Hottest Mid-Century Modern Trends for Your Home

by James SheaMarch 22, 2018

If you’ve watched Mad Men, you’ve seen examples in one of the hottest trends in furniture right now — mid-century modern. The style can decorate a variety of homes, and homeowners have embraced it.
Smiling vintage couple dancing in the kitchen and holding a wooden spoon. The photo is in black and white.

Originally, mid-century modern furniture was produced after World War II until 1965. A revival began in the late 1980s when Cara Greenberg coined the term in her book Mid-Century Modern: Furniture of the 1950s. She was the first person to capture the term as a style, and shortly afterward, mid-century modern was embraced by architects, interior designers, and furniture manufacturers. The trend has grown and as Greenberg wrote in her book, “mid-century modern furniture had more staying power than anyone imagined.”

History

After the war, America experienced a period of exuberance about the future. The economy was expanding, and former soldiers were starting new lives. A large number of homes were constructed, and technology advanced rapidly. Designers tapped into this period in history and looked at the late 19th-century and early 20th-century for inspiration.

The goal was simplicity, and designers moved toward clean lines. Wood was often the main material, but plastic, which was becoming common at the time, was also incorporated into the furniture. An example is the Eames Lounge Chair, designed by two of the most influential designers at the time — Charles and Ray Eames.
A black Eames lounge chair and matching ottoman sit in a minimalistic room.
The chair and matching ottoman were patterned after a nineteenth-century club chair. They featured molded plywood and leather. Released in 1956, the chair was an instant hit and furnished many of the recently constructed homes of the late 1950s and early 1960s. Herman Miller has continuously produced the chair ever since. Original models are highly sought after, and the chair is now housed in museums around the world as a classic example of the period.

By the 1970s, mid-century modern furniture went out of style. The Baby Boomer generation wanted to be defined by a different style, and many companies quit carrying the style. That created a dormant period until Greenberg released her book in the 1980s. As well, during that time, museums held exhibits that showcased the style. By the mid-1990s, art and fashion designers rediscovered the mid-century modern furniture design.

Knoll, which manufactured iconic mid-century designs, opened a showroom in New York City in the early 1990s. The company had exclusively focused on office furniture, but the period saw a downturn in that market. Knoll looked to the residential market, and the showroom made many mid-century modern classic pieces available to the public rather than directly to designers. Herman Miller and other manufacturing companies also began to reissue classic designs.

The style has only grown over time. Original pieces can fetch tens of thousands of dollars at auction. Several companies also produce reasonably priced replicas, but why has the style become so popular?

Simplicity

The term mid-century encompasses a lot of different things. Greenberg defined the term in the 1980s well after the period, and many sellers have attached the mid-century label to pieces that were not part of the original movement. The growth of mid-century modern can be linked to several trends.

First, the furniture is simplistic and works in a variety of places. Mid-century modern fits perfectly in a 1950s ranch-style house or a modern home. The designs mostly incorporate natural wood colors and metal accents. They don’t overwhelm a space and fit well with most wall hangings and other accessories.

The designs are function over form. They are meant to serve a specific purpose in the home and are based on geometric shapes. They often have an organic feel that doesn’t seem dated. It’s not ornate, and most authentic pieces have not been updated over the years.

“[They] sit very well in contemporary homes and interiors—they still feel fresh today, they still feel modern,” said Joshua Holdeman, of Sotheby’s, during an interview with Curbed. “A lot of those pieces haven’t been bettered. They still stand the test of time.”

Nostalgia

Nostalgia also plays a role in the resurgence mid-century modern. Many people are seeking a more simplistic period in history, a time before the Internet and modern communications technology. The mid-20th century was a period where society seemed more stable and optimism was in the air.

Baby Boomers grew up around mid-century modern furniture. Their parents’ homes had mid-century modern furniture, and they often have fond memories of the style. Generation X experienced mid-century modern in a different but still nostalgic way. They visited their grandparent’s houses, which had classic mid-century modern furniture. Millennials view the style as a classic representation of the past and have seen the style on television or in museums.
A living room furnished with mid-century furniture in neutral tones.
“People begin to reflect on their younger days with nostalgia, which involves a longing for the lost past,” said Fred Bryant, a psychology professor at Loyola University in Chicago, in an interview with Houzz.

Well crafted

Mid-century modern furniture was well constructed. Some of the top designers of the era were credited with the style, and the furniture was manufactured by the biggest names in the industry at the time. Adrian Pearsall, Knoll, Broyhill, Brasilia, Le Corbusier, Finn Juhl, Milo Baughman, and Heywood Wakefield were all top mid-century modern brands.

Many of the original pieces are out of the price range for a lot of people, but replicas are manufactured today. Whether it’s an original or a replica, mid-century modern furniture is crafted well and built to last.

Works well with color

Mid-century modern’s simple designs allow homeowners to experiment with colors, and that enhances their appeal. Orange, brown, gray, teal, white and pink all can work with mid-century modern furniture. The goal is to accent the simplistic wood design but not overpower. A little bit of accent color goes a long way and gives a room a vibrant, lively feel.
A vintage green sofa sits in a mock living room with a beige throw blanket over the arm of the sofa. Vintage white standing lamps, houseplants, two round end tables, and a plush green wall complement the room.
Color can be added in a variety of ways. Colored upholstery on a couch or chair is a perfect way to add brightness to mid-century modern décor. Wall hangings are another possibility as well as curtains and throw pillows.

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About The Author
James Shea
James Shea is an award-winning writer and author. He worked for over 10 years as a reporter where he covered development and land-use issues. For the last few years, he had written exclusively about construction and real estate.