Design enthusiasts praise the mid-century modern style – but what is it, exactly? Coined by author Cara Greenberg in her 1984 collection, mid-century modern refers to pieces from the 40’s, 50’s and 60’s which pushed the limits of engineering. Desperate for creativity after World War II, famed designers took war materials and molded them into iconic chairs, tables, and lights – goods still sought after and replicated – furniture whose design was never bettered. Follow our detailed guide and links on how to incorporate mid-century modern pieces – and the style’s philosophy of good living – into your own inspired living room full of 50’s wonder.
Visualizer: Sam Habbaba
Make mid-century modern look effortless. Fit your lounge with the high, wooden windows typical of the style, using a tilter to afford fresh air. By using wooden-legged furniture, here a peach accent chair, nested coffee tables and long three-seater, your interior can offer difference without one piece dominating. Light a swing arm wall lamp like this, beside a Bell table lamp by Tom Dixon to pair matching metallics. Sprigs of poppies could add focus behind your couch, as ferns pop up in planters across your living room. By matching a leather floor pouf to your wooden joinery, you can provide a place to read books surrounding the TV.
Designer: Orlando Soria
Imagine mid-century modern away on holiday. Use shades of white, turquoise and gold beside an artificial Areca palm to create an everyday getaway. Stretch a Jute rug beneath your couches to add a dash more colour, and tie metallic end tables, each featuring three rounds of glass, into hues for leaf-patterned pillows. Prism coffee tables can further catch the eye with triangular legging, as a large arc floor lamp bends over the scene. Light up a wall of windows with the day’s incoming sun, finishing with turquoise tunes in a tufted floor pillow, couch cushions and table ornaments.
Visualizer: Studio Aiko
As day sets, settle for something warmer. Heat up a more masculine scene with a ceiling-held fireplace beside a white Wegner-style shell chair. Sit a wood and metal coffee table on a Jute rug to centre the space. Two Wegner Papa Bear-style chairs can cuddle up beside a monochrome ottoman, while a couch in the same hue can offer more snuggling. Polish off your interior with grass views through glass panes.
Visualizer: Aleksandr Kalinov
Grey and light wood are classic mid-century modern hues. Keep warmth in your living room with wooden walls on either side, while grey hues in your floor, seating and Jackson Pollock painting (here the number 14 in Gray) keep it spacious. Use the style’s ceiling-height windows to bring in light, and an Axis floor lamp to bring a focused glow to seating. With the Axis’ golden base harking to the seat and square coffee table’s legs, it’s easy to add glitz to this relaxed scene.
Designer: Jessica Helgerson
Think outside the square when designing inside. House trees in hand-blown glass, a table in spotted driftwood and a Jute rug in natural weave. Insert wooden-frame lounge chairs and floors to make it more modern, and two spiralling wall ornaments to match their tone. Ceramics in jade and lots of white – here shown in the lounges, walls and chaise longue – create breathing space for your outdoorsy interior.
Photographer: Federico Cedrone
Create the look with different materials and textures. To design an eclectic, yet not overpowering, living room, coat your seating brown in leather Barcelona-style chairs, mid-century modern classic chairs, and a blue metal accent chair in the Platner style. Join together a marble coffee table, metallic standing lamp and tulip-style end tables to create a lounge that looks ever so put-together.
Mid-century modern was originally created for smaller spaces. Use a brown leather sofa like the room above, but create your own vibe with a lightbulb pendant and dreamscape surfing photography. Let geometrics linger in a pentagon-legged coffee table and grey patterned rug. A range of potted plants, most notably here the Boston fern, can sit with your objects and photos to tie the look in.
Designer: AB Curated
Looking a little larger, this living room uses brown as an accent for notable pieces. To achieve this look, sit a demure mid-century sofa upon a varnished floor in the hue. Face two chairs in the style towards the couch for conversation, letting a sofa cushion, framed print and turntable box match them in colour. By using classic mid-century modern pieces, here a geometric-legged coffee table and standing swing lamp, you can add nature in potted ferns and an artificial ZZ plant. Lie a red Turkish rug upon your floor to suggest travel and avoiding jarring colours.
Designer: Desiron Lizon
The mid-century look can look super-modern – although its pieces have never changed. Make like this sloped-roof living room and use a couple of masterpieces, such as the Verner Panton S-style chair and cheeky Ray Eames elephant. Other interesting finds, like the tortoise with the elephant, or red shell couch to the back, can add character. Build ceiling-height windows and rows of long wooden bookshelving to cement your interior’s mid-century modern influence.
Source: Barker & Stonehouse
Metallics are not just for the 21st Century. Employ them as feature pieces, by hanging a convex wall round and sitting a large copper floor lamp on your floor. Add hints of blue in a Myers sofa and rug to match patterned wallpaper, lending the blue to more knitted poufs. Finish with a few florals in a vase full of snapdragons, printed cushion and leaning stamen painting.
Photographer: Wells Campbell
Create an entertaining area the 50’s greats would’ve been proud of. If decorating for a large, high-windowed space, scale up its walls with widely-spaced wooden panels, a series of white pendants and a large abstract artwork. Cover the floors and fireplace with red brick, keeping it warm with a large faux fur rug. Create a space for a chaise longue, Tom Dixon Wingback and school chairs, letting a rounded coffee table meet another in a triangle. Complete the look with a wistful baby grand and standing lamp for company.
Don’t be scared to have colour at your centre. Draw in the eye with a psychedelic piece beside a relaxed leather sofa set and geometric marble coffee table. Use light wood to softly cover your chair legs, shelving and wood stack, a potted tree to add nature.
Visualizer: Bruno Helbling
Keep it classic in black, white and brown. Signal an eclectic style with dotted framed abstracts, abstracts like these or these. Employ a range of seating styles to populate your area, such as the Arne Jacobsen-style Egg chair, and a golden floor lamp to match your coffee table. Woollen textures can get cosy in fluffy ottomans, rugs, throws and cushions, whilst plants, such as the natural or artificial Fiddle Leaf Fig, can be presented for show.
Designer: Balodemas Architecture
Baby boomers will remember this decor of their parent’s style. Get nostalgic with a white and wooden frame, centred by a blue wall featuring a bookcase. Place two white sofas beside many smaller windows, and two tripod plant stands to bring the outside in. Draw in guests with a mid-century modern coffee table holding a Russel Wright pitcher full of roses, adding a geometric console in the 50’s style. A bookcase can stand as your final relic, full of vases and picture frames below a George Nelson-style ball clock spreading out its rays.
Designer: Deering Design Studio
Get cosy with 50’s-style colouring. Relax your orange and grey room in three types of seating amidst mid-century style table lamps, available here and here. Hang two rectangular framed prints mirroring the shape of the windows. Design your furniture in light wood to keep it cohesive.
Designer: Christian Dean
Grey and orange couldn’t look more different in this open plan rendition. Break colour dominance in your living room with two berry chairs and the Noguchi table by Herman Miller, now available as an original or replica. Match its shine with a Flos Arco-style lamp gleaming silver in the corner, adding a hint of life with wooden plant stands. We recommend a simple grey rug and shelved ornaments to finish.
Designer: Cynthia Prizant
Heavily influenced by 30’s painter Mondrian, this living room uses mostly geometric shapes, shapes that Mondrian believed were of a higher nature. Open your living room to a bold feature wall almost copied from his pieces, falling to a triangular-patterned rug and chairs in block colouring. Allow breathing space by decorating with simple windows, white walls and a wooden table, console and floor.
Lucky enough to be surrounded by windows? Clothe your interior in charcoal, like this unique space. Showcase a ceiling-high feature fireplace amongst wooden accent chairs, adding small pops of colour in couch cushions, magazines, and two pieces of abstract art.
Visualizer: Int2 Architecture
After more muted hues? Colour your furniture in teal and taupe, bordered by white walls and patterned floors. Matching wooden legs and a stone bookcase provide a good background for an Orient pendant looping over your wall.
Make your living room warmer, with a floor and half-wall in the polished wood of the style. Wrap a stone-coloured L-sofa around your windows, complementing the look with a white lined rug. Play with iconic pieces such as a Platner-style coffee table, black Swan-style chair and Serge Mouille floor lamp peeping over your sofa. Offer a spot by the fire with an Eames-style walnut stool. Splash turquoise about in hued watercolours and cushions.
Designer: Risa Boyer
Keep it warm yet light with wood and orange tones. Carve a wooden roof with rafters over a stark white floor, diffusing your bright orange wall with a rug in brown checkers. Opt for an Eames lounge chair, available as an original or replica, to tie your TV and orange hues together. A suite in taupe could look out to a Noguchi table, whose Herman Miller original and now-available replica are iconic of this style. Complete the look with a fireplace, cushions and vases.
Photographer: Federico Cedrone
Make the most of a beautiful outdoor view, with a few mid-century modern pieces. Wind a cream L-sofa beside a unique end table, here the iconic Platner side table, whose oscillating bands reflect the midday sun. Adding a lower side table, ball lamp and classic fluffy rug can make this look last a lifetime.
Source: Solar Innovations
Decorate your living room a la Mad Men. Make the most of your high windows with a marble centre, brown leather seating and unique ceiling fans shown here. Pepper your lounge with standing lamps and an olive green armchair, for a perfect place to relax and watch the show.
Source: LA Times
Design like the Eames’ – using their own Pacific Palisades living room as inspiration. Take cues from their contemporary Mondrian, and build double-height windows and high wooden bookcases with his rectangular forms. Nest amidst a bevy of indoor plants, using the Eames’ chair designs and iconic bird, available as an Eames Bird replica. Fill vases with flowers, lean a ladder to the ceiling and add hanging paper lanterns to complete your homage.
Photographer: Ezra Stoller
Designed by architect Eero Saarinen for the industrialist J. Irwin Miller, this also-famous home was the beginning of a once-burgeoning trend – the conversation pit. Get inspired by Spanish and Middle Eastern influences, and construct a pink-couched depression in the middle of your floor, offering a space for focused chat. Scatter differently-coloured cushions to complement an iron table, figure and pot. A few roses in and out of the pit can also pretty up the scene.
Centre your mid-century modern living room around a rug. Take a bright-coloured Cubic rug and set it upon a wooden floor, inviting companionship with black chairs in the style. Accent the look with a marble standing fireplace and retro-style floor lamp.
Designer: Disc Interiors
White and wood mixes with grey and blue in this mid-century modern interior. Light its décor with a fireplace illuminating pockets of wood holding ornaments and frames. Starburst wall décor can act as your headline piece, while a shaggy rug, gold-rimmed table and geometric cushions create your home’s rested guests.
Visualizer: Valkyrie Studio
Looking for more modern adaptations of the mid-century modern style? These last three interiors should yield inspiration. This particular look, blessed with the décor’s high windows, can be achieved using more muted shades of wood to cover your floors and walls. Replace the style’s characteristic floor lamps with LEDs lighting each wall. Place a rug in the centre, and stand a plethora of chair styles in more recent materials. A low marble table can act as your room’s pivot point.
Use the classic mid-woods of the mid-century modern style, but throw distressed floorboards and charcoal into the mix. Go for the classic look with wooden window joinery, a Wegner-style Shell, mid-century style console and voluptuous bookshelf. Make it more modern with framed prints, not paintings; a rug that’s neat, not shaggy; and a central couch and ottoman that match a modern pendant.
Make mid-century modern work with a sunny veranda. Employ the starburst wall décor and laden bookshelves of old, adding a lime couch and black-painted floorboards. Add a central fireplace and rug to show evolution of the style. A Noguchi-style coffee table and faux sheepskin pillows can further twist the classics.
Recommended Reading: Ultimate Guide To Mid Century Modern Chairs