Midcentury modern style is a distinctive design movement that emerged in the middle of the 20th century. Characterized by clean lines, geometric shapes, and natural materials, midcentury modern became hugely popular after World War II and had a significant impact on architecture, interior design, and graphic design. Understanding what defines this iconic style can help you determine if it’s the right look for your home.
What is Midcentury Modern Style?
Midcentury modern originated in the 1930s and flourished in the 1950s and 1960s. It was a reaction against the ornate styles of previous decades and embraced simplicity and functionality. Midcentury homes feature open floor plans, ample windows and skylights, and minimal ornamentation. The style highlights natural materials like wood, stone, and brick and draws inspiration from nature, including organic shapes and textures.
Other key characteristics of midcentury modern design include:
- Clean lines and geometric forms
- Low, horizontal silhouettes
- Neutral color palettes and natural textures
- Blurring the lines between indoors and outdoors
- Incorporating new manmade materials like plastic, fiberglass, and plywood
- Light-filled, airy spaces with connections to nature
- Free-flowing, open floor plans
- Distinctive furnishings like sculptural lighting, sleek sofas, and modular storage
Midcentury modern style combines elegance and functionality in a way that still feels fresh and innovative today. It emerged at a time of great social change and technological advancement, which is very much reflected in its aesthetic.
Where Did Midcentury Modern Come From?
Midcentury modern has its origins in various early 20th century design movements like Bauhaus, Scandinavian design, and organic architecture. Many of its pioneering designers were European modernists who immigrated to the United States before and during World War II.
Some of the most influential forces behind midcentury style include:
The Bauhaus Movement
Founded in Germany in 1919, the Bauhaus school promoted clean lines, functional shapes, and the idea that design should be accessible to all people. Bauhaus principles helped shape the minimalist aesthetic and mass production methods central to midcentury style.
Frank Lloyd Wright
American architect Frank Lloyd Wright favored organic architecture with open plans that connect to nature. Many midcentury homes drew inspiration from his work, like the iconic spiral Guggenheim Museum in New York City.
The minimalist Danish design movement focused on affordability, simplicity, and functionality. Its influence is seen in midcentury modern furniture and accessories marked by clean lines, wood, and woven textiles. Brands like Hans Wegner and Finn Juhl became extremely popular in the United States.
As European architects immigrated to Southern California in the 1930s and 1940s, they pioneered a regional brand of midcentury design that included indoor-outdoor living. This allowed the style to fully embrace living in harmony with nature.
Midcentury Modern in Home Decor
Beyond its signature architectural style, midcentury modern also dramatically impacted interior design. Hallmarks of midcentury decor include:
- Iconic lighting like sculptural pendants, orb-shaped chandeliers, and geometric floor lamps
- Patterned fabric and upholstery with bold colors and graphic prints
- Natural fiber rugs like wool and jute in neutral hues
- Textured wood finishes seen in furniture and cabinetry
- Indoor greenery to connect living spaces to nature
- Vintage home accessories like ceramics, clocks, and tableware
Many midcentury modern furniture classics are still prevalent today, like the Eames lounge chair or the womb chair from Eero Saarinen. Pairing these statement pieces with sleek tables, modular shelves, and sectional sofas creates a quintessentially midcentury look.
Using Midcentury Style in Contemporary Spaces
The beauty of midcentury design is that it remains fresh and modern even decades after its debut. It’s easy to integrate midcentury style into contemporary homes in ways that still feel chic, such as:
- Mixing midcentury furniture silhouettes with modern textiles and colors
- Using patterns and geometric prints in doses to prevent overwhelming a space
- Adding a signature midcentury piece like an egg chair or sculptural floor lamp
- Incorporating organic shapes and textures through lighting, decor, and area rugs
- Creating a focal wall with wood paneling or plaster in neutral, earthy hues
- Choosing sleek cabinets and hardware for kitchens and bathrooms
- Building elements of indoor-outdoor living like glass walls, skylights, and courtyard gardens
Many furniture and home brands now offer pieces with hints of midcentury inspiration that feel new and innovative rather than outdated or kitschy. This allows you to give a nod to midcentury style without fully recreating a retro aesthetic.
So Your Style is Midcentury Modern: How to Make It Work in Your Home
If you’re drawn to midcentury design, there are many ways to embrace its essence while still creating a space that feels like your own. Here are some tips for beautifully interweaving midcentury style into a contemporary home:
Focus on Quality Over Quantity
Midcentury interiors tend to feel minimal and uncluttered. Concentrate on fewer, well-made furniture pieces and decor items instead of filling up your home. Opting for multifunctional items can also prevent unnecessary clutter.
Seek Out Natural Materials
Wood, stone, rattan, leather, and wool add organic texture. Seek them out in your structural finishes as well as furniture and accessories. Incorporate plants for an additional connection to nature.
Choose Neutral Tones as a Base
Midcentury palettes tend to be low-key and soothing. Use neutrals like warm white, tan, light wood tones, and pale blues as a base. Then layer in accents of bright, saturated colors and patterns in doses.
Mix Old and New
Blending vintage or antique midcentury pieces with new elements creates depth and visual interest. Don’t be afraid to eclectically combine different periods and styles.
Pick Iconic Decor Pieces
Find new versions of classic midcentury lighting, furniture, or accessories from brands like Knoll or Herman Miller. icons like the Eames lounge chair or Nelson bubble lamp can instantly establish the mood.
Incorporate Indoor-Outdoor Living
Connect your interior to the outdoors through walls of windows, glass doors, skylights, and courtyard gardens. Use porch swings, hanging chairs, and outdoor rugs to further blur the line between inside and out.
Don’t overdecorate or clutter up clean-lined midcentury spaces. Carefully edit accessories to keep the look refined. Group items meaningfully rather than scattering tchotchkes randomly.
Get graphic with bold geometric patterns and angular furniture silhouettes. Triangles, circles, or interesting repeating motifs add modern flair.
Employ Tactical Color
Bold punches of color enliven neutrals. Use vibrant tones strategically on walls, furniture, art, or decor to really make them pop.
Frequently Asked Questions About Midcentury Modern Style
What are the key features of midcentury modern design?
Midcentury modern design is characterized by clean lines, minimal ornamentation, open floor plans, an embrace of nature, and multifunctional furniture pieces made from natural materials. Iconic midcentury architecture has low horizontal silhouettes and walls of windows to blur indoor-outdoor boundaries.
What makes midcentury style different than modern?
While midcentury and modern design overlap in their embrace of minimalism and functionality, midcentury has more natural shapes and textures. Midcentury often appears warmer and more inviting than the sleek, ultra-modern aesthetic. The heavy use of woods also creates more richness.
Is midcentury decor cheap or expensive?
Like any style, midcentury decor can span the gamut from budget-friendly to luxury. Vintage midcentury furniture by famous designers carries top dollar. But mass-produced midcentury classics or contemporary pieces with hints of midcentury lines can be quite affordable.
What are some good resources for midcentury furniture and decor?
Check out antique stores, flea markets, thrift shops, or estate sales to hunt for secondhand midcentury gems. Sites like Chairish and 1stDibs also have vintage midcentury furniture. For contemporary pieces, popular retailers include West Elm, Article, Joybird, Lulu and Georgia, and AllModern.
What are the most iconic midcentury furniture pieces?
Some of the most iconic midcentury furniture includes the Eames lounge chair, Eames molded plastic chairs, Nelson platform bench, Saarinen womb chair and pedestal table, Bertoia diamond chair, and pieces by designers like George Nelson, Arne Jacobsen, and Charles and Ray Eames.
Bring Midcentury Style into Your Modern Life
Midcentury modern’s timeless aesthetic continues to feel fresh several decades after its heyday. This iconic style allows you to surround yourself with pieces of design history while enjoying comfort, functionality and an appreciation for simplicity. By thoughtfully integrating midcentric elements that you love into contemporary spaces, you can craft a home full of openness, light, and harmony between built and natural environments – all with a healthy dose of that quintessential midcentury style.
Midcentury modern style remains an influential interior design movement, thanks to its timeless embrace of clean lines, organic shapes, and indoor-outdoor living. By focusing on quality craftsmanship, natural materials, and seamless functionality, midcentury homes provide beauty as well as livability. Mixing midcentury and contemporary pieces allows you to enjoy hints of this iconic style in a fresh, modern way. With an edited palette of vintage icons, natural textures, and pops of color, you can welcome the best of midcentury design into your daily life.