What Is Mid-Century Modern & Why Is It So Popular?

What Is Mid Century Modern

Mid-century modern describes an interior design style that began in the mid-twentieth century, post-WWII. It features roots heavily tied into German design, as many German designers and architects emigrated to the United States following the war.  These artists brought new ideas, influenced by the Bauhaus School from early 20th-century Germany, which focused on clean lines and functionality.

With the advent of the space-age in the late 1950s, more and more futuristic elements started finding their way into interior design. These features complemented other modern ideals like geometric patterns, mixed materials, and streamlined profiles. However, while there is a sense of minimalism that goes along with mid-century modern design, it’s hardly sterile and stark.

Quite the contrary, it’s an inviting style that features interesting combinations of indoor and outdoor inspirations, pops of color, unique shapes, and organic elements. The style died out momentarily in the 1980s when overly bold patterns and colors took over for several years. However, the timeless appeal of mid-century modern soon resurfaced, becoming one of the most popular design styles today.

What Is The Difference Between Mid-Century And Mid-Century Modern?

You might often hear people use the terms mid-century and mid-century modern to describe the same design style. However, the two are not exactly the same thing. Mid-century is actually a design movement that has its roots closer to the 1930s. Modern design in the 1930s focused on simplicity, function, and minimal decor.

Some of the characteristic styles of mid-century design sprung from practical purposes. For example, the low profile of chairs and sofas sought to minimize the amount of wood used in construction. The muted color palette in fabrics made it easier to hide dirt and stains.

Following the war, people began to have more interest in interior design but still enjoyed the simple, clean lines of the modern style. Art became more of an influence, and mass production made it easier to quickly create items in various colors and materials. Eventually, mid-century modern design as we know it today started to take shape.

In a nutshell, you could say mid-century modern style is a natural design progression that incorporates a bit more detail and decor into the simplicity of mid-century design.

Why Is Mid-Century Modern So Popular?

One of the most significant qualities that makes mid-century modern design so popular is its timeless look. It’s a perfect blend of form and function, making it practical and aesthetically pleasing at the same time.

Another interesting theory is that the majority of people buying and furnishing homes today may associate the style with their youth. The style stirs up cozy, nostalgic feelings that people find naturally appealing. Plus, various trending movies and TV shows, like Mad Men and The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel, have rekindled a love for the 1950s era.

As a result of the growing popularity, mid-century modern furniture, home accessories, and other items are readily available. This easy access to the style makes it even more appealing.

What Are Mid-Century Modern Characteristics?

Today, you can certainly put your own spin on mid-century modern design, incorporating elements from various other styles. However, no matter how you interpret it, mid-century modern design focuses on function first, then form, and it features 6 key characteristics.

1. Streamlined Profiles

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One of the most recognizable and distinctive characteristics of mid-century modern design is its attention to clean lines. This is where a lot of the minimalism from mid-century design carries through. Furniture features a sleek profile with minimal detailing and little to no ornamentation.

Other trademarks are low-profile backs on sofas, chairs, and settees, as well as tapered and slim legs on coffee tables, desks, couches, TV stands and bookcases. Although comfortable, many chairs and sofas showcase a more streamlined silhouette than an overly plush, overstuffed one. Tufting is used, but it is typically tight and crisp instead of bulky.

2. Natural and Manmade Elements

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A hallmark of mid-century design was using natural elements, especially wood, in the construction of furniture. Natural fabrics and other materials were commonplace as they were available and the easiest to come by at the time. The focus was more on function, so it was about keeping things practical and simple.

But, as the space age approached, new technologies started influencing the design scene, bringing new materials into the mix. People started finding ways to incorporate various accessories and other items that consisted of things like plastic and laminate.

3. Mixing Materials

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Another primary feature of mid-century modern design is mixing a variety of materials. Besides just combining natural and manmade elements, the style incorporates multiple finishes and textures, such as metal, wood, glass, and fabric.

For example, you can create a wood-paneled accent wall mixed with tall glass windows, a plush wool rug, a metal chair, and laminate furniture. Although it might sound like too much, it actually all comes together to create a cohesive and attractive design. The key is to use the various elements in just the right proportion to each other.

4. Blending the Indoor with the Outdoor

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Creating a seamless flow between the outdoors and the indoors is another popular component of mid-century modern style. Many houses from the era feature large glass windows, meant for letting in lots of natural light and views of the outside. Architects and builders also sought to create homes that became one with the landscape instead of standing out from it.

In addition, it’s not uncommon to find natural greenery throughout an interior mid-century modern space. You can also bring the elements of the outdoors into your room by using organic materials, natural finishes, and various earth tones.

5. Geometric Forms

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Both organic and geometric shapes define mid-century modern style, offering clean lines and simple design. Often, the geometric patterns are subtle, perhaps popping up in a textured cabinet front or a monochromatic wallpaper. Other times, you might find it in a single, bold framed print that becomes a focal point in the room.

You can incorporate geometric patterns into your space in a variety of ways, including rugs, art, and even furniture. Many mid-century modern pieces feature angled profiles or open-concept geometric bases. Therefore, decide which works best for your personal sense of style and your space.

6. Neutral Foundations with Pops of Color

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Mid-century design featured lots of neutral tones, mostly muted shades of greens and browns. People liked the practicality of how these subdued colors helped hide dirt and stains. But, more artistic elements started winding their way into the design as it morphed into mid-century modern, and so did bits of color.

So, you’ll find lots of neutral, earth tones, but also pops of color, especially warm tones like teals, reds, oranges, and yellows. An excellent way to bring these vibrant pops into your space is to follow the rule of three. Chose your accent color and incorporate it into three places around the room.

Where Can I Buy Mid-Century Modern Furniture?

If you’re planning to add some mid-century modern flavor to your home, you’re in luck. The style is certainly easy to come by, thanks to its popularity. No matter what your budget, you’ll find fantastic pieces to fit both your personal taste and your pocketbook.

1. Wayfair

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Wayfair makes it easy to find great mid-century modern furniture, art, and accessories, thanks to their easy style filter. You can scroll through countless high-quality items, including chairs, tables, vases, rugs, sofas, nightstands and much more.

2. West Elm

Image source: West Elm

The online retailer West Elm offers an extensive collection of sleek, streamlined pieces that are right at home with the mid-century modern style. It also carries a wide assortment of art and decor pieces so you can find the ultimate finishing touches for your space. 

3. Crate & Barrel

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Whether you want to shop online or try out some items in person, Crate & Barrel showcases many mid-century modern masterpieces. You can find low-profile sofas, slimmed-down desks, and other pieces that exude comfort, function, and style.

4. Amazon

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It’s really true; you can find anything on Amazon, including some fantastic mid-century modern inspired furniture pieces and home accessories. If you want your items quickly and at budget-friendly prices, it’s definitely worth checking out.

5. Etsy

Image source: Etsy

If you want a more one-of-a-kind piece or perhaps are looking for an actual vintage addition to your room, shop Etsy. You can find tons of options, from small decor pieces to large furniture items. Many are from the actual 1950s and 1960s, while other handmade creations offer unique customized options.

6. AllModern

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As the name implies, AllModern specializes in furniture and home decor featuring a modern sensibility. It makes it a breeze to knock out your entire mid-century modern design in one place.

7. Knoll

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If you don’t mind a higher price tag (but one that’s well worth it), Knoll creates pieces that feature the original mid-century modern design and materials. This means, instead of simply getting items that reflect the style; you’re getting the real deal.

8. Urban Outfitters

Image source: Urban Outfitters

You might automatically picture clothes when you think about Urban Outfitters, but the popular retailer has a lot more to offer. Browse their wide selection of home decor and furniture to find elevated pieces influenced by mid-century modern style.

For even more inspiration, you can also check out our thoughtfully curated lists of mid-century modern furniture and accessories, including couches, lamps, bookcases, dressers and more.