Midcentury Modern Style 101
Boasting sleek lines, geometric shapes, bold colors and innovative materials, midcentury modern is a boomerang design style that's here to stay.
Colorful Transitional Family Room With Wood-Paneled Wall
A traditional Persian rug, large-scale modern artwork and a wood-paneled wall give this open, airy family room a homey, transitional feel. A mod sectional sofa offers plenty of seating for guests, while an Eames lounge chair takes advantage of the view and natural light offered by a wall of windows.
What Is Midcentury Modern Style?
Midcentury modern style (also referred to as midmod and MCM) flourished during the mid-20th century when newly affluent post-War families began expanding into America’s suburbs. “Midcentury homes are characterized by minimal fuss and ornamentation, along with sleek lines juxtaposed by organic shapes. Its look was a complete departure from the century’s earlier ornate and extravagant design,” says Luke Caldwell, co-host of HGTV’s Boise Boys. “On the exterior, you may have very wide, low footprints with floor to ceiling windows and flat rooflines, while exposed ceilings and beams, open floor plans, partial brick or glass walls, ergonomically designed furniture and short staircases connecting rooms throughout the house often defined the home’s interior.” Though your home may not be architecturally MCM, sleek furnishings and decor can give any space a timeless midmod glow. Read on for tips, tricks and all the info.
Midcentury Modern Style Is Awash in Bright and Muted Colors
"Two dominant color palettes emerged during the midcentury modern period beginning with brights and pastels in the 1940s — think teal, turquoise, lime, pink, pale blue and yellow — and culminating with more earthy tones in the 1960s — like olive, khaki, mustard yellow, burnt orange, and brown,” says Missy Stewart, Principal Designer at Missy Stewart Designs in Houston, Texas.
Midcentury Modern Style Uses a Mix of Modern and Innovative Materials
“There was an exploration of new materials during the mid-20th century that introduced home furnishing materials that had never been used before, such as fiberglass, plywood, lucite, cement, steel, plastic laminates, plexiglass and tubular metals,” says Kim Armstrong, Principal Designer, Kim Armstrong Interior Design in Rockwall, Texas. Wood also dominated — from walnut to teak to rosewood to mahogany — when it came to furniture, paneling and beams. “As for fabrics, vinyl, polyester, wool, velvet and boucle were often used in midcentury design,” shares Brenna Morgan, Owner, Brenna Morgan Interiors in Charlotte, North Carolina.
A bright midcentury modern dining room decorated with touches of pink and blue
“The flared back and tapered legs of these buttery leather armchairs are some of the most recognizable features of midcentury design along with the mix of walnut wood and pops of bold color,” says Danielle Chiprut, Owner, Danielle Rose Design in Rockville Centre, New York.
“Midcentury modern style incorporates minimalistic style and an iconic yet relaxed feel using simple pattern, shapes and solids in whites, browns, grays, blues, golds, beiges and greens. Nothing communicates midcentury modern style better than an atrium at the entry, brightly lacquered flat paneled floating vanities in the bathrooms and an Eames chair and ottoman waiting to be enjoyed in the living room."
— Chair of the ASID National Board, designer Kerrie Kelly
Midcentury Modern Style Embraces the Outdoors
Nature and an organic feel influence many exterior midcentury modern designs. Raw materials such such as wood, stone and brick are also usually on display. “Homes in this era had large windows, providing views of backyards and outdoor living spaces,” says Stephanie Gamble, CEO/Principal Designer at Stephanie Gamble Interiors in Baltimore, Maryland. Connecting to nature is fundamental to this design concept, so ample access to the outdoors (through glass doors or windows) is key.
Midcentury Modern Style Honors Form and Function
“Midcentury modern furniture is all about utility and ingenuity — stripping furniture pieces down to their barest element and letting their function become the most important component,” says Danielle Chiprut, Owner of Danielle Rose Design in Rockville Centre, New York. “Consideration always defers to the user’s comfort. For example, the 'tulip' table, designed by Finnish designer Eero Saarinen in the early 1950's, replaced the four-legged traditional table with a streamlined singular central pedestal, allowing for more chairs. And the Eames lounge chair is known just as much for its comfort as its design. In fact, these are two of the most mass-produced furniture gems of that era and are still being reproduced today.” This office boasts graphic starburst wallpaper, an Eames lounge chair, a slatted wood credenza and a 3-arm metal ceiling fixture — staple furnishings of midcentury design.
A navy midcentury home office
“The graphic starburst wallpaper, the Eames lounge chair, the slatted wood credenza and the 3-arm metal ceiling fixture are modern takes on midcentury design," says Missy Stewart, Principal Designer, Missy Stewart Designs in Houston, Texas.
Midcentury Modern Style Is Inspired by Ergonomic Lines
“Ergonomics is a method of creating and using furniture in a way that’s both efficient and sensible,” says Kathleen Walsh, Principal, Kathleen Walsh Interiors in Brooklyn, New York. “Because midcentury modern style revolved around form and function, ergonomics played a big role. Advances in manufacturing technology allowed for more nuanced designs and midcentury architects and designers took advantage of that. For example, many midcentury chairs were fabricated in a way to help promote good posture, keeping you upright while seated so you’re more comfortable.”
Midcentury Modern Style Puts the Focus on Geometric Forms
“Bent, curved and organic shapes, along with flat planes define midcentury modern furniture,” says Michelle Boudreau, Owner, Michelle Boudreau Design in Palm Springs, California.
Midcentury Modern Works in Any Style Home
You don’t need to live in a ranch or split-level home to incorporate this era’s simple silhouettes. “Midcentury design will work in most type homes — from tudors to farmhouses — thanks to its simplicity and clean lines. It can be viewed in a variety of ways, adding character to any room or yard,” says Liz Goldberg, Founder + Creative Director CAROLYNLEONA. “For example, a Saarinen table can be interpreted differently depending on the design of the space, what it's paired with and how it's styled. The only place midcentury design won’t work is in a home where the owner isn’t fond of the style, as a home should always reflect its occupant’s taste.” Kerri Pilchik, Owner of Kerri Pilchik Design in Ridgewood, New Jersey, used a Saarinen table, Danish chairs and a credenza (all part of a set purchased in the early 1960s) to add midcentury-modern-cool this this dining room.
A midcentury peach and blue dining room
“This dining room is in a four-square Colonial and features a Saarinen table, Danish chairs, and a credenza that were part of a set purchased in the early 1960s, proving midcentury furniture can live in most style homes," says Kerri Pilchik, Owner of Kerri Pilchik Design in Ridgewood, New Jersey.
Midcentury Modern Furniture Is Easy To Find
Many famous architects created iconic midcentury furniture pieces that are still popular today including the Eames Lounge Chair, the Barcelona Chair, the Wassily Chair, the Egg Chair, the Noguchi Coffee Table, the Eero Saarinen Tulip Table, the Platner Armchair, the Bertoia Chair, the Jeanneret Chair and the Florence Knoll Sofa. You can score an authentic find on sites like 1st Dibs and eBay, plus many retailers offer quality reproductions, including Design Within Reach, Knoll, Anthropologie, CB2, Crate and Barrel, RH, 2Modern, Herman Miller, Article, West Elm and Rove Concepts.
An elegant midcentury reading corner decorated with a white chair, blue grass cloth wallpaper and brass accents
“The walnut wood, square upholstery, light button tufts, and simple lines of this chair from Anthropologie are typical of midcentury design, while the shiny brass caps bring the chair into this century,” says Kerri.
Midcentury Modern Style Plays Nicely With Other Design Styles
Many designers like to mix things up and incorporate midcentury style with other design styles. “It’s perfectly okay to blend shapes, colors and materials from other eras with your midcentury look,” notes Kristin Bartone, Creative Director/Principal at Bartone Interiors in Chapel Hill, North Carolina. “I love pairing midcentury modern with other more ornate styles — like a Louis 15th chest with a midcentury chair — to create juxtaposition and interest. Breaking up the theme makes a room less predictable and keeps things fresh.” Here, Danielle Nagel, Owner of Dazey Den in Los Angeles, blends midcentury and art deco with color, pattern and fabrics.
A pink and turquoise bohemian living room
“This room has elements from midcentury to art deco—with color, pattern, and fabric being the main thread tying them together," says Danielle Nagel, Owner, Dazey Den in Los Angeles.
Midcentury Modern Design Will Always Be In Style
“Elements of midcentury modern will always remain fresh, thanks to their clean lines and classic materials,” says Kerri. “For example, the Barcelona chair, with its refined lines and elegant proportions, and the Egg chair with its tilted design and high back, will also never go out of style. And the marble top on a Saarinen table is a material that will always be in fashion.