One of the best-loved and most easily recognized design styles, mid-century modern is an elegant, comfortable and chic look that is adaptable to modern living. Its roots are in the industrial revolution and post-WWI modernist movements like Bauhaus, which sought to harmonize form and function without fanciful flourishes.
After the Great Depression and WWII, drastic changes in the availability of raw materials, the advent of new industrial processes and post-war suburban living inspired a more organic style that aimed to bring the outdoors inside while embracing the functional simplicity of the earlier, more severe movements. Scandinavian design had a particular influence on the mid-century aesthetic, with natural shapes and effortless silhouettes that have never fallen out of favor.
Today, the mid-century tenets strike a chord in the wake of the global economic downturn and a focus on returning to simple yet exquisitely designed products and living spaces. The trends toward decreasing waste (of materials and of space), reducing ecological impact and simplifying life in the face of ever-advancing technology call for easy, graceful designs that create a respite from an increasingly demanding outside world. Mid-century style steps in with the fundamental principles of modern living, ready to be embraced, updated and included in contemporary design schemes.
Bringing a mid-century piece or two into contemporary or even traditional spaces refreshes your interior without a huge overhaul—timeless pieces that are well designed will never be out of style. Or, incorporate other design styles in a mostly mid-century scheme to keep the look fresh and updated; bohemian-style nubby textiles and large houseplants soften angular silhouettes, while industrial elements like stainless steel stools or exposed-bulb fixtures add an urban edge. Put your stamp on your space by blending the styles that resonate with you.
One of the great things about the mid-century modern look is its clean, uncluttered feel. The sleek, spare silhouettes pair well with geometric textile patterns. As accents, busy patterns lend life and cheer to spaces that might otherwise feel somewhat stark; it’s easy to warm up the room with fun vintage, reproduction or modern print pillows, curtains and wallpapers in complementary colors.
Your home’s style is a reflection of your personality: Maybe you love several seemingly unrelated styles, or don’t have the exact architecture of your dreams. If you lean toward modern but your home’s bones are antique, mid-century furnishings beautifully bridge the gap without appearing incongruent. This Victorian-style room looks tidy and comfortable with mid-century furniture and lighting, embracing both periods with a modern aplomb.
One way to create a wholly modern look using mid-century pieces is to combine patterns and textures in unexpected ways. Reupholstering a mid-century chair with a modern print makes a bold statement while seamlessly integrating with other modern and vintage furniture. Avoiding matchy-matchy fabrics and finishes keeps the room from appearing like a retro museum exhibit, and using a tonal palette prevents aesthetic chaos. A mix of new and vintage (or reproduction) knick-knacks and décor add a more personal touch.
In a room with a mixture of styles, you can achieve cohesion by keeping the colors simple. A pop of accent color adds interest to a monochromatic palette, and repeating the hue in multiple spots is a deliberate look. The key to mid-century modern style is simplicity, so keep it clean by minimizing clutter wherever possible—look for your necessary functional items in your accent colors for this effect.
Short on space? Mid-century furniture was designed with close quarters in mind, making the style ideal for modern micro-spaces. The organic, slim lines common to the movement leave plenty of negative space and make an airy, orderly impression that visually increases the area. This “corner office” feels clean, spacious and modern with a tiny footprint that just can’t be attained with heavier traditional furnishings.
Above all, you want a comfortable, inviting place to live, and mid-century modern design is the perfect foundation to build upon. Play off the sophisticated silhouettes and neutral tones common to mid-century furniture and lighting fixtures with cozy couches, plush floor coverings, natural arrangements and bright accent colors. Stock your plain sofa with pillows in wild patterns that embrace the atomic age. Bring in brass, glass and chrome to add retro glitz. Keep it simple, but have fun—modern style is what you make it.