Right at Home with Mid-Century Modern Design
By Kimberly Boney
Story by Kimberly Bonéy
Photos by Folk & Pine
CARA GREENBERG, art historian and author of the 1984 book “Mid-Century Modern: Furniture of the 1950s,” had no idea that the name she had assigned to her book would popularize a phrase synonymous with a timeless design aesthetic. She was simply in search of a noteworthy book title – and she found one. Oddly enough, the term “Mid-Century Modern” had been used in the 1950s, but it wouldn’t become a household name until 30 later years later, when Greenberg’s iconic book gained world-renowned status.
Although some believe there is a hard, fast, defining line that places Mid-Century Modern design from 1947 to 1957, others would argue that the style period’s wingspan is much broader. The years 1945 to 1975 seem to best encapsulate the diverse essence of the Mid-Century Modern period. The official dates may be hard to pinpoint, but the multifarious nature of the Mid-Century Modern look is quite a bit more distinctive. Classified by clean lines, vibrant colors, low-lying furniture, quirky accessories and a cool factor that stands the test of time, the design movement rests firmly on its ability to provide a functional, straight-shooting, modern vibe. It’s no wonder the Mid-Century Modern design aesthetic is still at the forefront of every creative heart.
Mid-Century Modern design isn’t monolithic or one-dimensional. Each point in history offers a wide range of styles. While some pieces of furniture and décor are a dead giveaway for the time period, it’s harder to pinpoint the heyday of others. With a 30-year span of time to choose from, you’ll have no problem finding diverse options to create a Mid-Century Modern look that is perfect for your home. Find styles that you are drawn to and mix and mingle them as you see fit to create a happy space. Velvet couches, chairs with buttons to spare and elaborate gold mirrors are just as Mid-Century Modern as furnishings with chrome, Lucite (a high-grade acrylic) and glass.
Don’t overdo the color scheme. The idea of a chartreuse or tangerine couch sounds enchanting – and it is. If a bright, bold couch is your cup of tea, it’s sure to look divine in your space. But if you feel like you’d be bored stiff with the look in two years tops, consider a neutral color (grey, tan, chocolate, black or navy) in a Mid-Century style instead. It’ll be a better investment of your time, money and creative efforts. You can always accessorize with bold pops of color to lend a nod to the design period.
It doesn’t have to look like your living room is a portal into 1958. Trying to add too many vintage pieces into the room is likely to compromise the aesthetic. Instead, mix notable, elegant period pieces in with your current favorites to create an eclectic, fresh look that is entirely your own. More subtle nods to the design period are likely to have more staying power than those bolder, dead-giveaway-for-the-era styles.
Balance is everything. A good rule of thumb when styling a space is to acquire larger, era-specific pieces in a shade and style you can live with for years to come. If you go bold in color and design with your larger pieces, keep your décor and accent furniture more neutral and subdued – and vice versa. Throw pillows, lamps and lampshades, side tables and accent chairs are small enough to use in other spaces in your home, should you decide a refresh is in order. A couch is harder to transition to another room.
The legs have it. We love how sleek Danish-style coffee tables, side tables and accent chairs can instantly upgrade a room. They have maintained their style prowess since the 1940s with their bold simplicity and beautiful, unique legs. The warm-toned wood that peaked during the Mid-Century Modern era is the perfect blank canvas for fun and whimsical collectibles to liven up your space. The pretty legs inspired by Danish design and the Mid-Century Modern design period aren’t just limited to furniture. The coolest floor lamps on the market today pay homage to the past with their tripod bases.
Kitschy is the new cool. While minimalism is all the rage today, it doesn’t mean you can’t incorporate some fun elements that make your space feel like home. Consider old books, bookends, funky lamps, globes, decorative bowls, vintage album covers and figurines as the perfect way to top off the clean-lined tables, desks and buffets that take center stage in Mid-Century Modern design.
One bold piece can change your life. It doesn’t take much to infuse a room with a healthy dose of Mid- Century Modern design. A vintage soda machine, a Chippendale secretary’s desk, a glass top dining table with a chrome base, a pair of plastic chairs, a shagged rug or a bold piece of vintage art on the wall can serve as a one-step style infusion. We’d be willing to bet you never imagined how brilliant a bold shagged rug could look in 2019 against the backdrop of hardwood flooring or carpet in a contrasting color. •
The Quintessential Mid-Century Modern Wishlist:
1. A sofa with clean lines, minimal cushioning and lots of buttons.
2. An accent chair that mingles wood and a bold colored fabric beautifully.
3. A wooden buffet or credenza with pegged legs and brass hardware.
4. A bold, solar-system-inspired light fixture.
5. Gold, textured wall mirrors.
6. Abstract wall art with square-shaped frames.
7. Colorful glassware with gold accents.
8. Floor lamps with tripod bases.
9. Side tables made of Lucite.
10. Cylindrical lamp shades.
11. An area rug with a bold geometric design.
12. Vintage brass bookends.
13. Throw pillows with a bold color and texture.
14. Cane or rattan-backed dining room chairs.
15. Vinyl anything.
16. A funky mini-bar on wheels.