What is mid century modern, anyway?
The keenest design enthusiasts will point you to a sleek Eames chair or Knoll cabinets, but may have trouble fully answering this question. The term means modern design that became popular between the 1930s and 1970s. Emerging from post-war America, it makes use of plywood, steel and woven, clean lines – think bold colours and functional comfort. You may not be able to afford pieces by the big players such as Eileen Grey and Louis Kahn, but you could consider investing in one and enhance the effect with some key elements. For mid century modern style tips, stick on a Mad Men box set – you’ll soon be bursting with ideas to combine earnest practicality and wit.
A mid century colour palette can range from light hues (picture a cream or grey linen sofa) to bright pops of colour (think geometric prints in strong reds and blues). If you’re not sure where to begin, browse mid century modern paint colours (muddy shades like burnt orange, mustard and olive work well with neutrals, should you want to start simple) then think about how and where you’d like to apply them. Mid century modern interiors have a clean, Scandinavian feel – think plain fabrics and perhaps a little texture added with window blinds. Consider how mid century modern colours are there to offset each other – for example, a leather lounge chair in a zesty teal would look stunning set against dark walnut paint, or you could opt for more subtle changes in colours and texture (pictured).
Mid century modern furniture champions strong, democratic shapes and natural or sculptural curves. One expensive purchase can become the focal point of a room, like an imposing high back armchair in a powerful print or a striking mid century grey ottoman by a lead 1950s furniture designer (look up Milo Baughman and T.H. Robsjohn-Gibbings for inspiration).
Keep an eye out for striking sofas, coffee tables or a mid century desk– one great find can transform a space instantly. A perennial favourite is the Eames rocking chair, of which you can find charming replicas online and in thrift stores. Once you’ve found the desired shape, they can always be painted or upholstered to suit your space. Dozens of high street brands have copied these famously long, low clean lines – type in ‘Eames molded plastic chair’ and you’ll soon get an idea.
Lighting plays a huge part in showing off your careful purchases – think about natural light filtering through Luxaflex blinds to highlight key pieces. As the nights draw in, you’ll have the opportunity to play with warm glows from mid century modern lighting, too. A copper chandelier might make warmth dance across the dining room table, or you might find the perfect drum shade pendant light at a car boot sale. If you’re having trouble pulling together your theme, a mid century floor lamp in a statement colour (black is always striking) could be all you need for a living area – adding character but not clutter. Need something stylish for your functional (yet comfortable) guest bedroom? A glass globe ceiling light can cast just the right shadows across a plain bedspread. Think carefully about what personality you’d like your room to have and lighting will help you create it in an instant.
Mid century modern materials are best described as unconventional – it’s all about aesthetic contrasts with huge emphasis on mixing textures. Consider tables and chairs in plywood, plastic, vinyl, metal, glass, Plexiglass and even Lucite when shopping for mid century modern décor, then think about what sort of statement each piece would make against a plain background. A clean white wall or plain mid century wallpaper might offset bright tables and chairs, whereas a Venetian plaster wall might juxtapose a modern granite cocktail table just so. You could add a wooden feature wall to let louder sofas and chairs make a statement – there’s a myriad of possibilities to unlock by contrasting materials.
Like our mid-century modern interiors ideas? Check out our vintage decorating tips.