Examples of Mid Century Modern Interior Design

Michelle Radcliff
swan chair

If you have a tendency to blur the lines in your chosen decorating style because you're torn between modern technology and vintage vibes from the past, why not embrace the best of both worlds with Mid Century modern design? Mid Century style was all about the latest technology in materials and design back in its hey-day during the 1950s, 1960s and 1970s and shares surprising similarities with modern design here in the 21st century.

tangerine and avacado

Mix in Some Vintage Hues

You'll see plenty of organic colors in Mid Century style but other hues might surprise you. Go for something unusual, such as using gold as a primary neutral. Other popular colors used in this style include:

  • Tangerine
  • Mustard yellow
  • Camel
  • Teal
  • Olive
  • Cranberry
  • Turquoise
  • Copper
  • Avocado
  • Champagne Pink

Mid-Century Mavens

tulip chairs

The quickest way to recognize Mid Century style furnishings and to know what to look for is by familiarizing yourself with iconic designer names from that era. Famous Mid Century designers include:

  • Charles and Ray Eames- husband and wife architects and modern furniture designers
  • George Nelson- industrial designer credited with being a founder of American Modernism
  • Isamu Noguchi- a Japanese American artist, landscape architect, lighting and furniture designer
  • Eero Saarinen- furniture designer credited for many iconic Mid-Century pieces including the "Womb" chair and the "Tulip" chair
  • Eero Aarnio- a Finnish designer with iconic furniture designs still seen on TV and movie sets today, such as the "Bubble" chair.

The philosophy of modern design is based around the concept of "form must follow function," which can clearly be seen in the work of these five designers, who also worked behind the scenes for major manufacturers like Knoll and Herman Miller.

Blending Mid Century Modern with Modern Décor

Midcentury classic Arco Floor Lamp
This Arco floor lamp, designed by Achille and Pier Giacomo Castiglioni in 1962, is in the permanent collection of the Museum of Modern Art in New York.

Part of the appeal of Mid Century modern décor comes from the simplistic designs that mirror the clean lines of modern minimalist style décor, for a look that has truly become timeless. Both design styles follow a "less is more" approach on furnishings and décor; eliminating unnecessary parts on furniture and emphasizing organic elements like wood with simple, natural finishes.

Start with Accessories

Neutral colors on walls and furniture allow accessories and accent pieces to stand out more. Accessories provide a good starting place for incorporating retro elements into a modern style room.

Mid Century lighting had such cutting edge style, you could easily think you are looking at a modern lamp or pendant that was actually designed half a century ago. Accent rooms with vintage accessories such as:

  • Hand blown art glass
  • Shag rugs
  • Vintage lamps
  • Geometric wall art
  • Sunburst or starburst clocks and mirrors
  • Bright, colorful porcelain lamps or vases
  • Vintage pottery

Must-Have Mid Century Furniture

Vintage style Egg chair and ottoman in modern living room

Many iconic furniture designs can be credited for giving Mid Century modern decorating its signature look. A single vintage chair can stand out as a focal point in a modern room or multiple pieces can be blended with modern furnishings for a transitional design.

Iconic Mid Century furniture designs include:

Simplicity and integration with nature was at the heart of the Mid Century architecture and design and you can clearly see this in these standout furniture pieces. Other key elements of this design style are:

  • Flat planes- Flat surfaces were commonly seen on roofs and interiors have a propensity of flat horizontal lines.
  • Large expanses of glass- Sliding glass doors and walls of windows flood rooms with natural light and unobstructed views of the outdoors.
  • Varying elevations- Split-level rooms, partial walls and cabinetry placed at varying heights create depth and interest.
partial walls act as room dividers

More Ways to Infuse Your Home with Mid Century Style

multi-sliding glass doors opening onto the patio

If accessories and furniture leave you hungry for more Mid Century style in your home, go for more aggressive interior design changes such as:

  • New flooring- Go back to basics with concrete floors. New finishes with concrete stains and micro-topping pours create beautiful flooring that is both durable and practical. Bamboo and slate also complement the look of mid century furnishings and add an organic element.
  • New ceiling- Cover the ceiling with wood panels. It will warm the space and add depth to the room.
  • New wall- Add a partial wall. Blend it in with furniture such as an extended bookcase or add on to an architectural feature like a fireplace. Use it as a partial room divider in an open floor plan.
  • New windows or glass doors- Hire a contractor to convert a southern facing wall (if one exists) into a viewing wall of windows. Open up the space to the outdoors with multi-slide doors, which allow a larger opening than a traditional sliding glass patio door.

Why Mid Century Resonates with 21st Century Style

Despite all the similarities with modern minimalist design style, why are people so drawn to the Mid Century look? Nostalgia is the most likely culprit, as the shapes and forms of these retro furnishings take one back to childhood, in an era where the world moved at a much slower pace and the hope of a brighter future could be felt in every sunrise. Perhaps a Mid Century makeover is a little like coming home again.

Examples of Mid Century Modern Interior Design