If it wasn’t obvious from all the pastel-pink sofas and Danish sideboards on your social newsfeeds as of late, midcentury modern decor is still having a moment. Although sleek and timeless, the style can quickly monopolize a room (or make it appear dated) if it isn’t executed with care. The key to making the aesthetic look decidedly non–Brady Bunch is understanding its history and creating a modern mix. New to the style but love the look? Learn all about it and get tips from the experts on how to add a Mad Men vibe to your space with midcentury modern decor.
1. What is midcentury design?
The movement spanned from about 1933 to 1965 and included architecture as well as industrial, interior, and graphic design. Designers such as Charles and Ray Eames, Harry Bertoia, Arne Jacobsen, and George Nelson created iconic furniture and lighting that are still highly coveted. The architectural style, seen in the work of talents such as Richard Neutra and Rudolph Schindler, is known for its use of expanses of glass, flat planes, and a strong connection to nature.
2. What are the inspirations behind midcentury design?
The style grew out of early-20th-century Modernism, including the International and Bauhaus movements. Midcentury really took hold after World War II, thanks to new technologies and materials and a newfound prosperity. The migration to urban areas, and thus smaller living spaces, also influenced the designs of the era.
3. What are the characteristics of midcentury design?
4. How can you tell if a piece is midcentury?
“Identifying midcentury pieces isn’t always easy,”says Meghan Lavery and Daniel King, the founders of Home Union, a Brooklyn-based boutique specializing in homeware from the era. “Midcentury furniture functions very well because of its simplicity and fine craftsmanship. But generally you can look for the obvious clues, such as peg legs or hardware. Another great tip is to look for country of manufacture—Denmark, Yugoslavia, Japan, Italy, and America are often authentic midcentury.” To put it simply, do your homework before you make any investments.
5. What's the best way for a new collector to use midcentury furniture?
If you're looking to incorporate midcentury furniture into your home for the first time, Daniel and Meghan suggest starting with whatever pieces the room might be lacking. If you’re in need of a cocktail table, spring for a midcentury design that works with the space. “Any starting point is a good one," they say, "and building piece by piece, in our opinion, is the best way to create a unique space. That said, the staple midcentury pieces we think can make or break a space are a credenza, arm chair, or a good lamp.” Don't be afraid to mix midcentury with pieces from other periods. “We both agree that the cleanliness and minimalism of midcentury furniture is a timeless look that blends so well with other types of home decor,” says Meghan. “I’m driven by finding pieces that tell their own stories. Some pieces may tell a story of frequent hosts of late-night parties, while others tell the story of a wholesome family eating Sunday dinners at the dining table on Mom’s cherished china.”
6. Should you steer clear of some materials?
If that credenza you're eyeing isn't solid wood, don't fret. “People are often disappointed when they learn that a piece of furniture is made with wood veneer, not solid—and I think that’s wrong!” says Daniel. Some of his favorite and most sought-after pieces of the midcentury are made using veneer. “It’s not a new technique only implemented to make cheaper furniture. Vintage pieces made with veneer have lasted as long as they have because they are made for function, with matching woods and inlay work.”
7. What colors work well with midcentury furniture?
The traditional midcentury palette ranged from bright hues in the 1950s to earthy colors in the 1960s, so the style works with a many different shades. Not ready for pops of red or olive upholstery? “Muted colors and pastels work really well for us,” Daniel and Meghan tell AD.“Especially pale pink. Neutrals never go out of style.”
8. How do you complete a midcentury-inspired space?
It’s all in the accessorizing. “For stylish touches, we tend to gravitate toward things we are passionate about and items we use day to day—leave out only what you need,” says the pair. “We love plants, floor pillows, and rocks, but we do our best to remain clutter free.” Their latest obsession: candlestick holders. An easy way to prevent your space from looking too uniform is by incorporating furniture of different heights. “It’s best to not have everything be too low or too high. Mix it up,” says the duo. “We love a low sofa and a low coffee table, but try adding in an arc lamp as a contrast in height and to complete the space.”