How to Get the Look: Midcentury Modern

If you watch the TV series Mad Men as much for the set design as for the story, you’ve probably been following the resurgence of the Midcentury Modern trend with enthusiasm. Spanning roughly from the mid-1940s through the 1960s, it arose during a period of economic growth and love of the ultra-modern. Melding form and function, this style speaks to our current appreciation for clean and innovative designs.

No Fuss

Architects and designers who valued the beauty of simplicity created homes and furnishings with sleek lines and organic shapes. Furniture was made to complement the modern house, matching the parallel lines and open-plan architectural trends of the day. Furnishings were stripped down, with less padding and upholstery so the pieces looked more streamlined. This is the era of the Eames chair, the Egg chair, and the Womb chair – iconic pieces of sculptural seating that cradle the body. To get the look, choose a low sofa with a squared design, preferably in a solid color that can be accented by bold patterned toss pillows. Chairs usually have bare wood or metal tapered legs. Button tufting is another feature of some upholstered pieces. A long, low credenza is a standard multi-tasker, whether it’s storing dinnerware, or holding a modern flat-screen TV. Make these the centerpieces of your room; they’ll look fresh and modern in the 21st century too!

Indoor/Outdoor Flow

The new architecture aimed to connect with nature, leading Midcentury Modern homes to take living spaces outdoors. Patios, porches, and sliding glass doors encouraged the blurring of these boundaries for a less-formal lifestyle. Open floor plans with furnishings arranged into zones also lend a sense of openness. Since most of us don’t live in homes that merge with nature like a Frank Lloyd Wright house, you can encourage a connection with the environment by leaving your windows bare or incorporating natural accents such as wood, stone, or leaf-patterned prints. Outdoor kitchens and firepits are a great way to bring the inside out.

Graphic Patterns

Large-scale colorful patterns are a strong trend now, so you should easily find something with a modern twist on Midcentury Modern style. Bold geometrics and graphic repetitive patterns will bring a visual energy. Also, try a piece of framed artwork from one of the many innovative artists of the period, wall hangings featuring squares or circles, or a patterned wallpaper.

Neutrals + Brights

One side of the Midcentury Modern palette is founded on warm and earthy nature-inspired colors – olive green, mustard, burnt umber. Wood takes center stage as a neutral too, finished simply to showcase its natural beauty. But the style also makes use of vivid accents colors. Rich, saturated colors reflect the bright optimism of the Midcentury era, and stand out powerfully against white or neutral walls. Blues from navy to teal are also very strong. And don’t forget about gray – it’s quickly becoming the new beige.

Iconic Accessories

The look is defined by unique accents, such as a sunburst mirror, abstract wall art, or large lamps with drum shades. The atomic age and space exploration inspired some striking lighting fixtures – most notably the Sputnik chandelier. Look for the famous bubble lamp or a clear globe pendant for a retro touch. For ambiance and texture, lay out a shag rug, preferably in a neutral color so your bright furnishings stand out. And of course, a bar cart was integral to entertaining in the era.

The Midcentury Modern look is enduring no matter what decade you’re in!