Mid Century Modern: The Complete Guide

From simple lines to natural woods, a muted palette, and a ‘form-meets-function’ dynamic, mid-century modern style is renowned for combining organic shapes with sleek lines, through the adoption of new methods and materials, all of which give traditional pieces a new lease of life.

What Is Mid-Century Modern Style?

In a nutshell (and as seen on Mad Men), mid-century modern style isn’t confined to aesthetics alone, it’s a way of life. In most cases, mid-century style is embodied by modern homes, in particular, one-story houses featuring open-plan living room spaces. Take Philip Johnson’s Glass House as a fine example of this international style.

These spaces are adorned with furniture that is not only sleek but practical. They often feature lower ceilings and ample-sized windows (that embrace the sides and back of the building’s structure). Such as the large windows and low roofs adopted by many of the condos in Palm Springs, California.

In these homes, the outdoor area plays as much of a role as the indoor living room, and both pair together through a series of sleek lines and organic architecture.

Since its introduction, mid-century modern style has had a big effect on our culture, the construction industry, designers, and architects throughout time.

The exterior architecture of the house is just as important as the interior decor, which embodies sophisticated chairs, TV stands boasting tapered legs, bold lamps, cocktail table features, art and statement pops of color.

Prevalent materials include sleek chrome, concrete, wood, and steel, all of which are combined with various manmade fabrics. It’s these fabrics and materials that are the epitome of mid-century modern real estate.

In recent years, new materials including foam, fiberglass, plywood, plastic laminates, and aluminum have been introduced to the mix.

Yet despite this, this trend has always been considered revolutionary. These materials are particularly prevalent in major cities such as New York City.

Many of these new materials don’t adopt generic flat shapes and instead, cling to the body of curved chairs, sofas, walls, steps, and floors of living rooms.

Geometric shapes are also hugely popular. The concept? Furniture that is designed to have multiple uses, conserves space through being folded, stacked, or nested and doesn’t overwhelm the home’s features.

Background and influences

It wasn’t until the mid 20th century that this style first took hold. It began in America, gaining momentum in the 1930s and continuing well into the 1960s.

Mid-century aesthetics took great influence from the clean lines and geometric forms of the Bauhaus teachings, transferring them into the Modernist midcentury design movement.

New materials shaped new designs

This interior and exterior trend embodies a variety of opposing fabrics and materials, some of which you’d never think to place together, yet they somehow work!

The fusion of natural materials, comprising concrete, wood, and steel intermixed with numerous manmade materials is something that pinpoints mid-century modern interiors.

As touched on earlier, many of these materials were used to fashion revolutionary furniture designs, many of which were bent and molded to fit the curve of the body.

Herman Miller is a great example of using modern-day materials such as fiberglass to create an ergonomically-designed office chair.

Why did the mid-century modern aesthetic become popular?

One of the reasons for this trend’s insane popularity comes down to how functional it is. In a sense, it was seen as an uprising against ornate pieces.

Many designers now produce replicates of this style, however, the original pieces are still extremely prevalent, with many paying thousands for them.

Mid-century modern decor or MCM was created in response to a post-World War II world. Highly intricate furnishings were replaced by bold, simple, practical wooden designs, crafted from the likes of teak.

Square items of furniture were replaced by curved designs. Why? Both architects and designers were keen to create new ideas that ensured technology and mass production went hand in hand to ensure a buoyant outlook for the future of furniture.

As years have gone by, this trend remains extremely popular. Asides from promising a functional style, it’s timeless. Numerous interior designers, furniture makers, and architects still embrace this ethos today.

The idea? Every room in the home and every piece of furniture serves a purpose. This is one of the reasons this trend works extremely well in open-plan spaces. It’s a trend that has been thought out and meticulously planned.

It’s also a grown-up trend that rids our lives (and living spaces) of clutter, such as the sofa you adopted at University and have carried around ever since or the chintz wardrobe that was a castoff from an aunt.

Famous Mid-Century Modern Designers

When it comes to all things mid-century modern, it’s important to learn more about the key players (or designers and architects) in this field.

This is not to say that all famous mid-century modern designers embody the same style.

Instead, they all share the same concept of optimism. In a nutshell; a post-war ideal, and one that embraces contemporary technologies and brighter, better features.

This is an aesthetic that speaks directly to the modern age, and one that leaves the 19th century well and truly behind.

Listed below are the names you need to know when it comes to iconic mid-century design.

Alvar Aalto

(Finland, 1898-1976)

This Finnish designer and architect is celebrated for making Scandinavian modernism popular in the United States of America and further afield.

Alto boasts an immense sensitivity when it comes to both organic materials and forms, and this plays out in his furnishings and buildings.

These span from tables to chairs, to glassware and lighting. All boast a sense of rationalist design.

Ray Eames and Charles Eames

(USA, 1912-1988 & 1907-1978)

This husband and wife duo was the personification of energy, inventiveness, and optimism, and was at the center of American mid-century modern decor.

As well as being furniture designers, Ray and Charles Eames were also artists, filmmakers, graphic and textile designers.

They even had their hands in puzzle and toy designs. Their ethos? ‘Design should be an agent of positive change’. This is the exact concept their style grew with.

Florence Knoll

(USA, 1917 – 2019)

Knoll, another designer with many bows to her hat, was a furniture designer, architect, interior designer, and entrepreneur.

She dedicated her design ethos to organization and functionality which shone through in her efficiently polished chairs and tables, as well as her ergonomically-designed office blueprints.

She was a graduate of the celebrated Cranbrook School, a Detroit-based design crucible. In 1946 she married furniture mogul Hans Knoll, which further helped her to establish her place in the design world.

It was at this time she commissioned numerous product lines for her husband’s eponymous company.

Gio Ponti

(Italy, 1891 – 1979)

Gio Ponti was not only an industrial designer and architect, he was an editor too. Some would go as far as to say he was one of the most iconic figures of the 20th-century in terms of Italian modernism.

Throughout his lengthy career, he crafted numerous products and furnishings, ranging from lamps to cabinets, to coffee makers, chairs, ceramics, and more.

On top of his epic furniture creations, he constructed several key buildings in a total of 14 countries.

He then went on to found the magazine Domus in 1928, whereby he brought attention to almost every movement of significance and every creator of importance in the modern art and design sphere.

Charlotte Perriand

(France, 1903-1999)

Perriand was an instigator of modernism in France, she developed her unique design style throughout her lengthy career, which span from ‘Machine Age’ steel tubular furniture to a melodious naturalism.

Inspired by Le Corbusier’s vision of contemporary, reasoned architecture, she accepted an appointment at his studio in 1924, whereby she worked alongside Corbu’s partner; Pierre Jeanneret, and his cousin.

It was here she brought to life some of the best samples of early modernist furniture.

Paul Evans

(USA, 1931-1987)

A star of the American Studio Furniture movement, Evans’s work appeared to embody opposing forces: contemporary technologies and materials as well as traditional ‘folk art’ forms.

Evans mostly worked in metal, instead of wood, with his most renowned works being patinated steel mounts, cabinets covered in high-relief, and metal glyphs, which looked a little like sturdy patchwork quilts.

Other designers not mentioned here but worth noting include Richard Neutra (a celebrated Jewish Austrian-American architect who served out the majority of his career in California), Eero Saarinen (renowned for his Tulip Chairs), and Harry Bertoia (an art connoisseur and modern furniture designer).

The Key Aspects Of Mid-Century Modern Design

Mid-century modern style is a longstanding trend and one that doesn’t look to be going anywhere. This style grew dramatically in the past and continues to do so.

Whether applied to our homes, offices, or gardens, the mid-century modern essence is a style adored by many across the globe.

Why? Because of its key features, all of which embody functionality and simplicity to create a series of iconic pieces that stand the test of time.

The combination of mix-and-match fabrics and simple, yet aesthetically-pleasing hues makes MCM the perfect addition to an array of living rooms and an array of individuals.

Below we’ve listed more on the key aspects of this design trend to help to understand more about how it works in homes and offices across the world.

Functional

When injecting MCM design into your home, it is important not to forget function! Your home isn’t a museum, it is there to be lived in and every piece placed in the house should serve a purpose.

The central focus of the MCM movement surrounds function. Whether working with newly fashioned pieces or original items, make sure all are hardy enough to handle everyday use!

Clean and simple

The clean lines and simple forms adopted by the MCM design movement are a telltale feature of this international style.

Although streamlined, this design trend is far from dull, it’s fresh without being pretentious, yet still allows people to put their own stamp on their living rooms through the use of color pops, peg legs, bent plywood and sleek lines.

Stylishly understated

Mid-century modern style is both stylish and understated. The key characteristics include geometric and organic shapes, minimal ornamentation, neutral yet bold hues, functional style, and contrasting textures and materials.

This is an interior design trend that has the ‘wow’ factor without being overly showy. Take Philip Johnson’s Glass House as a fine example of this.

This celebrated piece of architecture boasts an innovative use of new materials and sleek lines, and a natural integration between the indoor and outdoor space.

Suitable for families

When certain people hear the word modern, they instantly think of lots of glass, harsh lines, and fragile materials – a cold space that lacks ambiance.

MCM is anything but that, it’s modern yet cozy and due to the durable materials utilized, it’s kid-friendly. This makes it a great option for families.

Eichler Homes are a fine example of this, developed and owned by real estate mogul, Joseph Leopold Eichler.

All Eichler Homes were designed with sleek construction methods in mind, adopting design features from famed mid-century modern style designers such as Harry Bertoia, Richard Neutra, Ray Eames, and Eero Saarinen.

Prominent use of teak

When decorating your home with MCM furniture, it is important to allow your wooden objects to shine. These are the star of the show after all!

For best results, avoid wood materials that clash. For example, if you’re the proud owner of a teak modern century design piece, avoid teaming it with zebra or ebony – these will most certainly clash.

Use of color for bold accents

The MCM color palette spans from hot hues (popular in the 1950s) to earthy tones (prevalent in the 1960s).

Bold accents bring a focal point to minimalistic, uncluttered rooms, especially when teamed with white, grey, and black.

For best results, turn to a mid-century color palette, there is a number available online.

Multipurpose furniture

Midcentury modern furniture is versatile, stylish, and loved by many. It has an alluring aesthetic (something magnified by the hit series Mad Men).

The main furniture characteristics include curved, clean lines, a mixture of natural and manmade fabrics, and tapered legs.

How To Furnish In A Mid-Century Modern Style

Versatile, stylish, and functional, here we guide you through a handful of key tips to help you nail MCM style from your bedroom to the family room.

Make sure the woods work together

The wood used most in mid-century decor is teak. This dark, rich, durable material is not only extremely high quality and hair wearing, but it also pairs extremely well with the bold hues, particularly those connected to the MCM era.

This wood was the prevalent choice for desks, tables, and storage.

Oak was another popular wood used in mid-century modern style. It is another material that is both durable and strong. It boasts a slightly paler color, which makes it a great option for those looking for something less overwhelming.

On top of this, it works very well with the cool, pale shades associated with mid-century modern decor.

Lighter still than oak, and another popular choice is beech. This material was mainly used to craft armchair frames and sofas. This was down to its impressive shock resistance and strength.

Its paler hue was also a strong nod to this trend’s Scandinavian influences.

Another wood? Plywood. This was used to create a huge sum of MCM chairs, including the Eames’s Lounge chair.

This particular item was fashioned out of molded plywood, which at the time, was a relatively new process, and one that enabled designed to fashion the iconic shapes associated with this movement.

It also allowed certain items of furniture to remain more affordable.

When using an amalgamation of mid-toned and dark woods, it is wise to ensure accessories and walls remain fairly neutral.

This will avoid a feeling of business, whilst allowing the various styles to shine through.

Don’t be afraid of color

Colour is an important factor to take into consideration when embracing the MCM style. One of the hottest hues associated with this trend is yellow.

Many will opt to choose a hero piece of MCM furniture, such as a bright yellow armchair. Having a focal piece in place is an easy and quick way to nail this trend.

If you wish to create a look that is a little less on your face, add an injection of color through the use of accessories instead, such as yellow bottles, throws, or a statement clock by George Nelson – keeping the rest of the room neutral to allow these hits of hue to stand out!

The color palette comprised a range of cool hues in the shape of greys, teals, and dusky blues. These are often paired with warmer shades of burnt orange, mustard, and olive colors.

Another way to add color involves investing in a bold piece of art. Just remember this must be modern or abstract to tie in with the MCM theme period.

Combine MCM style furniture with modern pieces

This is key if trying to stick to a budget. Original MCM pieces come with a hefty price tag, whilst replicas are more affordable. Looking to save a few dollars, pair the two inspired styles.

The main difference between mid-century and mid-century modern is the dates on which they came about. The first was introduced in 1945, post WW2, the latter, in the 1930s.

Both styles are similar in terms of form and features, the main difference is the color usage. Both are equally functional styles.

Functionality comes first!

Avoid investing in many furniture items that aren’t functional, this isn’t what this movement is about. It’s a design trend that prefers function over form.

For more information and inspiration, check out Eichler Homes – a fine example of MCM period features.

Chairs in a seating area are meant to be sat on, tables dined upon, a cocktail drank from and rugs stepped on.

Use rugs to add texture

Rugs are a great addition to a room that boasts a definite mid-century modern style. They add both color and texture and are a great way to break up certain areas of a room, whilst working to pinpoint the flowing, clean lines this style embodies.

Just be sure to pick one in a complementing hue to the room in question.

For best results, place a rug beneath a coffee or dining table to bring a little warmth and cosines into your room.

Try to choose a rug that boasts a minimalist style and one hue only, as anything too embellished or busy will detract the focus from your mid-century modern tables, chairs, desks and more.

Remember that original MCM furniture was made for different purposes

Remember that original mid-century modern pieces were made for different purposes

Mid-century modern items were designed with a purpose in mind. These items weren’t meant to be hidden away in a room, only to be brought out on special occasions, they were designed with form and function in mind.

Whether a cocktail table or a set of chairs placed in a seating area, MCM living rooms are fashioned with function in mind. This is one of the reasons this style is suited to a variety of ages, ranging from young people to the more mature.

It’s important to remember this when investing in MCM items, as this will help you to choose the correct pieces for your home and family.

Original Mid Century Furniture Vs Remakes

You’ll need particularly deep pockets if you wish to invest in an original mid-century modern piece of furniture, from chairs to tables, especially if you wish to purchase items dating back to the 1940s.

Mid-century inspired remakes are just as aesthetically pleasing, with various retailers and designers (some of whom work on paid commissions) embodying this style today, the biggest difference? The price-tag.

Both options are good options, which you choose comes down to personal preference and budget.

Where Can You Buy Mid-Century Modern Furniture?

There are plenty of places you can buy mid-century modern objects for your house, here at Mid Century Deco, our ultimate aim is to provide you with both inspiration and the products you desire, irrespective of the room you are designing, be this your living room, bedroom, kitchen, office or outdoor space.

From shopping online to shopping in-store and at antique fairs and thrift markets, there are plenty of places you can look. Of course, choosing the right piece all comes down to your budget.

Thankfully mid-century furniture is readily available, easy to source, and comes in at a range of price points.

Whether searching for vintage pieces designed by the likes of Errol, Eames, and Arne Jacobsen, to specific contemporary items showcased by reputable retailers, copies, or new takes on mid-century modern designs, there is something to suit all styles.

This is another reason for this design trend’s popularity.

Numerous retailers offer this style of furniture, including both original objects dating back to the 1940s and1950s (which often come with a bigger price tag, especially those created by renowned mid-century modern designers) and remakes (which tend to be at the lower end of the spectrum).


Mid-century modern style is adored by many across the globe and instead of losing momentum in popularity, it is gaining more.

It is a trend that embraces function and simplicity, and something that evolved from a need to marry both technology and mass production. If you’re looking to create a home that works and looks good, mid-century modern style is the one for you.

Mid Century Modern Common Questions

What’s the easiest way to add a mid-century modern feel?

The easiest way to add a little mid-century modern style to your home involves picking extremely well-designed, functional objects – all of which boast a timeless appeal and serve a purpose.

Gone are the days of trinkets and clutter, only to be replaced by objects that feature strong, organic shapes, mute materials, and minimal decor.

One of the biggest aspects to define the mid-century modern design and construction surround the concept ‘form follows function’.

In a nutshell, objects, art, furniture, and buildings inspired by this modernism design movement have been crafted to reflect a purpose; they’re both aesthetically pleasing and practical.

Why is original mid-century modern furniture so expensive?

The biggest reason behind the hefty price tag that comes attached to a lot of mid-century modern pieces is down to the high-quality materials used, as well as their ergonomics.

A number of Scandinavian and Danish pieces fashioned in both the ’50s and ’60s were manufactured in high-spec factories including the likes of Slagelse Mobelfabrik and Carl Hanson & Son.

Which rooms work best in mid-century modern style?

The simple answer? Any living room! One of this trend’s biggest selling points is how versatile it is, and its adaptability.

From bedrooms to offices, to outdoor spaces and living rooms, anyone can inject a little mid-century modern style into their homes and workspaces.

Looking for inspiration? Take notes from the hit TV show Mad Men.

Is the mid-century modern aesthetic likely to remain popular?

Mid-century modern designs have been in existence for many years now and are showing no sign of falling off the ‘design’ radar. They’re becoming even more popular.

This style can be tweaked to fit any room in the household, the office, living room, or your outdoor space.

The biggest reason for MCM’s popularity? It’s simplicity and functionality. A combination of mix-and-match fabrics makes mid-century modern design suited to any house, living room, bedroom, bathroom, or office.

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