Midcentury modern dining room.

Mid-Century Modern: What It Is And How To Add The Look To Your Home

Molly Grace4-Minute Read
January 28, 2021

You know that feeling you get when you go into a store and see clothing that was in style back in your day? Boomerang styles aren’t just for your closet, and midcentury modern decor is proof!

As a style that largely peaked in the ’50s and ’60s, midcentury modern is back and better than ever. We spoke with professional interior designers for actionable ways that you can incorporate this timely trend into your home.

What Is Midcentury Modern?

The midcentury modern trend was born out of the mid-20th century movement to use modern architecture, artwork and furniture design in the home. The term also applies to the materials and technology that followed World War II.

The Skinny On Midcentury Origins

There is some speculation as to when the trend began (most designers suggest a time frame between the 1930s and 1940s), but across the board, professional decorators agree that it reached its peak in the 1950s and 1960s. This is especially true in the U.S.’s newly booming postwar suburbs.

“A postwar America was looking to break traditional design conventions and propel its design industries into the modern era,” suggests Adam Watson, the head interior designer at Decorelo.

The midcentury modern design movement was led by designers and architects from around the world, and many of their designs are still recognizable to this day, such as the iconic Eames Lounge Chair, created by the husband and wife duo Charles and Ray Eames, or the unique Egg chair designed by Danish architect Arne Jacobsen.

Joseph Eichler is another big name in the midcentury modern world. Eichler was a real estate developer who mass-produced homes in the midcentury modern style for homeowners in Los Angeles and San Francisco during the peak of the midcentury modern period.

Though not a designer himself, Eichler is said to have been inspired by the style when his family briefly lived in a Frank Lloyd Wright home in Hillsborough, California.

The Resurgence

Much like the minimalist movement, midcentury modern decor calls for simplicity and functionality in its decorative pieces, with simple flairs of fashion like warm woodwork and metallic finishes.

Design Dudes founder and principal designer Drew Henry suggested its resurgence in the 21st century is a result of its sleek and simple design.

“The furniture pieces are fun, low profile, light and airy,” says Henry. “Homeowners are allowing their homes to be more playful representations of themselves and really letting their personality shine.”

The recent resurgence has found its way into urban living areas, as the designs were originally conceived for smaller, postwar dwellings. The furniture is typically designed to be mobile and lightweight, making it appealing to city slickers who move frequently, often residing in smaller abodes.

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Telltale Characteristics Of The Midcentury Modern Style

The midcentury modern calling card can be found in its low-profile structure, with sleek, clean lines in both geometric and organic forms. Traditional materials (such as wood) as well as nontraditional materials (such as metal, glass, vinyl and plywood) are used interchangeably and oftentimes in deliberate juxtaposition in midcentury modern decor.

“When it comes to midcentury modern furniture, form will always follow function,” asserts Justin Riordan, founder of Spade and Archer Design Agency.

That being said, this style of decor includes little to no ornamentation, as it has no function outside of style, suggests Riordan.

The most prominent colors of midcentury modern are blues and greens, pairing perfectly with wood and rusty metal accents.

Other accent colors traditionally include burnt orange, blush pink, pea green and other classic vintage colors of the 1950s and 1960s. Plus, Henry highlighted the 21st century addition of grays and whites. 

How To Get The Midcentury Modern Look

Interior designers agree that the most effective way to achieve a truly authentic midcentury modern look in your home is to go to thrift and vintage stores as well as estate sales, as most products sold in stores today are reproductions of original pieces and designs.

However, even if thrift shops aren’t up your alley, you can still incorporate this style into your home, as it’s making its way through mainstream stores like Wayfair, Target and Urban Outfitters.

Accent Pieces

Henry and Riordan concur: Start by incorporating accent pieces into your existing home decor collection, such as a coffee table, an accent chair, and small, decorative items like lamps and pillows.

For example, this coffee table found on Wayfair is a perfect example of midcentury modern decor, with a simple structure and striking shape that’s as sleek as it is sturdy.

White coffee table with oak legs on a chevron rug

Image: Wayfair.com

Unleash your retro side by incorporating this simple accent chair found at Target. The barrel shape, low back and wooden, tapered legs are classic midcentury modern design elements, and the neutral color will fit in easily with your existing home decor.

Midcentury modern chair from Target.

Image: Target

Mix it up by adding this ottoman, also from Target, with a retro style similar to the accent chair, but with a bold print to add a small pop of color.

Floral ottoman.

Image: Target

Side Tables

Bring warmer wood tones into a room by using this modern side table, made from traditional materials that reflect the retro style of the midcentury modern aesthetic. Functional as well as stylish, the table has the capacity for storage on top and in its roomy drawer.

Midcentury modern side table.

Image: Target

Area Rugs

Consider adding a cozier touch to your living space with this patterned area rug from Wayfair. The eye-catching geometry and pop of color will liven up a room while still sticking with the style.

Geometric rug with multiple shades of blue and grey

Image: Wayfair.com

Mirrors

If midcentury modern design is all about sleek, geometric shapes and function before form, this mirror from Urban Outfitters epitomizes the style. Lean the mirror against your wall and use the functional rungs to hang throw blankets, shawls or your go-to accessories.

Lamps And Lighting Fixtures

This tripod floor lamp, found at Target, is another great example of the use of traditional wood material in midcentury modern decor. This functional shape is sturdy and stylish for any space in a room.

Tripod lamp from Target.

Image: Target

Elements Of Nature

Midcentury modern decor is known for revolutionizing the notion of bringing the outside in by incorporating natural materials and motifs in interior design. This throw blanket from Urban Outfitters is perfect because it’s made from natural materials (100% recycled cotton) while integrating a leafy, outdoor-inspired pattern.

In keeping with the theme of bringing the outdoors in, try adding nature to your space. Incorporating a few different houseplants is an obvious move – fiddle leaf figs, snake plants and indoor palms all make great choices for a midcentury aesthetic.

However, if you don’t have a green thumb, this artificial snake plant found at Target will work, too. We won’t tell.

mid-height snake plant in a white planter on a 3 footed wood stool

Image: Target

Bar Carts

Midcentury modern decor can even be incorporated into your home’s coffee bar or basement bar setup.

Harking back to the metallic finishes found during the style’s heyday, this bar cart, found at Wayfair, is embellished with a rustic gold finish with a two-tier glass serving base, both materials used in traditional and nontraditional decor. The shape, with sleek lines, is also interesting.

Gold bar cart from Wayfair.

Image: Wayfair.com

The Bottom Line On Midcentury Modern Design

“If you love the look in your home, I would then continue to invest in larger pieces to ground the space,” says Henry. “However, stick to a specific color palette and incorporate complementary colors and accents.”

If you’re looking for some serious design inspiration, check out our interview and photo session of a minimal midcentury modern home and let your decorative designs start flowing!

For more great tips for homeowners, check out the Rocket Homes® blog.

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Molly Grace

Molly Grace is a staff writer focusing on mortgages, personal finance and homeownership. She has a B.A. in journalism from Indiana University. You can follow her on Twitter @themollygrace.