Here is your ultimate guide to decorating with mid-century modern design classics regardless of your budget.
1. What Is Considered Mid-Century Modern Design?
Mid-century modern (MCM) is a design movement led by Bauhaus architects and designers who migrated from Germany to the United States at the beginning of the Second World War.
The design movement greatly influenced post-war reconstruction efforts in architecture, interior, furniture, graphic design, and urban development from the mid 1940’s to 1960’s.
Mid-century modern evolved from Modernism (i.e. modern design), which was very popular from the early to mid-20th century.
Mid-century modern designs promote minimalism through their simplicity and functionality.
After the Second World War, rapid urbanisation took place in America on the backdrop of changing economic circumstances and technological advances that occurred during the war.
When the war ended in 1945, people had other priorities to think about than furniture and design. They opted to live in new, quickly built homes with lots of open spaces, clean and simple lines with a few touches of colours,abstract and geometric patterns. They chose to move away from unnecessary decorative embellishments in building designs and home furnishings.
With such modern homes built in the middle of a post-war rationing period, designers used newly discovered materials, mixing glass, wood, metal, and plastic to create affordable and practical furniture. Fabrics, generally, were made in colours that would not show the dirt.
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2. Distinguishing Features of Mid-Century Modern Design
Minimalism is the cornerstone of mid century modern design. Timeless, classic and understated elegance are some of the distinguishing features of this style.
- Open floor plans with big windows or some walls replaced by floor-to-ceiling glass to open up the interior spaces and bring the outdoors inside
- Clean and simple lines in home and furniture designs with a focus on functionality
- Minimal to no use of decorative ornaments
- Focus on abstract designs and geometric forms with vibrant and bold colours mixed with neutrals and earthy tones
- Furniture design experimentation with use of new materials combination including glass, wood, metal, plastic, vinyl, plywood, plexiglass and lucite to beautiful effect
3. Iconic Mid-Century Modern Design Classics
To this day mid century modern design classics exude timelessness, sophistication, and subtle elegance. It is also a design period that saw the emergence of great architects and sculptors turned furniture designers such as Charles and Ray Eames, Isamu Noguchi, Achille Castliglioni, just to name a few.
Many designers alongside their creations have remained famous to this day and have continued to inspire designers who came after them. Furniture pieces inspired by their designs, as well as copies, are greatly sought after by collectors.
Here are some iconic pieces you are either familiar with or you definitely need to know about:
Eames Lounge Chair and Ottoman
Created by legendary design couple Charles and Ray Eames in 1956 for the Herman Miller furniture company, the Eames Lounge Chair and ottoman were furniture made of moulded plywood and leather to be sold to a high-end market. In the UK, you can get this iconic piece of furniture from John Lewis & Partners that is an approved retailer.
CH24 Wishbone chair
From Danish design icon Hans Wegner, it was first manufactured in 1950 at Carl Hansen & Søn. The elegant chair easily stands out thanks to its Y-shaped backrest to ensure stability, a sleek, ergonomically-minded wooden frame and a woven seat.
Photo:© Einrichten Design
The genuine CH24 Wishbone Chair retail price starts at about 557 euros are Einrichten Design. If this is way above your budget, you can get a very decent replica at Target at half of that price!
Arco Floor Lamp
Designed by Achille and Pier Giacomo Castiglioni in 1962 and produced to this day in Italy by Flos, the traditional Arco floor lamp base consists of white Carrara marble and stainless steel. A limited black marble base version was released in 2002.
Egg™ Lounge Chair
My favourite MCM piece was designed by Arne Jacobsen in 1958 for Fritz Hansen. The Danish designer was experimenting with wire and plaster in his garage when he came up with the shape for the Egg™ chair.
The masterpiece is recognised globally as one of Jacobsen’s most iconic pieces both in mid-century modern and Scandinavian design circles.
Florence Knoll™ Sofa
Part of her Lounge collection, the sofa designed in 1954, is a perfect example of Florence Knoll’s interpretation of mid-century modern architecture.
Unlike Saarinen and Noguchi, her approach to furniture design is geometric and more restrained.
Photo: © Knoll
Eames Moulded Plastic Chair
The single-shell chair was designed with fiberglass by the Eameses in 1950 to accommodate bodies of all shapes and sizes for Herman Miller.
Due to environmental risks associated with fiberglass at that time, the chair was discontinued in the mid-1960s. In 2001, Herman Miller reintroduced the Moulded Plastic Chair in polypropylene.
Noguchi Coffee Table
Japanese-American sculptor and designer Isamu Noguchi believed that “Art should become as one with its surroundings.”
His famous table is a variant of a small plastic table originally prototyped for the English furniture designer Robsjohn-Gibbings in 1939.
The glass coffee table variant, with a three-legged walnut wooden base, became a global success in 1947 after it featured in an article written by Herman Miller designer George Nelson, called “How to Make a Table.”
Designed by Eero Saarinen in 1957 for Knoll as part of the Pedestal Collection, the tulip table with its flower-like shell shape was modelled to resolve the “ugly, confusing, unrestful world” underneath tables and chairs.
The table base is a heavy moulded cast aluminium with white or black paint. The surfaces are available in various materials.
4. How Do I Get the Mid-Century Modern Look?
Getting the mid-century modern look does not mean that you have to rewind the clock to the 40’s-60’s and throw away all your existing furnishings. A few adjustments made around your home will be enough to add mid-century modern design vibes to your living spaces. Do the best you can to mix different design styles to create a balancing and more inviting atmosphere in your rooms.
This is the opportunity for you to showcase your personality in your home. Here are a few ideas to stir up your creative spirit!
4.1. Introduce Large Windows And A Floor-To-Ceiling Glass Wall
If you can afford it, bring the outdoors in with big windows or a floor-to-ceiling glass wall, particularly at the back of your home. These were big features of newly built homes during the mid-century modern period. Remember to keep your home environment clutter free, open, and airy. Allow for lots of light to flow in.
4.2. Use a Bold Accent Furniture as a Focal Point
Invest in a gorgeous mid-century modern coffee or dining table, a sideboard, or some accent chairs. The Saarinen womb chair for Knoll or the sculptural Egg™ chair by Danish designer Arne Jacobsen for Fritz Hansen can definitely add timeless elegance to your living spaces.
If you must, head to the thrift store to get some vintage MCM pieces that you could pair well with modern design chairs to bring style and character into your home!
4.3. Change Your Lighting
Yes, you can definitely start there, particularly if you live in a rental and are looking for easy ways to upgrade your rented home without hurting your security deposit!
An MCM table lamp or floor lamp, the Sputnik ceiling lighting, or the George Nelson bubble lamp could all be great additions to your home decor. The good thing is that you can take them all with you when you move out.
4.4. Introduce Abstract And Geometric Elements
Add a splash of MCM colour to your living spaces with abstract and geometric patterns in your home furnishings. Wallpaper, cushions, throw blankets, bed sheets, rugs, and wall art are a few options for you to tap into to infuse abstract and geometric forms in your home.
Draw inspiration from the vivid colour paintings from mid-century modern artist Andy Warhol or abstract expressionist art from Jackson Pollock.
Photo: © Mindthegap
Pair your decor accessories with sculptures and textural wall hangings made of various materials to bring uniqueness to your home.
4.5. Create An Accent Wall With Mid-Century Modern Colours
Mid-century modern designers tended to cleverly use vibrant and inviting colours alongside more muted colour palettes. Create an accent wall in your dining room or a bedroom by experimenting with some of the most popular mid-century modern colours including:
- Warm yellows and oranges: Gold, pumpkin and mustard
- Earthy greens: Apple, olive and avocado
- Reds and pinks (including dusty pink)
4.6. Bring Back Warm Wood
Create an accent wall made of warm wood panelling in either your hallway, bedroom, or your office space to bring minimalist MCM vibes into your home. Alternatively, invest in a high quality piece of wood furniture with old school mid-century modern vibes in walnut, teak, oak, or rosewood that were used in some of the masterpieces of that period.
Draw inspiration from Noguchi, George Nelson and other master crafters when hunting down pieces either in high end stores, thrift stores, or via retailers offering high quality replicas.
Not everybody is loaded to afford MCM “real deals” that tend to come at hefty price tags!
5. Where To Shop for Mid-Century Modern Pieces
As stated earlier, authentic mid-century modern design classics are not cheap. They are a bit of an investment, because they are considered collector’s items.
However, there is no need for you to break the bank to start enjoying MCM designs in your home. I have put together a list of options based on your budget.
5.1. For Budget Mid-Century Modern Shopping
Head to Amazon to explore its decent selection of MCM design pieces.
5.2. For Mid-Range Budget MCM Shopping
5.3. For High-End MCM Shopping
5.4. For Collector’s Mid-Century Modern Shopping
John Lewis, Couch potato company, Heal’s, Chaplins, Einrichten Design are amongst retailers that stock genuine mid-century modern masterpieces. These are exclusively replicated under licence by authorised furniture manufacturers.
The aforementioned retailers source authentic MCM masterpieces from Vitra, Fritz Hansen, Flos, Carl Hansen & Søn in Europe, and Herman Miller and Knoll in America.
On 19 July 2021, MCM industry pioneers Herman Miller and Knoll merged to become MillerKnoll, one of the largest and most influential modern design companies in the world.
Another top tip to get access to mid-century modern design classics is via vintage and thrift stores or flea markets. Vinterior and eBay are great places to source vintage MCM pieces online.
My lovelies, I hope you now have all the basic information that you need to start embracing Mid-Century Modern design style in your home. Have fun!