tones, a combination of natural and manmade materials, graphic shapes, vibrant colors, and integrating indoor and outdoor motifs.What is mid century style called? ›
Mid-century modern (MCM) is an American design movement in interior, product, graphic design, architecture, and urban development that was popular from roughly 1945 to 1969, during the United States's post–World War II period.Why is mid-century modern the best? ›
"Mid-Century Modern is marked by clean, simple and sleek lines, functionality, and a minimalist aesthetic," says Blazona. Moiseoff adds, "Its enduring popularity has a lot to do with its simplicity. It's clean and simple without being boring. It's eye-catching without being frenetic or fussy."What are mid-century modern colors? ›
The Craft of Midcentury Modern Design
Ochre, orange, brown and mustard yellow are all classic midcentury modern paint colors. Whether paired with other colors or used for a clean, monochromatic look, these earthy hues reflect the handcrafted, organic nature of midcentury modern design.
Mid-Century Modern furniture is characterized by its clean lines, gentle curves, and organic shapes. This style originated mid-20th century, hence its name but thanks to its elegant simplicity and timeless aesthetic, Mid-Century Modern MCM furniture is still highly popular in contemporary interior design.What is the difference between modern and mid-century modern? ›
A notable difference between the modern and mid-century modern styles is the use of decorative accents. As a whole, the modern aesthetic is often known for its no-nonsense minimalism. It doesn't have a big reputation for being flashy or overwhelming. Mid-century modern doesn't mind a decorative accent, though.What's the difference between mid-century and mid-century modern? ›
Mid-century and Mid-century modern are often used interchangeably in the interior design world, however, there is a slight difference. Mid-century modern refers to the movement that became popular post World War Two in 1945, while Mid-century is a style that developed earlier in the 1930s.Why did mid-century modern design style come about? ›
This term refers to the dominant furnishings of the mid-20th century—simple, functional wooden pieces made from teak and curved designs reigned supreme. "Midcentury modern design evolved in response to a post-World War II environment," designer Liza Kuhn explains.
Mid-century modern architecture was a twentieth-century architectural style characterized by clean lines, muted curves, a lack of ornamentation, large windows, interior design based in functionality, and open floor plans intent on making indoor and outdoor living spaces complement each other.What is defined as mid-century? ›
"Midcentury modern" itself is a difficult term to define. It broadly describes architecture, furniture, and graphic design from the middle of the 20th century (roughly 1933 to 1965, though some would argue the period is specifically limited to 1947 to 1957).What shapes are mid-century modern? ›
Geometric patterns are prevalent in mid-century modern design, and curved, clean lines are the star of the show when it comes to furniture shapes - angular chairs with some curves, tulip tables, long and low couches. Mid-century furniture legs are often tapered and splayed. Hairpin legs are common, too.What style is similar to mid-century modern? ›
An off-shoot of the mid-century modern movement, Scandinavian design introduced a popular minimalist look to the interior architecture field that lasts to this day.
Mid-century interiors are all about organic style and ease of living, and that's reflected in their structure. The simple lines and pure forms of mid-century styles are what makes it so iconic. It is simple without being boring but eye-catching without being fussy.Why is mid-century modern timeless? ›
The mid-century modern style is considered a timeless trend. At the time it was born it was considered an out of this world and ahead of its time style. When you stand before a mid-century modern styled piece you can almost breathe its origin and influences.What goes well with mid-century modern? ›
Embrace an Earthy Color Scheme
Other neutral organic colors that work well for this decorating style include sage, beige, and brown. But don't forget that many bolder colors are found in nature as well, such as turquoise and sunshine yellow, both of which are often used to accent mid-century modern looks.
In 2022, mid-century modern design style is alive and well! You simply have to incorporate the key style elements like clean lines, organic forms, and timeless good looks in the right way!What's the difference between Scandinavian and mid-century modern? ›
While there's a great deal of overlap between Scandinavian and mid-century modern design, the biggest differences can be found in the lighting and color palette. Mid-century modern interiors tend to explore darker hues and work just fine in low light, whereas Scandinavian interiors aim to maximize lightness in a room.How do you make furniture look mid-century modern? ›
To affordably achieve a mid-century modern look, swap out furniture legs with hairpin or peg ones. Shop for reproductions of mid-century pieces at more affordable retailers like Ikea and Target. Use small accents like pillows, blankets, lights, and clocks to get the look.
The rule of 60 30 10 can be applied when mixing two styles together. If you're leaning more toward Mid Century Modern, then that would be 60% of the space. Go for the main pieces of furniture as MCM inspired and reserve the 30% for touches of farmhouse. Think area rugs, accent furniture, accessories, etc.When did mid-century modern style start? ›
When speaking specifically about modern home design and decor, you'll often hear the aesthetic referred to as a “mid-century modern design style”. This phrase describes interior design, furniture, graphic design, architecture, and urban development from 1933 to 1965.Why is it called midcentury modern? ›
Author Cara Greenberg coined the phrase 'Mid Century Modern' in her title of her 1984 book Midcentury Modern: Furniture of the 1950s. However, the design style goes back further than the 50s. The Mid Century Modern era refers to the period roughly between the end of World War II through the mid 1970s.What is mid century style interior? ›
The mid-century modern style of interior design was popularized during the 1940s, and has yet to leave the mainstream gaze—for good reason. Defined by clean lines, organic forms, minimal ornamentation, and high functionality, the style has an undeniably timeless appeal.What makes a mid-century kitchen? ›
Mid-century modern kitchens often include wood paneling and wood cabinets along with vibrant retro colors like mint green, pink, orange and jewel tones.How can you tell if furniture is mid-century? ›
Mid century furniture is characterised by clean lines, open sides and classic shapes. If a piece looks ornate or has what feels like extraneous details then treat it with caution. Mid century furniture is often crafted from solid woods, notably teak, elm, beech and rosewood.How do you make mid-century modern comfortable? ›
Natural elements like house plants, wood decor, jute rugs, and rattan or wicker baskets that house blankets or books are another way to create a cozy environment without giving up the midcentury modern feel of the room. Mix and match warm metals with wood to keep it interesting.What is the difference between mid-century modern and contemporary? ›
Contemporary design is defined by simplicity and minimalism as imagined for current times, while mid-century modern design is based on nostalgia from the 1950s.What does mid-century modern say about you? ›
Mid-Century Modern Decorating Style
Others can only describe you as an incredibly charming individual, and your décor reflects that exact same look and feel. With an air of sophistication, clean curved lines, and elegant organic shapes, nobody can deny that your interior design style looks fantastic.
Mid-century modern architecture was a twentieth-century architectural style characterized by clean lines, muted curves, a lack of ornamentation, large windows, interior design based in functionality, and open floor plans intent on making indoor and outdoor living spaces complement each other.
You'll see lots of curved chairs, sofas with gently sloping arms, and round poufs in velvet, linen, and nubby boucle fabrics. In addition to natural wood tones and vintage pieces, we'll also see a return of black accent pieces. Marble furniture and accents will also be popular in 2022.What year furniture is considered mid-century modern? ›
"Midcentury modern" itself is a difficult term to define. It broadly describes architecture, furniture, and graphic design from the middle of the 20th century (roughly 1933 to 1965, though some would argue the period is specifically limited to 1947 to 1957).Why is mid century so popular? ›
Its sleek, minimalist, clean and curved lines give it an enduring beauty, while its layered identities speak to the ethos of the era. It reflects a design style that carries across architecture, furniture and art. The living room in the midcentury modern home in Kirkwood draws in the outdoors with its large windows.Is mid-century modern same as Scandinavian? ›
While there's a great deal of overlap between Scandinavian and mid-century modern design, the biggest differences can be found in the lighting and color palette. Mid-century modern interiors tend to explore darker hues and work just fine in low light, whereas Scandinavian interiors aim to maximize lightness in a room.How do you mix mid-century modern and traditional? ›
Layer with art and lighting
Modern lighting and art can help you incorporate more traditionally styled pieces into a modern interior. A contemporary light sitting on an antique desk for example, can make a dynamic combination. A vintage dresser with a modern painting hung above will help the two styles come together.