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Aptly, mid-century modern design originated during, well, the mid-century, primarily between 1933 and 1965. The style was beloved for its emphasis on form and function, elegant simplicity, and indoor-outdoor harmony.
According to Room & Board’s Jenon Bailie, “Mid-century modern style is rooted in organic influences, functional design, and simple forms with an optimistic spirit. Key elements include a mix of natural materials like wood, ceramic, and glass.”
You’ll often find mid-century homes with large walls of glass that help blur the line between the indoors and outdoors, as well as expansive open floor plans that promote the flow of everyday living. But even if you’re not lucky enough to live in an authentic mid-century house, you can still incorporate the design elements that have given this timeless style such enduring popularity.
From adding organic materials to your look to incorporating retro hues and accents, these tips make it a breeze to bring mid-century style into your living room and beyond.
Meet the Experts
To curate these mid-century modern living room ideas, we spoke to a range of interior design and furniture experts. Throughout the guide, you'll hear from:
Mid-century modern designs frequently prioritize form and function, emphasizing stylish pieces that promote the lifestyle of the dweller. And given that the living room is often where we gather to chat with loved ones, it makes sense that mid-century looks often incorporate thoughtful seating clusters that invite anyone to sit down and chat the day away.
According to Mark Culter, “Mid-century modern style is all about the chair, so create an arrangement of seating groups around the room. It’s very dynamic and, well, modern.”
For instance, you can arrange mid-century modern sofas and chairs around the coffee table to invite conversation over drinks. You can also add a few accent chairs to a corner of the room to create a cozy reading nook.
2. Start with a Statement Piece
When it comes to creating a mid-century modern home, an empty room can feel overwhelming, making it difficult to decide where to start. That’s why we recommend starting with a single statement piece that you love, such as a gorgeous Eames chair or a retro coffee table, and you can use the piece as a point of reference around which to build the rest of your design.
“It’s important to incorporate pieces that are focal points,” advises Jenon Bailie. “A shapely upholstered chair like our Boden Chair, for example, juxtaposed with a steel Parsons Coffee Table with a glass top. Adding statement pieces like this can provide contrast while giving you reference points for the rest of your design."
3. Consider your Flooring
Flooring makes a big impact on any space, so you’ll definitely want to consider it for your mid-century modern living room design. Since organic materials play such a key role in modernist design, many mid-century design enthusiasts opt for hardwood floors.
“Real wood floors are the desired finish for the mid-century look,” says Richard Petrie. And you can add texture and warmth to wood floors by adding textiles, like “Wool rugs in muted tones,” says Petrie. “Layering a rug will add that extra layer of style to your living room without breaking the bank.” They can also easily be switched and swapped whenever a new design idea strikes your fancy.
4. Add Your Own Personal Flair
Like we said, this is your living space, so above all else, it should be a space that makes you feel great while reflecting your unique style sensibility. So think about elements of your personal style that might pair well with the natural, minimalist vibe of mid-century modern style.
“Organic shapes with sculptural elements can bring high mid-century style and sophistication,” says Bailie, “but it’s also important to have fun and make your space feel comfortable. Think about the mix of materials and incorporate the things you love most.”
5. Mix Materials
Since mid-century modern looks often lean minimal, consider mixing and matching various materials on furniture pieces to create a compelling design without lots of clutter and chaos.
Anna Franklin suggests mixing “fabric upholstery, metal, and wood accents when creating a mid-century modern space. Select an upholstered couch with wooden legs, or a wooden chair with metal legs; the mixed materials and textures will bring the minimalist pieces to life and make the space feel more interesting.”
You can also use home decor accents, like rugs, to create contrasting materials. “If the majority of your furniture is wood,” suggests Franklin, “add in a colored area rug with a geometric print to brighten the space.”
6. Experiment with Minimalism
Speaking of furniture, if you want to adhere to mid-century modern design principles, then consider incorporating pared-back furniture pieces with streamlined silhouettes and long, tapered legs.
“Mid-century modern furniture is often very simple when it comes to the overall design,” says Franklin. “Chairs and couches will often be one solid color with clean lines. The fabric typically does not have much detail, and they are held up by pin-style legs that are signature to mid-century design.”
You can also use throw blankets and pillows in fun colors and patterns to infuse simple furniture with a little more personality.
7. Keep it Subtle
The beauty of mid-century modern style, and really any aesthetic, is that you can incorporate as much or as little of it as you’d like. After all, it’s your living room design, so you can go all out on mid-century furniture and room decor or just incorporate a few elements to add a hint of the aesthetic to your personal style.
If you want something more subtle, Cutler recommends incorporating just a few mid-century pieces: “Remember, you are making a room with mid-century vibes, not creating a historical study. By this I mean, you can incorporate a few authentic mid-century pieces, and the other items in the room can be more flexible.”
8. Embrace an Earthy Color Scheme
Organic colors and materials are inherent in true mid-century modern design so you can’t go wrong with a color scheme that incorporates hues from nature. According to Cutler, “To make a true mid-century modern living room, think natural earth tones, like olive, terra cotta, and perhaps a retro saffron if you want to add a pop of color.”
Other neutral organic colors that work well for this decorating style include sage, beige, and brown. But don’t forget that many bolder colors are found in nature as well, such as turquoise and sunshine yellow, both of which are often used to accent mid-century modern looks.
Mid-century design styles seek to establish a harmonious relationship between the indoors and outdoors. You can instantly create indoor-outdoor harmony by adding plants to your look, as well as mid-century decor featuring organic materials, like stone, ceramic, and wood.
Pamela O’Brien also suggests “Keeping windows uncluttered for unobstructed views of the outdoors.” Organic textiles made from materials like jute and linen can also help you blur the lines between the indoors and outdoors.
10. Make use of Rustic Woods and Natural Materials
If we haven’t made it clear by now, mid-century style is all about nature and the materials found in it, like wood, stone, and ceramic. But beyond being true to mid-century design, natural materials will instantly make your living room feel more peaceful, warm, and inviting. These materials can also play nicely of white walls and a more subtle color palette — they also look great when there’s plenty of natural light.
“Introducing natural materials like wood into your living room will create a calming ambiance and help achieve the organic aesthetic associated with mid-century style,” says Petrie. “Try exposing any wooden beams you might have in your home or take any distressed/worn furniture you have tucked away and display it in your seating area.”
11. Focus on Furniture
The best designs start with the right furniture, so opting for mid-century-inspired furniture pieces is a no-brainer. Franklin suggests “focusing on the larger furniture pieces, as they will make the most impact.” And the bolder your piece, the bigger impact it will make. “When creating a mid-century living room, I find that a bright-colored couch with wooden peg legs pulls the space together and gives you a good jumping-off point,” Franklin adds.
Once you land one or two large furniture pieces like a sectional or leather sofa, you can work on complementing them with smaller items. For instance, you can “select a coffee table that incorporates the same wood tone as the legs as your sofa to complete the focal point of the space,” says Franklin.
12. Incorporate Neutral Tones
Neutral colors and mid-century style go hand in hand, largely thanks to the style’s emphasis on nature and simplicity. According to Petrie, “Neutral tones are key when creating mid-century style interiors with a modern twist.”
But don’t mistake neutral for boring; these hues can help make your space feel larger, brighter, and more inviting. “Choose light and airy colors, like beige or ivory, which will add height to your living room and make the space seem larger than it actually is,” suggests Petrie.
And because neutral hues are subdued, you can easily pair them with fun pops of color without overwhelming your look, such as vibrant throw pillows or patterned ceramics.
13. Be Clever with Sneaky Storage
To achieve the minimalist vibe of mid-century modern design, it helps to have plenty of storage solutions. “No matter how simple you want your desired aesthetic, you are still going to need some kind of storage to hide away all your 21st-century bits and bobs,” advises Petrie. This is especially important if you have a small living room.
Multi-purpose living room furniture with sneaky storage, such as lift-top coffee tables, works particularly well since you can hide items out of sight without cluttering up your design. But you can also incorporate beautiful shelving to keep chaos at bay while showcasing aesthetic-enhancing decor. “Ladderax shelving is the perfect modular storage system to keep your clutter neat and tidy while fitting the mid-century style of the room,” recommends Petrie.
14. Use Mid-Century Pieces to Complement Your Style
Mixing mid-century items with furniture pieces from other styles, such as a contemporary sofa paired with a mid-century end table and table lamp, can help you create a dynamic design that reflects your unique style sensibility while still celebrating what makes mid-century style so beautiful.
For instance, in this gorgeous space designed by Pamela Hope Designs, “Mid-century tables and chairs play nicely with a new sofa and ottoman in this open format home. The light fixtures and bright orange front door further the mid-century feel,” said O’Brien.
15. Experiment with Rounded Shapes
Although sharp, angular lines are core to many mid-century modern aesthetics, they’re far from the only shapes that make this style sing. Consider pairing sharp angles with soft curves, like an angular side table and floor lamp coupled with a sumptuously curved sofa, to add dynamic layers to your look.
Jordan Lee also recommends staying away from stark 90-degree angles if you want to achieve a mid-century style. “Make sure your furniture and decor consist of some rounded shapes. You should also avoid being too square as 90-degree angles weren’t a huge part of the mid-century style.” However, obtuse and acute angles are highly prevalent in mid-century design, so feel free to add them with abandon.
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Kelly Weimert is a writer, editor, and interior design expert with 10 years of experience writing about design and home decor. She's written for interior design publications such as MyDomaine, Apartment Therapy, Domino Magazine, and Hunker. When she's not writing or editing, she's probably busy obsessing over how to beautify her home.
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