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Mid Century Design: A Style That Defined A Generation

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In interior design, certain styles possess a timeless appeal that transcends decades and captivates the imagination of homeowners and designers alike. One such style that continues to make waves is mid century modern design. This design movement originates in the middle of the 20th century and seamlessly blends functionality, simplicity, and an unmistakable retro charm. In this article, we will look at what makes mid century modern design so unique, by exploring its defining features, history, and popularity.

What Is Mid Century Modern Design?

Mid century modern design began during the mid-20th century, roughly from the 1940s to the 1960s. Renowned for its clean lines, organic forms, and emphasis on functionality, mid century modern embodies a sense of simplicity and a departure from traditional ornate styles.

Mid century modern design has left a significant impact on architecture, interior design, and furniture design. Of course, you will know it for its iconic furniture pieces, such as the Eames Lounge Chair and the Barcelona Chair, which have become timeless classics. Also, the style’s influence is still present in modern interiors today, as it inspires and captivates designers and homeowners alike.

Features of Mid Century Modern Interior Design

mid century modern style bedside tableThere are many characterising features of mid century modern that make it stand out in interior design. Some of the defining characteristics of mid century modern interior design include:

  • Emphasis on functionality
  • Clean lines and geometric shapes
  • Natural wood materials
  • Mix of materials
  • Bold accent colours
  • Integration of nature
  • Minimalist aesthetic
  • Fusion of indoor and outdoor
  • A blend of neutral and bold colours
  • Contrasting textures
  • Iconic furniture designs
  • Open floor plans
  • Integration of art
  • Emphasis on craftsmanship
  • Innovative use of materials
  • Sensitive to human scale
  • Emphasis on natural light
  • Atomic and futuristic influences
  • Timeless appeal
  • Global influence

Who Invented Mid Century Design?

Cara Greenberg, an American author, first coined the name mid century modern in the title of her 1984 book ‘Mid Century Modern: Furniture of the 1950s’. Following a 1983 article for Metropolitan Home about 1950s furniture, a colleague encouraged Greenberg to write a book on the topic. As for the name, Greenberg made it up when she was researching book titles.

However, regarding the design style, several notable figures played a part in shaping the aesthetic. For example, Charles and Ray Eames are renowned for their iconic mid century modern furniture designs and contributions to architecture, industrial design, and filmmaking. Other notable contributors to Mid Century Modern design include architects such as Ludwig Mies van der Rohe, Marcel Breuer, and Le Corbusier, and designers like Eero Saarinen and George Nelson.

The History of Mid Century Modern Design

mid century design in modern homes

We can trace the origins of mid century modern design back to the middle of the 20th century when it emerged as a response to the needs and aspirations of the time. This design style gained popularity in the post-World War II era and continued through the 1960s. Here is a closer look at the history of Mid Century Modern design:

Revival of Interest

By the late 1960s, most mid century designs had fallen out of fashion. However, in the early to mid-1980s, there was a resurgence of interest in this style. Vintage mid century designs started gaining popularity, and several events helped propel mid century modern design from a niche interest of design enthusiasts into the mainstream.

Collectors’ Market

In the mid-1990s, a niche collectors market began increasing prices of original mid century designs. As a result, the demand for these iconic pieces soared, and their value increased significantly. More notable sales exemplified this trend, such as an original Eames moulded plywood folding screen fetching as much as $10,000 in 1994 and a George Nelson Marshmallow sofa selling for an unprecedented $66,000 in December 1999.

Increased Accessibility

During the early 1990s, a shift made mid century designs more accessible to the average consumer. Knoll, a major manufacturer of iconic mid century designs, opened its SoHo showroom to retail shoppers. Previously, these pieces were only available to designers and architects. This direct-to-consumer strategy expanded the customer base for mid century modern furniture and led to a significant boost in business for Knoll.

Reissues and Return to Retail Market

In the 1990s, there was a resurgence of interest in midcentury design, and furniture manufacturers began reissuing iconic pieces. Herman Miller, renowned for its association with midcentury modern style, reissued designs from its archive under the name “Herman Miller for the Home.” These reissued pieces remained true to the original designs but were updated with contemporary materials and technology. Herman Miller aimed to meet the demand for these beloved designs and protect their reputation.

Design Within Reach

The sales of contemporary reproductions of vintage midcentury designs received a significant boost in 1999 with the launch of Design Within Reach (DWR), a direct-mail catalogue and online business. DWR provided consumers access to mid century modern pieces previously only available to the trade. The catalogues also served as a design education platform, featuring biographies of the designers behind each product. DWR quickly became Herman Miller’s largest retailer.

Distinctive Characteristics

Mid century modern design originated as a reflection of the time’s functional, clean, and simplistic needs. It represented a departure from past traditions and embraced a more modern and organic way of living. Mid century modern furniture features clean lines and simplicity, unlike frilly or overly ornate pieces. A retro aesthetic often characterises it and incorporates bright accent colours.

Differentiating from Modern Design

While mid century modern design is considered a subset of modern design, it has distinctive characteristics. Mid century modern design tends to have a more retro and colourful approach compared to the more understated and practical style of traditional, modern design, which emerged in the early 1900s.

Why Is The Mid Century Modern Interior Design Style So Popular?

mid century modern design kitchenThe Mid Century design style has experienced a surge in popularity for several reasons. One contributing factor is the influence of popular culture, which has helped bring mid century design into the mainstream consciousness.

The television series “Mad Men,” which debuted in 2007, played a significant role in this regard. The show’s commitment to period accuracy extended to its meticulously designed sets, which reflected the East Coast interiors of the 1960s.

The set design team went to great lengths to ensure authenticity, even consulting with renowned furniture manufacturer Herman Miller for guidance on period-appropriate furnishings. This exposure through popular culture has sparked a renewed interest in the style.

How To Use Mid Century Design In Your Home

Mid century modern design remains effortlessly on trend, and it’s so easy to incorporate it into your home! Here are some simple ways to add mid century modern touch to your interior design:

  • Choose a Bold Accent Piece – Make a statement by choosing one key furniture item, like a vintage or wingback chair or table, and build your room around it.
  • Create a D.I.Y Wooden Accent Wall – Add retro charm and warmth to any room by installing a wood panel accent wall reminiscent of mid-century design.
  • Modernise Your Lighting – Enhance the ambience of your space with mid century modern lighting fixtures such as pendant lights, floor lamps, or even a unique Sputnik ceiling light.
  • Add Art – Transform your walls with mid-century modern artwork featuring vivid colours, clean lines, and geometric shapes. You can even unleash your creativity and make your art.
  • Use Geometric Lines – Incorporate shapes and repeating patterns into your decor, with furniture items such as angel chairs, rugs and cushions, embracing the mid-century modern emphasis on geometric designs.
  • Consider Window Treatments – Embrace the spacious and light-filled aesthetics of mid-century modern homes by removing curtains or drapes, especially if you have large picture windows. 

Mid Century Design: In Conclusion

As trends come and go, mid century design remains a reliable source of inspiration and an embodiment of timeless elegance. Its influence on contemporary design is undeniable, and its ability to adapt and evolve has maintained its place as a design classic for years to come.

FAQs

Can I Mix Mid Century Design With Other Styles?

Yes, mid century design versatile, and you can mix it with other styles. It pairs well with contemporary, industrial, and even traditional styles. Blending elements from different styles creates a unique and eclectic interior that showcases your personal taste. However, it’s important to strike a balance and maintain a cohesive look so the different styles match.

What Style Goes With Mid Century Design?

Mid century modern pairs well with several complementary styles. Some popular choices include Scandinavian design, which focuses on simplicity and natural materials, and minimalist design, which aligns with mid century modern’s clean lines and uncluttered aesthetic. Additionally, you can blend eclectic and bohemian styles with mid century modern to create a unique and personalised look.

What Colours For Mid Century Modern Design?

Mid century modern design typically incorporates a combination of neutral and bold colours. Commonly used neutral hues include whites, beiges, greys, and warm browns, which provide a clean backdrop for the design elements. As for bold accent colours, mid century modern embraces vibrant shades such as mustard yellow, teal, orange, and chartreuse green. These bold pops of colour add visual interest and create focal points within the space.

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

The terms’ mid century’ and ‘mid century modern’ are often used interchangeably, but they are subtly distinguished. ‘Mid century’ refers to the middle of the 20th century, specifically from the 1940s to the 1960s. It is a historical designation encompassing various design styles and movements from that time.
On the other hand, ‘mid century modern’ specifically refers to a design style that emerged during the mid-20th century. It is characterised by its clean lines, organic forms, and focus on functionality. Mid century modern design represents a specific aesthetic and philosophy within the broader mid century era.

What Is The Difference Between Mid Century Modern And Contemporary?

Where mid century modern is clean and streamlined, contemporary design, is the design of the present time and is constantly evolving. It often incorporates current trends, materials, and technologies. Contemporary design can vary widely in terms of aesthetics and can include minimalist, industrial, or eclectic elements.
So, mid century modern represents a specific period and style. However, contemporary design is more flexible and reflects the design trends and preferences of the current time.

Sources

Léon & George (n.d.). 6 Characteristics of Mid-Century Modern Style (And How to Use Them) — La Résidence · Plant Care Tips and More. [online] La Résidence. Available at: https://blog.leonandgeorge.com/posts/mid-century-modern-characteristics-style [Accessed 19 May 2023].

Quarles, K. (2023). Cara Greenberg Wrote the Book on Mid-Century Modern Furniture. Here Are Her Auction Finds. [online] The Study. Available at: https://www.1stdibs.com/blogs/the-study/cara-greenberg-mid-century-modern-furniture-at-auction/ [Accessed 19 May 2023].

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Anna Sharples

Office and marketing manager for Sloane & Sons Stylish Chairs, who sell a range of high-quality tub chairs, accent chairs and more.

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