It's not unusual for styles from another era to make a comeback, and this is certainly true of mid-century modern. Learn where this iconic style came from and why it's still so influential in home design.
The Origins of Mid-Century Modern
The century referred to in mid-century modern is the 20th, specifically the years immediately following the Second World War, from the mid-1940s to the late 1960s. During this time, North America enjoyed a booming economy and a booming population.
With so many young families buying and furnishing their first homes, suburbs grew with newly constructed homes that reflected new building techniques and the populace's desire for features that reflected their optimistic outlook. They wanted their homes to be different from those built a century before; they wanted more windows, more family-oriented gathering spaces, more efficient and functional designs. Parallel advances in science and technology brought new materials, textures, effects and forms to these homes. The resulting aesthetic is what we now call mid-century modern.
Distinguishing Features of Mid-Century Modern
The influence of American design on Scandinavian and vice versa, though gradual and lacking a concrete “point” at which it came about, is undeniable. While each carries its own spin on modernism (Scandinavian, in particular, favoring brighter colors and lighting and American favoring a darker palette). The two, however, also share an abundance of similarities – from warm tones, modular lines and “futuristic” materials like plastic and steel.
Even the Architecture Reflects It
Mid-century modern style wasn’t – and isn’t – limited to home decor. Not only is it found in the design of the homes themselves, it also plays a crucial role in the history of American architecture. (It is often considered that architecture came first – and the decor and design trends followed.) Homes everywhere were being built with lower roofs, bigger windows and more open floor plans – influencing and being influenced by the sleek, practical furniture designs within them.
Because low roofs and multipurpose, open floor plans boomed at the same time as mid century modern style, it is often assumed that the former magically sprung from the latter. But the evolution of the style wasn’t quite so simple. To trace the roots of the mid-century aesthetic, you have to backpedal a little further down the timeline – in particular, to the early 1930s, when ranch houses lined the west coast.
With their low roofs and multipurpose, open floor plans (sound familiar?), ranch homes were in high demand due to their ability to help keep heat out – a coveted trait for those living in farms, deserts and other wide open spaces in California. Itself influenced by Frank Lloyd Wright’s Prairie Style Homes of the early 20th century, the ranch style house would soon weave its way into the fabric of California society – going on to pave the way for the coming mid century madness across the nation.
How to Use Mid Century Modern Style in Your Space
If you want to bring the mid century modern style into your home, try not to go all-out, all at once (as tempting as it may be!). Many pieces of mid-century modern tend to be bright and bold, so a space decked out in the full aesthetic may feel a little overpowering. This is especially true if you’re buying pieces just to buy them; as with other styles, make sure to build your vision slowly and steadily.
Midcentury modern colors were often bright or saturated and emphasized certain design elements. These colors aren't as popular today, but you can still achieve this look by tempering one colorful statement piece with more neutral or muted colors.
The key to bringing midcentury modern style into your home is not trying to replicate it exactly. This will only look outdated. Start with basic, iconic midcentury modern armchairs or a table, and work out from there. Avoid clutter and, instead, embrace negative space.
A Futuristic Look
The effects of America’s obsession with the future – and the science and tech associated with it – rippled onto a domestic level. Objects, clothes, homes and even TV shows (we’re looking at you, Jetsons!) took on a new, more futuristic life.
Rooted in Palm Springs
Just a couple hours’ drive from the bustling hub that is Los Angeles, Palm Springs quickly became the getaway spot for celebrities as showbiz boomed in mid-century Hollywood. As more and more vacation homes for the stars were built in the area, what was once an overlooked desert city grew to become one of the most luxe resorts in America. To this day, Palm Springs has not lost its “mid-century magic”; turn any corner to find an iconic low roof home here, a vibrant orange-and-brown color palette there and charming, 1950s-inspired, Warholesque wall art – everywhere!