Interior Design Style Guide: Midcentury Modern

Published on
March 2, 2021

Despite originating the 1950s, midcentury modern remains one the most popular interior design styles. Just what is it about this look that appeals to both Boomers and Millennials? Where did it start? And how can you add a little midcentury modern into your home?

The Look

Midcentury modern is about functionality, usability, and versatility. Furniture pieces are lightweight and mobile (originally to accommodate small post-war homes) made from malleable materials like steel, glass, vinyl and plywood.

Like the Jetsons cartoon, the look is deliberately artificial and futuristic. The whole design is almost sculptural in quality, with a combination of curved smooth surfaces and stark geometric patterns.

The ease, simplicity, and mobility of the look makes midcentury modern a timeless classic. And its origins are equally humble.

The History

Midcentury Modern has its roots in 1950s and ’60s Americana. At the end of WWII, returning soldiers and their new brides created a huge demand for affordable housing. These housing complexes were added to formerly rural areas around major cities and towns, and were designed for rapid construction — simple yet functional. Landowners and developers then fitted these small urban homes with furniture to match, using new (and cheap) materials like metal, vinyl, and plywood. Minimalism helped give homeowners the appearance of space. And in the wake of a Cold War space race, new couples were looking to the future.

In the 1990s, midcentury modern giants Knoll and Eames started selling pieces directly to retail shoppers. The new direct-mail catalogs of the ’90s helped build massive interest in the interior design world. And this widespread interest in midcentury modern decor has never left.

In the 2000s, the Los Angeles County Museum of Art’s “Living in a Modern Way” exhibit on California mid-century modern design, along with the popularity of AMC’s Mad Men, the decades old interior style continued to inspire homeowners and designers alike. And now with even more retro design appearing in media (think Stranger Things, IT, Euphoria, the resurgence of Friends, and the upcoming Wonder Woman 1984), midcentury modern is clearly here to stay.

Quick DIY Tips

After numerous midcentury modern design stagings with Bold Interior Group, here’s my advice on how to achieve the midcentury modern look without spending thousands of dollars on an Eames lounge chair.

Rule number 1: Keep things simple — it’s all about clean-lines and practicality. Avoid too many prints and textures. Consider adding bright colored accents or wall hangings to contrast against the traditional browns, whites, blacks, and greys of industrial designed furniture. And replace thick cushioned sofas with low-slung loungers and egg-like womb chairs (like this classic Saarinen piece).

Rule number 1: Keep things simple — it’s all about clean-lines and practicality. Avoid too many prints and textures. Consider adding bright colored accents or wall hangings to contrast against the traditional browns, whites, blacks, and greys of industrial designed furniture. And replace thick cushioned sofas with low-slung loungers and egg-like womb chairs (like this classic Saarinen piece).

Or snoop around Craigslist for some midcentury modern pieces that can be easily cleaned up.

Not interested in going full Don Draper? Add simple wood pieces and a few bold patterned tiles for just a hint of midcentury flair. And protip: when in doubt use chrome.

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