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mid-century modern style

What Is Mid-Century Modern Style?

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.

modern living room

Distinguishing Features of Mid-Century Modern

mid-century modern living room
To meet the desires of new home buyers, builders and designers experimented with form and materials. Because new homes were generally small, it was a necessity that space be used wisely and efficiently. Designers such as Charles and Ray Eames, Arne Jacobsen, George Nelson and Harry Bertoia created iconic furniture and lighting that are easily recognizable even today.

Mid-Century modern is understated

People wanted to put the war years behind them, and they embraced the new and modern. Gone were the overstuffed, overfilled rooms they grew up in, replaced by decor with clean lines and minimal fuss.

Forms are organic and geometric

Houses with lots of windows invite the outside in, and mid-century modern style reflected this in organic and geometric patterns. Natural materials like wood, metal and leather were in demand. Bold patterns brought visual focus to lean, uncomplicated rooms.

Functionality is paramount

Floor plans were designed so that every room had a purpose and anything unnecessary was omitted. Multipurpose furniture was sought after because it conserved space. Popular pieces stacked, folded or nested.

Materials are used in unexpected ways

This was the period when new materials like plexiglass and fiberglass found their way into home furnishings. Fiberglass and plywood were molded and bent to fit the curve of the body. Tubular steel and leather strapping were used to create comfortable cantilevered chairs. Plexiglass was formed into clear organic shapes such as coffee and end tables.

Why Mid-Century Modern Is Still Popular Today

Today, people move more frequently than in the past and often live in small urban condos or apartments. The clean lines, organic curves, mix-and-match materials and multifunctional designs of mid-century modern are the perfect match for this lifestyle. These simple, well-designed objects are timeless, and they still feel fresh.

The Furniture

While you can seek out authentic mid-century modern pieces, it isn't necessary to spend tons of money to get this look. Current manufacturers have adapted the most sought-after mid-century modern furniture and design elements to suit contemporary life by updating fabric and material, and new manufacturing techniques help make these pieces very affordable. Look for furniture that has geometric, curving lines and multiple uses.

The Colors

mid-century modern style orange sectional

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.

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Editorial Disclaimer: Articles featuring tips and advice are intended for educational purposes and only as general recommendations. Always practice personal discretion when using and caring for furniture, decor and related items.