Mid Century

The Ultimate Guide to a Mid Century Modern Home

Known for combining sleek lines with organic shapes, using new materials and methods to reimagine traditional pieces. Mid century modern interiors continue to thrive.
The Ultimate Guide to a Mid Century Modern Home

Mid century modern design is known for combining sleek lines with organic shapes, using new materials, and methods to reimagine traditional pieces. Rooted in the Industrial Revolution and Post-War Era, the emergence of mid-century modern design began in the middle of the 20th century in America, taking shape in the 1930s and lasting well through to the 1960s.

The aesthetics of mid century modern brought the geometric forms and clean lines of the Bauhaus teachings into the Modernist movement, pioneered by iconic designers including Le Corbusier, Ludwig Mies Van Der Rohe, Charles and Ray Eames, Charlotte Perriand, and Arne Jacobsen – to name a few – were at the helm of the modernist movement.

What is a mid century modern home?

A mid century modern house would generally be one-story with an open-plan layout embellished with sleek, practical furniture, a lowered roof or ceiling, big windows on the sides and back of the house, and an emphasis on the outdoor space. Since its origins, mid century modern design stretches beyond home decor and plays a huge role throughout our culture. In the landscape of mid century modern, it was often considered to be found in architecture first then followed by decor and design trends.

Mid century modern decor is synonymous with elegant chairs, statement lamps, and TV stands; featuring tapered legs, bold pops of colour, materials such as sleek chrome, and geometric patterns. Mid century modern furniture was designed to be multifunctional, based on the design principle that furniture was to conserve space in small homes and apartments rather than overwhelm it. You’ll generally find that original pieces can be stacked, folded, or nested.

this is a project by Jessica Klein featuring a mid century modern chair and table

Mid century modern designs have stood the test of time and continue to be as stylish, if not more so, in our homes, institutions, and offices today. The essence of mid century modern and the reason for its popularity – still to this day – is rooted in the simplicity and functionality of the iconic pieces. The use of mix-and-match materials makes them a perfect addition to any home. It could also be said that those buying homes and furniture today would have grown up around mid century design, meaning that their association with the style brings back a dose of nostalgia.

Now, why wouldn’t you want a piece of that in your home?

What is the difference between mid century and modern?

A question commonly asked is if there is a difference between mid-century modern and modern. They’re two of the same and are used together to define 1) an era 2) a style. Mid century refers to the era of the 1930s – 1960s, whereas Modern is used to describe the present day and the future. Mid century modern defined the longevity of the style through the materials and technology that were used to continue the manufacturing of iconic pieces, through brands including Herman Miller and Florence Knoll.

Today, Herman Miller owns the rights to produce much of Charles and Ray Eames’, and George Nelson’s furniture in North America and Europe, and Knoll own the rights to manufacture iconic collection from designers including Mies van der Rohe and Marcel Breuer.

What is mid century modern interior design?

In the words of Sotheby’s Joshua Holdeman, mid century modern furniture and decor are “simply well-designed objects, with a timeless look.” Defined by organic shapes, minimal decor, and a love for materials, mid century modern can be relatively simple to emulate at home.

One of the key principles that define the mid century modern design is the idea that ‘form follows function’. That’s to say that furniture, objects, and buildings influenced by the modernism movement are designed to reflect their intended purpose; that’s to say if they prove not to be practical, then they’re not needed.

Characteristics of Mid Century Modern

  • Contrasting Materials & Fabrics. The juxtaposition of natural materials, such as wood, concrete, steel combined with manmade materials define mid-century modern interiors. The discovery of new materials such as fiberglass, plywood, foam, aluminum, and plastic laminates was applied to furniture designs and was considered revolutionary amongst designers. New materials were generally used to be moulded and bent to fit the curve of the body.
  • Minimal Ornamentation. It was common to have bold, statement pieces like large sculptures or plants within mid century modern homes – small trinkets or collections are generally not to be seen. By focusing on the simple basics, and with a few accessories to complete the look, avoided clutter or items that weren’t used or admired.
  • Neutral & Bold Colours. The mid century colour palette ranged from bright hues in the 1950s to earthy tones in the 1960s. Bold colours brought a visual focus to minimal, uncomplicated rooms, and were used in contrast with black, white, or grey. We’ve created a guide on how to find your mid century colour palette here, think olive green and fluorescent red.
  • Geometric Shapes. The simplicity of mid century modern furniture welcomed the use of geometric patterns that added character to a room. Prints, artwork, mirrors, clocks, and rugs were commonly used with patterns resembling starbursts, atomic, and boomerang features.
  • Blurred Lines Between The Outdoors and Indoors. Mid century modern style emphasised taking full advantage of natural elements in a room, from exposed beams to wood panels to untouched brick walls to bring the outdoors in. The way to bring natural elements inside the home, when the above might not be possible, would be through the use of indoor plants.

Mid century modern furniture for your living room

It’s impossible to have missed the classic Eames Lounge Chair and Ottoman that Charles and Ray Eames originally introduced to the world of interiors in 1956. The power couple’s creativity has no bounds when it came to designing furniture that made a statement, and never felt they had to compromise on comfort. The piece will elevate a living room or a reading nook that few pieces can achieve. It straddles all the expectations of what you’d want from a lounge chair beautifully. this is a Eames Lounge Chair and Ottoman was designed in 1956 by Charles and Ray Eames

On the other hand, if you’re looking for a mid century modern piece that sets a slightly more contemporary tone for your living room, the Relax 3-Seater Sofa is a timeless example of how to work in mid century modern classic that can too complement modern decor perfectly. Accompany with the Noguchi coffee table, famously acclaimed to be a ‘sculpture for use’, making the perfect centrepiece for any living area.

For finishing touches, the Dot Pattern Wool blanket by Charles & Ray Eames is an indispensable mid century decorative item that’s made to snuggle up into and have rested underneath Greta Grossman’s Gräshoppa Floor Lamp; making the most perfect reading nook.

Transform your kitchen with mid century modern

Planning the kitchen always comes with a little extra thought; layout, seats, tableware, kitchenware, splashback, and much more. A kitchen designed mid century modern, however, makes planning a whole lot easier. Consider the Tulip Table, a table designed to address the ‘ugly, confusing, and unrestful world’ that Eero Saarinen observed underneath chairs and tables. The elegant shape of the table is hard to come by and makes a stunning addition to any kitchen. Place the classic DSW Dining Chairs, by the Eames duo under the table, Nelson’s Bubble collection up above, and you’ve created the ideal mid century breakfast spot.

this is a mid century inspired dining table with wishbone chairs

If your kitchen has a long breakfast bar and you’re looking for stools to fill, the beautifully moulded plywood stools designed by Norman Cherner are iconic pieces of mid century design. So much so, that they were showcased in exhibitions worldwide including the Vitra Design Museum in Germany. Top off the look with one of the first sustainable products ever to be made; Alvar Aalto’s 900 Tea Trolley, a beautiful creation to store tableware or your favourite tea set.

Mid century modern standouts for the bedroom

When it comes to adding mid century modern to your bedroom, you can bring in as much of the interior style as you like. The mid century designers thought of everything when it came to creating stylish furniture that catered to the need for practicality, and undeniable style. The Nelson Thin Edge Bed is one of the most classic pieces of George Nelson, and sadly not the easier to get your hands on. That said, if you don’t mind the wait it’s possible to have it shipped from the States to achieve the elegant and timeless look of mid century modern.

Pair with Greta Grossman’s stunning vintage-inspired dresser to add warmth to the room with one of Gio Ponti’s most prominent designs, the Randaccio Mirror.

this is the Nelson Twin Edge Bed by George Nelson, designed for the perfect mid century modern bedroom with a sleek human centred design

Sophisticated mid century pieces for the office

Kitting out your home office can either make or break your flow when it comes to productivity. Mid century modern designers were the first to put a spotlight on just how important our decor and furniture is to have a good day’s work. What’s needed? Only a small collection of pieces to not only make your home office sing from an aesthetic perspective, and to have it be a comfortable space for you to start your day in.

Set the room with the iconic Aluminium Chair, designed by Charles and Ray Eames in 1958. Their inspiration? The design duo wanted to make a point to abandon the seat shell that you’d typically find in the office and so created the Aluminium Chair to adapt to the body of the sitter; making it unbelievably comfortable. Accompany the standout chair with Finn Juhl’s Nyhavn Desk & Tray Unit, representing the designer’s philosophy that “gaps are also space”, and create a stunning, sophisticated working spot in your home.

this is the Hang It All rack designed by Charles and Ray Eames

Now finally the decor, keep it simple but nonetheless stylish; add the Eames’ Hang-It-All rack and George Nelson’s Polygon clock as the finishing touches to bring a sense of play and interesting shapes into the space. Interestingly, although not surprisingly, the Polygon Clock was designed during a spontaneous gathering amongst Nelson, Isamu Noguchi, and Bucky Fuller; ‘And there was one night when the ball clock got developed… Noguchi came by, and Bucky Fuller came by… we started making doodles.’

If you wanted to go the extra mile, bring in the Barcelona Day Bed as a nod to the iconic designer, Miles van der Rohe. An iconic piece that will give you all the excuses to carve out time for mid-day naps. You’re welcome.

Coffee table books on mid century modern

It goes without saying that mid-century modern is renowned for its incredible history. It laid the foundation for experimental materials that have become ever more prevalent in today’s world. Its history defines so much more than just an era; it gives us a glimpse into the creative minds behind what we currently see today in our homes: consider the design inspiration of IKEA furniture. We’ve listed some of our favourite books to learn more for the curious among you, and share even more over on our mid cenutry modern design books feature.

Where to buy mid century modern interiors

Start growing your mid-century modern collection and indulge in the classics:

Grab a vintage steal and get your hands on antique mid-century modern furniture and objects:

Be inspired by the mid-century modern style and make it your own:

Photo credits: 1-2. Oh, I Design

Related Features