Mid-Century Modern Interior Design


If you’re exploring interior design ideas, concepts, or themes, there’s a very high chance that you’ve come across the phrase “Mid-Century Modern”. This phrase is generally describing a style of interior decor and arrangement that was popular in many homes in the United States—although the style was heavily inspired by European architects—during the middle of twentieth century. Casual observers may more easily recognize the architectural devices associated with mid-century modern design—and during the 1940s, 1950s, and 1960s, architecture was the greater appeal of the mid-century modern aesthetic—but in 2017 mid-century modern generally is describing the interior design style of a private home. Mid-century modern was a very fresh concept fifty to sixty years ago, and used a then-unseen mix of plastics, metals, woods, and unconventional materials, all incorporated in a seamless configuration using uncluttered clean lines and tastefully understated shapes. Not to suggest that mid-century modern is a dated aesthetic, but in most modern interior designs inspired by mid-century modern, textures, fabrics, and ideas from other design philosophies are introduced to avoid creating a cliche interior. As with all design projects, anything can be made to work as long as it’s implemented in good taste—which is part of what a professional designer brings to any project.

Defining Mid-Century Modern Interior Design
Mid-Century Modern Colors

Now, in the twenty-first century, the more beloved aspect of mid-century modern design was the minimalist approach to the interior decor. A lot of the perceived charm of mid-century modern design was somewhat situational. That is, the furniture with its smoothing effect around edges and transitions was as much a result of advancing manufacturing methods as it was the product of progressive ideas about style. Mass production and new materials inspired a new approach to interior decoration centered around understated elegance, and overtly avoiding cluttering features or over embellished appointments. The drawback to mid-century modern design is that it can appear cold, bare, sterile, and may generally lack a comforting presence that “feels like home”. An intelligent design today can incorporate elements from other design philosophies to overcome the empty sensation some people observe in mid-century modern, but its inherently minimalist nature causes the theme to generally not be a natural match for people seeking a more ornate, embellished, or warm feel in their home. Not to be misunderstood as cold or clinical, mid-century modern is actually a very malleable style due to its clean aesthetic. As a result, it accepts accents of color very well, and can often be tweaked to suit many different rooms and homes, which is why it is one of the more common requests from clients seeking to redesign their home. While not everyone lives in a home with fundamentally mid-century architecture, the main characteristics of the style can be carefully represented in a way that can appear to match a variety of homes and look very natural.

This type of interior design genuinely runs the gamut of the color spectrum. You may see some rooms heavily implementing natural woods with clear finishes for a more organic and natural presence, while others may use cold base colors and materials splashed with hot greens to create accents that jump out. The look sports clean and simple designs that play with form, vibrant colors and fun patterns. Many of these patterns are making a comeback in graphic wallpaper and even throughout tile designs.

Mid-century modern design incorporating a tasteful wall art and color splashes.

Mid-Century Modern Materials
From Herman Miller chairs and tulip tables to atomic clocks and sunburst patterns on materials like resin, plastic and fiberglass, the era of Eames spurred lasting designs from creative makers around the world. The materials used throughout a home decorated in the mid-century modern style typically vary according to the particular house, apartment, loft, villa, et al. In a large or spacious home with an open floor plan, it’s common to see a natural stone floor or a brightly finished hardwood floor such as a white oak—or bleached woods. Clean brickwork can work in some designs as well. The common trend throughout each of these appointments is the establishment of a clean, uncluttered room. Area rugs may be used to sit under furniture or to embellish an otherwise plain surface. While not every interior design has to play off of the existing architecture of the home, it’s certainly a fun approach which can create very polished results. A lot of mid-century modern architecture played off of a wood-and-glass design concept. While wood-and-glass homes aren’t necessarily of the mid-century modern design philosophy, their inherently minimalist design tends to fit well with mid-century modern’s bent towards the use of large glass windows, walls of glass, and rooms enclosed in glass. That said, glass furniture including coffee tables, accent tables, desks, and dining room tables are a prevalent material.

Particularly in the United States, some aspects of mid-century modern design have become associated with a universal, basic, or nondescript features found in the common American family home. Perhaps the most common of these features is the use of white-painted sheet-rock as the default or standard wall material. It’s simple, it works in almost any room, and it doesn’t fatigue the eye—all of which are founding characteristics of mid-century modern.

The Evolution of Mid-Century Modern
Mid-century modern designs originally occurred between the late 1940s and late 1970s. Therefore there is a natural evolution to the design, and this can conjure up different images in people’s minds when discussing interior decor—there’s the retro-future 1950s design, the idiosyncratic ultra 1960s interpretation, and the more earthy wood-and-stone infused 1970s version. Within mid-century era, there are many variations. As a result, the suggestion of mid-century modern decor is often more about a design philosophy than any particular look or feel. While this may be true of many other design genres, it’s particularly the case with mid-century modern.

Updating Mid-Century Modern—Conflicting Concepts?
People tend to enjoy certain features of mid-century modern design, but at the risk of appearing cliche, they don’t want to have a home which looks like it’s forcing a retro design for the sake of being retro. In other words, there’s a desire to update a half-century old design aesthetic. So is this a conflicted design philosophy? In short, maybe. This is where it really comes down to exercising good judgement and making tasteful decisions. Implementing a mid-century modern design in the twenty-first century—without appearing too retro—is about taking the best elements from mid-century modern homes, and infusing them with materials, fabrics, textures, and features that weren’t necessarily a part of homes between the 1940s and 1970s, but still appear to fit together in a visually pleasing way. In the process, something of an eclectic mid-century modern genre is created. It’s part eclectic, with a nod to mid-century design, and as a result it’s fairly loosely defined in terms of the design language. Today, when people suggest decorating a room with a mid-century modern base, they’re generally referring to this eclectic mid-century hybrid, but for the sake of brevity, or without getting into a highly nuanced conversation about interior design, use “mid-century modern” as a common reference term. Of course, this creolization can go countless directions; mix mid-century with industrial, mid-century with Asian, or anything else that makes you enjoy your space. There are no rules, only guidelines, and the idea of taking a space to familiar-yet-new places is part of the intrigue of designing an interior space.

Mid-Century Modern At A Glance
Brightness, natural light, open space, uncluttered, accents of metal and wood, white walls, gentle angles and curves, clever organization, color-on-white, and tasteful restraint with hints of flash.

Whether you live in a new building or a historical home, mid-century mod is a timeless way to personalize your space.