5 Stunning Examples of Mid Century Modern Design
You hear the term “Mid-Century Modern” a lot in the design world today. Whether it’s a bar cart at Target or a vintage sideboard from 1stdibs, the Mid-Century trend seems to be everywhere you look. There’s good reason too. With its clean lines and preference for function over embellishment, this style is universally appealing. Best of all, it brings us back to a nostalgic era of uber-cool Don Draper types.
When we design in the Mid-Century Modern style, we often invest in a high-quality piece here and there. Our studio’s goal is to blend the look with contemporary or traditional finishes for a more collected, Classically Current feel.
Below, I’ll share with you a few rooms from our portfolio that take inspiration from the mid-20th Century. Plus, I share my favorite icons from this era, who still maintain a strong influence in the interior designs of today.
What is Mid Century Modern Design?
Mid Century Modern design came to America as a result of World War II. It is rooted in the Bauhaus tradition of simple, reductionist looks. As a response to the ornate interior designs of the preceding decades, Mid-Century Modern focuses on comfort, practicality, and function. Typically, it is exemplified in 4 main ways:
1. Arcuated, Bowed, and Organic Shapes
When someone says that a design has clean lines, that doesn’t mean that those lines are also straight. Rounded edges without ornate details are also clean. They exemplify the Mid-Century style of furniture. Consider the womb chair or the Saarinen table. Both are iconic of this time period and look “clean” because of their uninterrupted and un-embellished curves.
2. Wood Veneer and Fiberglass
Manufactured finishes are characteristic of the Mid-Century Modern style. Solid teak and rosewood veneers were used by the Danish furniture makers that popularized this style. In America, we used walnut or cherry wood. Fiberglass and plastic were used by Charles and Ray Eames, as well as Phillipe Starck. Plastic wasn’t thought of as a lesser-than alternative to wood at the time. Instead, it was prized for its malleability and capacity to be dyed.
3. Focus on Functionality
A strong marker of this style is a movement away from ornate, exclusively decorative pieces. Mid-Century furniture is at its core, highly usable. This is reflected in its clean lines and shapes. Usually, when someone talks about incorporating a MCM piece into their home, they are speaking of a chair, credenza, table, or room divider. Something that is first functional and good-looking second.
Mid Century Modern Design Icons
Several Mid Century Modern designers and the pieces they created continue to influence interior design today. Pieces like the Eames chair, the Saarinen table, and the Barcelona chair turned these designers into icons. Here are a few of the best known designers of this era:
- Alvar Aalto – He is one of my design icons. I admire the functional, beautiful pieces he created to elevate life at home into feeling like paradise.
- Charles and Ray Eames – Charles and his wife, Ray, designed the iconic Eames chair.
- Eero Saarinen – He not only designed the St. Louis Gateway Arch, but was the master behind the Womb Chair, the Tulip Chair and the Saarinen Table.
- Ludwig Mies van der Rohe – His most famous design is the Barcelona chair.
- Joseph Eichler – Eichler’s use of floor-to-ceiling windows, gabled roofs, and private gardens seamlessly blend the interior and the exterior. His iconic Mid-Century Modern California homes demonstrated a new way of living.
Mid Century Modern Design Ideas
I love the clean lines and emphasis on functionality of this time period. Today I want to share some of our favorite projects that showcase Mid-Century Modern design.
A Mid-Century Modern Color Palette
The classic Mid-Century color palette is bright and vibrant. Turquoise, chartreuse, deep cherry red, and bright orange all come together to form the core of the MCM rainbow.
For our Pine Hollow project, we grounded the kitchen in a mix of white and wood. The lines of the wood grain create an almost hypnotic effect that is subdued with the soft curves of the stools and pendants. Paired with pops of red, chartreuse, and aqua the kitchen becomes a warm, playful space. I especially love the lacquered red finish!
Bring the Outdoors In
Mid-Century Modern design focuses a lot on natural elements, so bringing the outside in is a perfect way to indulge in this style. Originally built in the 1950s, the above Mid-Century Modern home had beautiful architectural elements and gorgeous views. We chose to paint the ceiling and walls a clean white to allow for more natural light. With the large window acting like a screen into the Buffalo Bayou landscape, the home feels at one with its surroundings. Dark wood floors and a rich blue area rug infuse a warmth and earthiness into this airy space. Bold decorative pillows on the sofa add a fun, unexpected touch.
Update the Finishes
In this renovation project, we thoughtfully mixed the home’s original finishes with Mid-Century and transitional pieces. The home was originally built in the 1930s. Over the years, subsequent owners added onto the home in the trends of their time period. Because of the home’s historic roots, we wanted to use finishes that maintained the integrity of the original build. And we added in fun touches from the 60s and 70s to bring the home’s life cycle full circle.
The black finish on these wishbone chairs is a modern interpretation of the traditional blackened brass finish. I love that it gives the chair a sleek, edgy feel. When paired with a statement chandelier, the result is a relaxed, glamorous space that beautifully blends masculine and feminine styles.
Incorporate a Classic Chair
Pairing a classic Eames chair with a curated collection of accessories is a great way to infuse Mid-Century Modern style into your home. The combination of leather and wood give this chair a decidedly masculine feel, but the gentle curves add a subtle feminine touch. This is perhaps the most recognizeable piece of MCM furniture that exists!
Add Graphic Prints
Mid-Century Modern is at its most fun when you pair clean lines with whimsical prints and bold colors. This dining room overlooks our client’s gorgeous gardens, and we wanted to design a space that evoked Hollywood Glamour. Think: Palm Springs in the late 50s.
The bold rug and petal like design of the light fixture mirror the graceful curves and straight lines of the table and chairs. White walls, tile floors, and crisp drapery allows them to take advantage of their views and floods the room with natural light. It’s a playful, polished space that invites gets to sit back and relax.
Mid Century Modern is Here to Stay
The Mid-Century Modern style has been trending for a number of years, and we don’t see an end to that. If you want to embrace this trend, consider adding an iconic mid century modern piece like a chair or table.