Design Aesthetics Explained: Mid Century Modern

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Mid Century Modern Design Aesthetics Explained
While it may seem like mid century modern is having a moment, the reality is that it never really goes out of style. Why? The cornerstones of the mid century modern style are simplicity and functionality, meaning these design choices are always practical. 

Maybe you have a boomerang-shaped coffee table or orange slice chair passed down from relatives. But how do you incorporate these unique pieces into your home? Developing an understanding of the principles of the mid century modern design aesthetic can help you understand how to utilize fun and interesting pieces. 

This design style has a rich history with many unique buildings we can use as reference to get us started. This style is full of clean lines, graphic shapes, and pops of color combined with natural materials.

The History of Mid Century Modern Design

The term ‘mid century modern’ was coined by Cara Greenberg, author of “Mid Century Modern: Furniture of the 1950s” published in 1984. Mid century modern (MCM) includes architecture, furniture, and graphic design from 1933 to 1965

It was part of the modernist movement, rooted in the Industrial revolution and post-world wars. Mass production made it possible to make large quantities in a variety of colors and materials. It was considered a bit of a rebellion against ornate traditions of the past and represented the simple, optimistic way of life at the time.

Though its origins date back 50+ years, the mid century revival we see today is not just a trend. It fits how many homeowners feel about their homes and environment. Much of society is embracing a more minimalist lifestyle and environmentally conscious way of living. This is reflected in the natural and simple styles of mid century modern design.

Mid Century Modern Design Principles

Mid Century Modern Design Features

The design aesthetic of the mid century is minimalist and understated. It uses clean lines and minimal hardware to create a sleek look. Items are functional and help create uncluttered spaces. 

Furniture pieces have a simple design with a futuristic appearance. Think of tall, tapered table legs or curved dining chair backs. The Eames Lounge Chair and Ottoman is a classic example of using sleek curved lines and mixing leather with wood. The graphic shapes and vibrant colors are the most recognizable features of mid century furniture.

Nature is often the inspiration for mid century modern design. Indoor and outdoor spaces are blended with big windows, plants, or even outdoor items used inside. 

Pieces are a combination of natural and manmade materials. Furniture and decor may be a mix of wood, glass, metal,marble, vinyl, fiberglass, or plastic. You’ll see muted tones with pops of deep color. Black, white, or natural wood is often complemented with earthy green, fall orange or yellow, muddy brown, sea blue-green, or clay reds.

How to Bring Mid Century Modern into Your Home

Mid century modern pieces are well designed and timeless. They can help create a modern, yet welcoming space. To bring MCM design into your home, consider bold shapes and colors, a mix of old with new, and the simple function of your pieces.

Use Nature as Inspiration

Mid century modern rooms often use nature for inspiration. Showcase any large windows to let the outside in. Incorporate plants like a big wall with a climbing swiss cheese plant. Adding these elements will create a seamless transition between your indoor and outdoor spaces. 

Look to nature for colors and materials. Use wood as your stand-out pieces, either in chairs, floors, tables, or beds. It’s ok to be playful and mix bright hues with your earthy tones or natural materials. Combining neutrals with pops of color will provide a lot of texture and visual interest.

Mix Old and New

Pick a statement piece with mid century modern influences and build the rest of the room to support it. If your statement piece is older, balance it out with newer, more modern pieces. You don’t want your home to look like a 1960s antique shop. You can mix modern pieces with vintage mid century decor. You can also mix with other styles like Scandinavian, minimalist modern, or rustic to create a space that reflects your unique style.

Once you have your statement piece, like a mid century modern sofa, your surrounding art, side tables, and decor should all support it. If the sofa is a bold color, balance it with tables made from natural materials like wood or glass. If it has curved lines, compliment it with a large rectangular piece of art featuring earthy tones combined with bold colors. This will create a balanced and authentic mid century modern living room.

Focus on Function

A key principle in mid century modern design is the function of the pieces. If you flip through a catalog of MCM designs, you’ll notice the style is very minimalistic and there’s no clutter. Each piece serves a purpose and stands out in the room. 

To create depth, choose furniture of varying heights with a mix of shapes. For example, a mid century modern bedroom may have a low-profile wooden bed and dresser balanced with a tall arched lamp.

Keep only your favorite pieces out for the minimalist look, but don’t sacrifice style for function. Build your room piece by piece. Avoid buying every piece at the same time or you may end up with a room that looks like a furniture store. Vintage pieces are a great sustainable design decision and mixing old with new helps keep your room from feeling too new or too dated.

Homes that will inspire your mid century modern space

Influential Mid Century Modern Architecture

If you need a little more inspiration to capture the mid century modern vibe, take a look at these incredible pieces of architecture inspired by the MCM movement.

The Glass House

Completed in 1949 by Phillip Johnson, this mid century modern house in Connecticut is now owned and operated by the National Trust for Historic Preservation. The design is the epitome of using nature as inspiration. Johnson noted it’s “the only house in the world where you can see the sunset and the moonrise at the same time, standing in the same place.” 

The clean lines of the MCM furniture pieces keep The Glass House feeling open and airy.

The Sinatra House

Frank Sinatra once owned a mid century modern house in Palm Springs. Now it’s available as an event rental. The large windows, exposed brick, and wood beam ceilings are complemented by colorful vintage MCM furniture and decor. 

You feel like you’re stepping into the 1950s in the best way.

Malin Residence (Chemosphere)

If you ever wanted to live in an octagon on top of a twenty-nine foot column in the Hollywood Hills, have we got a house for you. 

Designed by architect John Lautner, the Chemosphere hovers over a hillside. It has windows all the way around for spectacular views of San Fernando Valley. This house is often thought to be the most iconic MCM design. The interior of the house uses sleek, low-backed furniture and wood-planked ceilings to create a futuristic feel.

Function will never be a bad choice when it comes to your home design

Find Your Ideal Design with our New Blog Series

Mid century modern design is just one of many style designs we plan to explore over the upcoming months. There are so many opportunities to make your home unique, and custom to who you are.

Before you get started on your next project, learn more about the guiding principles of residential interior design, where to spend your money, and what really goes into a remodeling project


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