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What is Mid-Century Modern Design?

Mid-century modern is a phrase we hear so much these days! It seems like every TV show about home design (I’m looking at you, HGTV) features someone who wants a mid-century modern house, or they want their house to look like one, but what exactly does that mean? All the houses can’t be mid-mod, can they? Let’s talk about this design movement – what it means, what it is, and whether it might be right for you.

A Little Background Info

Mid-century modern design emerged in the post-World War II era and was popular from the 1940s to the 1960s. The pioneering designers wanted to create a design that was completely new and unique, and they definitely succeeded. It focuses on a mix of geometric and organic shapes, abstract art, simple elements, and oversized windows. A classic and famous example is Frank Lloyd Wright’s Fallingwater.

Key Elements of Mid-Century Modern Design

Mid-century modern can refer to both the architectural design of the house as well as the furniture and design elements inside. So what defines mid-century modern design? Let’s break it down:

  • Clean Lines and Functionality: A mid-century modern home is clutter-free and more focused on large pieces of furniture instead of small ornamental pieces. At its core is an emphasis on clean, straight lines. They typically had a flat roof or a very low, asymmetrically-pitched roof. Both the architecture and the furniture of mid-century modern houses feature sleek, geometric lines that create a sense of openness and simplicity. Functionality is also an important element, so each piece of furniture is both stylish and serves a specific purpose.

  • Organic Forms and Natural Materials: Mid-century modern design focuses on the beauty of nature by incorporating organic forms and natural materials. Materials such as leather, metal, and glass create a clean, modern look, which is warmed up by featuring wooden furniture, shelves, beams, and other design elements. The wooden features are traditionally made from teak, oak, or walnut.

  • Bold Colors and Patterns: Part of the sophisticated, minimalist aesthetic of mid-century modern design is achieved by using neutral colors for the overall design. But bold accent colors are also part of the design. Avocado green, mustard yellow, and vibrant blues are typical colors of the design that are used to add personality and vibrancy. Geometric patterns are another hallmark of this style, and they provide visual interest without overwhelming the space.

  • Open Spaces and Connection with Nature: Mid-century modern architecture often features large, floor-to-ceiling windows and an emphasis on open floor plans, which creates a seamless connection between indoor and outdoor spaces. The large windows are meant to be opened and unblocked by curtains, to let in breezes and the sounds of nature. The philosophy behind this design was meant to bring the beauty of nature into the home. This integration of nature is designed to foster a sense of harmony and tranquility.

Is it Right for My Home?

Mid-century modern design has always endured, but it feels like its popularity has really surged in the past few years. The design movement most often appeals to those who prefer a modern, minimalistic design style, which makes sense because of its uncluttered design and clean lines. That is typical of what you can expect from true, mid-century style design. If you love tchotchkes or a lot of decorative accessories, this style may not be for you.

But even if your style doesn’t include a modern aesthetic, there are mid-century modern elements you might like. For example, many of today’s most popular design trends, such as nature-inspired designs and using open layouts to increase natural light and views of the outdoors are timeless ideas that come directly from mid-mod design.

Also, the clean lines and simplicity of the furniture style make it adaptable so it can fit into different designs and homes. The focus on quality craftsmanship and enduring materials means that many original mid-century modern pieces are still in excellent condition decades later. So, ironically, the pieces that were so modern and futuristic when they were first designed and created are often used now for a vintage, retro look.

You don’t have to own a typical mid-century modern house in order to embrace the philosophy of the design style. Whether you want go all-in with a super-modern design, you want the retro look of authentic vintage furniture pieces, or you prefer a more traditional design that also embraces natural elements and indoor-outdoor living, you can incorporate mid-century modern design elements in almost any design style.


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