What is Mid-Century Modern?
Mid-century modern (MCM) is an American design movement from post-World War II - roughly 1945 through 1965. Aligning itself with the Modernist movement, Mid-century modern is a clean style with simple lines and the use of natural materials.
Homes designed in the MCM architectural style embraced open floor plans and focused on function as well as form to take into mind the needs of an American suburb family. MCM also introduced a groundbreaking concept - post and beam architecture that makes it possible to open up the space and eliminate support walls.
We can thank the International Style and Bauhaus movement for the birth of Mid-Century Modern. Architects such as Frank Lloyd Wright, son Lloyd Wright, Walton Becket, John Porter Clark, William F. Cody, and real estate developer Joseph Eichler brought MCM to the forefront of the American home.
The Key Characteristics
As outlined in my blog, What are Design Styles and How to Choose Yours, the key elements you will find in Mid-Century Modern design are:
Organic material paired with man-made
Simple, sleek lined furniture
Natural hues with a hint of color
Rooms built around a statement piece
A Timeless Classic
I believe that Mid-Century Modern is a timeless classic, but I will have to concede that it doesn’t go everywhere. For instance, a Mid-Century Modern house is beautiful, unique, and modern, but it might look out of place in the wrong neighborhood, taking away from its allure. Building that home in a completely different neighborhood or the countryside will give a completely different perspective on that same house.
On the other hand, Mid-Century Modern furniture falls in with so many different design styles that it would be hard to argue that it is not a classic. MCM furniture is right at home in styles such as Industrial, Scandinavian, Contemporary, Eclectic, Hollywood Regency, Minimalism, Modern, Transitional, Abstract, Art Moderne, Bauhaus, Danish, Finnish, Machine Age, Northwestern — you get my point. It would be impossible to argue Mid-Century Modern is not timeless.
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What to Look for in Furniture
The main characteristics of a Mid-Century Modern furniture piece are clean lines, organic shapes, and gentle curves. Let’s look at a few examples and talk through them.
The Wassily Chair was designed by Marcel Breuer around 1925 while heading the cabinet-making workshop at the Bauhaus Art and Design school in Dessau, Germany. Also called the Model B3 chair, the Wassily chair was inspired by the bicycle and built with plumbing fabrication techniques. The purpose of this design was to reconcile art and industry.
Also known as the Y Chair, the Wishbone Chair was initially designed by Hans Werner for Carl Hansen & Son in 1949. The chair is named after the iconic backrest shape, which resembles a Y or wishbone.
These chairs are not only popular in Mid-Century Modern but also Danish Design and Japanese decor. The simple lines of this chair with its bentwood armrests and paper cord rope seat easily fits in many homes effortlessly.
Couches and Armchairs
Couches and armchairs are going to be functional yet aesthetically appealing. Look for pieces with simple lines and low backs. They will also sit off the ground on rounded tapered legs.
When looking for a credenza, sideboard, or coffee table, you will once again pay attention to functionality and the lines formed by the piece. Primarily you will stay with woods such as Teak, Oak, and Rosewood. Teak is the preferred wood due to its rich color and durability, but you shouldn’t feel confined to wood. Designer Amanda Thompson explains, “Materials were critical to mid-century design. We saw a lot of wood, metal, glass, and vinyl, often used in tension with each other to create a unique look.”
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What Are Mid-Century Modern Colors
MCM colors are grounded in organic, warm colors and wood, along with grays, browns, and whites. Yet, MCM was not afraid of color. Even though it is grounded in neutrals, it used statement pops of colors such as tangerine, mustard yellow, ochre, bright reds, and aqua.
Benjamin Moore has a beautiful pallet of colors if you want to explore Mid-Century Modern colors in your own space.
I love this kitchen from @heather.v.keeling on Instagram. She does a great job bringing in the green to pop against the wood and white waterfall island, giving a beautiful example of MCM Interior Design.
Another example is this living room by Emily Henderson. She balances the neutral tones of gray and white with mustard yellow and deep green. The gold ties it all together with the addition of the mixed media coffee table. What a beautiful space.
Emily has done a fantastic job keeping the space functional and modern. Since MCM has been around for so long, you have to not take it too far to the extreme. Be mindful not to make it look like a museum.
Use the key characteristics to create a modern space instead of a nostalgic one.
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Wall Art to Use in Mid-Century Modern
Wall art for a mid-century modern home is geometric shapes that flow into curves and lines. It can be seen in prints, paintings, textural wall hangings, and 3D art.
Pop artists like Andy Warhol and abstract expressionist Jackson Pollock top the list of infamous Mid-Century Modern artists. Both of these artists’ styles couldn’t be further from each other, but both are iconic to the MCM style.
Textural wall hangings, like this Macrame Wall Hanging from CalmSoulDecor on Etsy, can be found in MCM. It adds texture and warmth to the space.
Like C. Jeré Bird in a Tree Enameled Wall Sculpture, wall sculptures also found popularity during The MCM movement.
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How to Use Decor
Mid-Century Modern home decor focuses on functionality, clean lines, and organic and geometric shapes. Remember, your space should be uncluttered, so be very purposeful with what you place in your room.
This space by PiMetalArt on Etsy is an excellent example of a minimalistic and functional space. The fantastic artwork can be purchased on PiMetalArt’s Etsy shop.
Using pops of color in your space will bring cohesion to your room. Touches of tangerine, mustard yellow, ochre, bright reds, and aqua can be used individually or paired together in a Mid-Century Modern home. For example, look at this room from Barker and Stonehouse. They successfully pulled together the natural wood and the gray and white walls to complement the space’s blues, greens, and orange pops of colors.
Don’t forget the use of wallpaper to bring a final touch to MCM. Like this one shown on HGTV, wallpaper is a practical way to add color and artwork to your space.