Are you looking to refresh your home’s style and want a clean, minimalist look that embraces natural materials? The mid-century modern (MCM) design movement may be perfect for you.
This is a style characterised by open floor plans, simple geometric shapes, natural wood elements, and lots of windows to blur the line between indoor and outdoor space. It feels cosy yet sophisticated, without unnecessary frills or clutter. By focusing on a few high-quality key pieces, using a neutral colour palette, and adding natural textures and greenery, you can create a mid-century modern oasis in your own home.
What is Mid-Century Modern style?
MCM refers to the design aesthetics popular from the 1940s through the 1970s. It emphasises simplicity, practicality, and a seamless connection between indoor and outdoor spaces. The mid-century modern movement produced some of the most well-known furniture and architecture of the 20th century, with an emphasis on clean lines, organic shapes, and natural materials.
While MCM came to prominence in the post-war era, not all designs and furnishings of the 1950s and 60s can be considered mid-century modern. The MCM movement represents a specific minimalist philosophy and aesthetic that produces pieces meant to last generations. Furnishings of the time were often trendier and more eclectic, though some have stood the test of time to become iconic.
Some key characteristics of mid-century modern style include:
- Simple, geometric shapes: MCM favours simplistic shapes like rectangles, triangles, and circles over ornate details. Clean lines and minimal silhouettes are key.
- Natural materials: Materials like wood, rattan, and leather are popular choices. Wood is often used in its natural state for a warm, organic feel. Teak, rosewood, and walnut are frequently used.
- Open floor plans: Walls are removed to create more open, flowing spaces that connected rooms. This openness also brings in lots of natural light.
- A connection to nature: Large windows can be used to blur the line between indoors and outdoors. Natural motifs are also common, from wood grain to leaf shapes.
- Neutral colour palettes: Mid-century modern style employs neutral, earthy tones like browns, tans, warm greys, and olive greens. Bright pops of colour can be added through furniture, art, and accessories.
- Functionality and simplicity: Above all, MCM design focuses on simple, functional, and affordable furnishings originally designed for the typical postwar homeowner. Ornate details were renounced in favour of practical, multipurpose pieces.
- Notable designers: Famous mid-century modern designers include Charles and Ray Eames, George Nelson, Arne Jacobsen, and Verner Panton. They created iconic furniture and influenced the style’s widespread popularity.
Iconic Mid-Century Modern furniture pieces
Some of the most recognisable furniture pieces from the mid-century modern movement are still popular today. Look for these iconic designs to incorporate into your home’s decor:
- The Eames Lounge Chair and Ottoman: Designed in 1956 by Charles and Ray Eames, this chair features a moulded plywood shell, leather upholstery and walnut legs. It offers a stylish place to relax and epitomises mid-century aesthetics.
- The Wishbone Chair: Designed by Hans Wegner in 1949, this chair claims its name from the arched back resembling a wishbone. Made of wood and cord, its simple elegance and Danish-inspired style made it just as popular then as now. Here’s a modern version.
- The Noguchi Coffee Table: Designed in 1944 by Isamu Noguchi, this sculptural yet functional table features a wooden base and curved glass top. A perfect blend of art and utility, it’s considered an icon of mid-century modern design.
- The Womb Chair: Designed by Eero Saarinen in 1948, the Womb chair is enveloping, comfortable and made of fibreglass, steel and foam. Its organic egg-like shape gives a sense of privacy and is a bold example of the mid-century style.
- The Tulip Table: Created by Eero Saarinen in 1956, this dining table has a white marble top with a pedestal base made of moulded cast aluminium. Simple, elegant and ahead of its time, it was radical in the 1950s but meshes perfectly with today’s modern spaces.
- The Egg and Swan Chairs: Arne Jacobsen designed both of these, for the Radisson SAS Royal Hotel, Copenhagen, in 1958. They became known for their innovative design and use of moulded forms. Whilst the Egg chair ‘cradles’ the body with its polyurethane foam shell, the Swan chair offers a less enclosed sculptural shape that embraces the body. Both provide a place for relaxed seating with a distinct mid-century feel.
Achieving the Mid-Century Modern look
If you’ve fallen in love with the MCM style, it’s easy to incorporate it into your home with some tips that emphasise its defining features. Focus on a few high-quality statement pieces combined with an open floor plan, lots of natural light, and natural materials for an authentic look.
Focus on key pieces: Choose one or two iconic mid-century modern designs to place centrally in your space, like an Eames lounge chair, Noguchi table or Wishbone chair. Build around these statement pieces.
Open up the floor plan
Remove doors and walls to open up the floor plan as much as possible. Mid-century homes are all about openness and flow between rooms. Add large windows to also encourage indoor-outdoor connections.
Select a neutral colour palette
Use a simple base of earthy browns, tans, greys and soft whites, then add pops of colour with accessories and modern art.
Add wood elements
Incorporate wood panelling, ceiling beams or natural wood furniture and accents. Teak, walnut and rosewood are authentic choices; their warmth contrasts nicely with the mid-century aesthetic.
Include organic textures
Add natural textures like wool, cotton, rattan, leather or stone to soften spaces and connect to nature. Woven rugs, baskets, macrame and loose weaves are popular.
Add in divided spaces
Use room dividers, screens or cabinets to discreetly separate open spaces. Room dividers with natural wood or woven panels enhance the mid-century style.
Avoid cluttering the open spaces. Choose accessories with purpose and opt for pieces that have a handcrafted or nature-inspired feel. Add bold modern art pieces for pops of colour and interest.
Consider the architecture
If possible, highlight mid-century details like sloped ceilings, angled walls, atriums or courtyards. Post and beam construction and walls of windows or sliding glass doors are also typical of the era.
Group furniture arrangements
Arrange seating areas to encourage conversation, at angles or circles. MCM style favours intimate groupings with space around for flow. Leave walkways open rather than blocking them with furniture.
Using these tips will help you achieve an authentic mid-century modern look in your home. Focus on simplicity, naturalness, openness and functionality for spaces that marry stylish design with comfort. Your home will become a minimalist modern haven, inspired by the mid-century ethos of blurring indoor and outdoor spaces.