On a recent trip to Palm Springs, California, I was taken aback by the beautiful simplicity of mid-century modern design. Here in Palm Springs, form meets function, graphic prints abound, and proportions are perfectly balanced. If you love the mid-century vibe but haven’t been to Palm Springs, I highly recommend you visit ASAP. And even if mid-mod isn’t your thing, you’ll certainly enjoy the gorgeous landscape and great hair days the desert has to offer!
Read on for 10 easy and iconic ways mid-century design can be incorporated into your home.
1) The Sunburst
This iconic design is everywhere these days, stemming from the Modernist concept that furnishings should of course be functional – but they can also be considered works of art. I’m sure you’ve seen a sunburst design or two at your favorite home décor store recently. The sunburst mirror is believed to date back to the days of King Louis XIV of France, who had a love for the sun and a love for mirrors. Considered trendy by some and timeless by others, one thing remains true – the sunburst design has been decorating interiors for centuries. Found in everything from light fixtures and wall art to clocks, ceiling medallions, and even drawer pulls – the sunburst may be here to stay.
2) Clean Lines + Natural Hues
Less is sometimes more, but less is always more in the world of mid-century modern. Subtle, thoughtful craftsmanship is what has, in part, made the mid-century style timeless. Furniture will follow the mantra of “form follows function” and unnecessary parts will be omitted. Think of this refreshing simplicity when selecting mid-century furnishings! Do not be afraid of white walls – they happen to graciously let furniture details and textures steal the show. If you really want that mid-mod vibe, try accenting with natural colors such as mustard yellow, avocado green, or burnt orange within your space.
3) Geometric Patterns
An obvious staple to the mid-century modern look, bold geometric shapes give strong visual focus to any space. Geometric patterns may be used in upholstery, furniture, rugs, or wallcoverings. A playful geometric pop within a single aspect of a room can have a bold impact. But for the love of all things mid-mod, be careful to use patterns sparingly and always remember the “less is more” mentality!
4) The Sputnik Light
This popular mid-century light fixture is one I hope never disappears! Named after the first satellite to orbit the earth in 1957, the Sputnik light originates from the “Atomic Age” of design from around 1940 – 1960, when the “Space Age” was quickly approaching and there were growing concerns of nuclear war. There are so many unique variations of this light to choose from when incorporating it into your space. From more organic bubble forms to bistro globe chandeliers, the Sputnik light has evolved into a statement piece for any room.
5) “Streamlined” Furniture
Think lightweight, thin framed, wooden furniture pieces with a “low slung” look. Mid-century modern furniture in the post-WW2 era was designed to serve multiple purposes without fussy ornamentation. Florence Knoll created one of the most modern yet timeless sofas in use today, where form met function in scaled-down proportions. Resulting from the scarcity of traditional building materials during the war, new materials and shapes also came into use. Charles and Ray Eames created the iconic Eames Lounge and Ottoman produced by Herman Miller and sought to prove that “modern” can be synonymous with “comfort”. This lounge chair made of molded plywood, leather, and aluminum had “the warm receptive look of a well-used first baseman’s mitt,” according to Charles Eames. Today, it remains one of the most sought-after and coveted mid-century furnishings. Scandinavian minimalism design and teak wood also became increasingly popular and remain so even today – cue the home décor aisles at your local Target here. Mid-century design seeks to unclutter and simplify while using functional, comfortable, and practical pieces. Furniture characteristics to look for when incorporating these mid-century pieces into your home include:
- Clean lines with simple designs and neat proportions
- Wood with natural finishes, tapered legs
- Functional shape – Options may include curved lines which create a more fluid, “floating” look, or straight lines creating a bold, geometric look.
6) House Plants
Today’s open floor plans stem from mid-century homes with their large open spaces and easy indoor-outdoor flow. Mid-century homes find a way to connect the indoor and outdoor living spaces, allowing a natural progression from one to the other. Eichler homes, designed by Joseph Eichler, introduced mid-century design to the masses post-WW2. Inspired by Frank Lloyd Wright, Eichler created low, horizontal homes featuring a strong connection to nature by utilizing skylights, floor-to-ceiling windows, natural materials, and walls of glass. These design elements blurred the lines between indoor and outdoor spaces. House plants were popular in the 1970s and have since made quite the comeback. While it may not be possible, or practical, for you to re-create an Eichler home design, these elevated mid-century planters are one example of bringing the outdoors in. Plant-based motifs are also making a comeback, in everything from wallpaper to bedding and throw pillows. The Martinique banana leaf print wallpaper was designed in 1942 by Don Loper for the Beverly Hills Hotel and became a staple of post-war American design. This wallpaper icon can be found present-day in celebrity homes, restaurants, and hotels across the United States. I can think of few dreamier wallpapers to create an accent wall with!
7) Retro Art
From pop art to bold geometric prints and colorful abstracts, retro artwork can be such a fun way to incorporate mid-century design within your home. My personal favorite? These graphic black & white mid-century prints which are bold yet remain neutral, allowing for pops of color to be incorporated elsewhere within a room. Sculptural pieces and textural wall hangings were also popular during this time. Macramé is thought to have originated with 13th-century Arab weavers and has fluctuated in popularity over the centuries. In the 1970s, macramé became increasingly popular and was used for wall hangings, clothing, tablecloths, plant hangers, and other home furnishings. Today, think of the trendy macramé wall hangings popping up everywhere.
If there’s one thing iconic to mid-century modern design it could easily be considered the use of differing textures. When not overdone, combining various textures is a sure way to liven up any room by adding visual interest. While crushed velvet is currently having a moment, and may or may not be calling your name, there are plenty of other textured upholstery options for mid-century design including leather, fur, corduroy, tweed, and mohair. Although difficult to clean, an accent shag rug can add just the right amount of mid-mod vibe to your living space. Stone fireplaces, smooth glass table tops, sleek ceramics, and of course wooden furniture and accent pieces are also ways to incorporate different textures within a space. Various metals and plastic materials were on the rise during the post-war era and appeared in a wide range of furnishings during this time. Don’t be afraid to mix thy metals in small doses and utilize different metal textures – a trend I personally hope never dies.
9) Geometric Bookshelves
With clean-lined silhouettes and often featuring three rectangular shelves or even a zig-zag approach, geometric bookshelves are a great pick for a midcentury-inspired space. Finish options include wood, metal, or even Lucite – again, another way of introducing texture within your space. Form meets function with this étagère, providing a mid-century solution to decluttering. Composed of metal, wood, and lacquer, this bookshelf brings the win for mixing materials and textures.
10) The Bar Cart
In true Mad Men form, the bar cart was an iconic staple to the mid-century era. These fun carts can be used for so much more than simply your favorite alcoholic beverages. Bar carts are great for bathroom storage, coffee stations, nursery necessities, as a side table, a kitchen cart, or even in your home office. You can even use a bar cart for a super cute plant stand option! Bar carts can be made from a wide variety of materials, and are yet again, another great way of introducing texture to your mid-century modern look.
You may not incorporate all of these mid-mod icons, but I hope you have found a few fun options to include when creating a mid-century vibe within your home. Mid-century pieces have proven their versatility and work well when combined with pieces from other eras. The result? An eclectic feel – that isn’t so time-capsule-ish. The following retailers are great places to find mid-century furniture and décor for various budgets:
Live well, by design.