We’ve said it before and we’ll say it again: mid-century modern is a trend that’s here to stay! What is it about this particular style that has helped it endure the test of time so well? The list of timeless design elements goes on and on! For one, mid-century modern design was created with comfort in mind and it’s a look that is meant to be used and lived with. Who doesn’t love a practical design element that makes economical use of space?
Mid-century modern style also offers the perfect marriage between form and function. It features minimal ornamentation, so it’s super easy to care for and keep clean. The design seamlessly blends clean lines and crisp shapes with bright colors and organic materials for a look that’s both bold and approachable. There’s a lot to love about this classic style, especially when it comes to mid-century living room design.
Thinking about designing your living room in mid-century style? Read on for our list of Modsy “Must-Haves”—the essential checklist of mid-century living room furniture to help you ace that perfect retro look. Incorporate one or two pieces for a slightly mid-century space, or go full-steam ahead with the whole list!
Furniture With Tapered Legs
No mid-century modern space would be complete without tapered-leg furniture, as noted by Modsy’s very own VP of Style, Alessandra Wood in this HuffPost article. If you are looking for mid-century living room furniture, look for pieces with this signature look.
Why? Tapered legs add height and drama to any piece of furniture, making larger pieces—like a big sectional sofa—feel lighter and less cumbersome. The sleek lines and triangular shape of tapered legs draw the eye up and make smaller spaces seem more open and airy. Not only do they look clean, but they also make it easy to clean underneath pieces.
It’s a “must-have” because… The simple elegance of tapered legs is perhaps the most enduring legacy of the mid-century modern furniture movement. Their functionality and streamlined forms make them perfect for almost any space, truly giving this trend a leg (or four!) to stand on.
A Retro Side Chair
Part of what makes mid-century style so distinctive is its clever mix of strong shapes, vibrant colors, and materials. A fun mid-century chair design, like this one, is the perfect piece of mid-century furniture to complete your living room design. Look for one with a frame made of natural wood and cushions with colorful upholstery. Mid-century modern style is all about simple, streamlined shapes and organic forms, which an accent chair like this really shows off.
It’s a “must-have” because… A mid-century modern chair not only provides extra seating but gives you an opportunity to highlight some of the best elements of mid-century style through the chair’s shape and materials.
Natural or Acorn Wood Finishes
While mid-century modern design is known for popularizing a slew of man-made materials for the home (think: fiberglass, vinyl, and concrete), its use of natural wood is truly exemplary. Warm finishes in teak or acorn tones are super common in mid-century designs and they are used for their warm, inviting quality. West Elm, a brand known for its mid-century-inspired designs, has a full line of mid-century furniture in an acorn finish, bringing this trend to life in modern homes.
If an acorn finish isn’t your vibe, you can also opt for darker walnut finishes, or you can give your space a more Scandinavian Modern vibe with a natural wood finish. Whatever wood finish you choose, streamlined mid-century shapes and minimal ornamentation bring out the beauty of the wood.
It’s a “must-have” because… We all need a little warmth in our space and mid-century wood pieces are the perfect way to add subtle (and design-savvy) sensibility to yours.
Accents in Primary Colors
One of the most fun components of mid-century design is its playful use of color! Historically, mid-century spaces utilized a mix of bold, primary colors, with yellows and blues being especially popular. You can also try pairing complementary or secondary colors to capture that retro feel in a more approachable way—think yellow and turquoise or lilac and tangerine. Layer in pops of neutrals or beige to keep it from going too technicolor—there’s no need to go crazy with colors in a classy style like this.
It’s a “must-have” because… Vibrant color is an integral part of the mid-century design aesthetic. It adds a sense of levity and joy to the serious designs and geometric shapes of the movement.
Geometric Shapes and Accents
Eye-catching geometric accents are absolute mid-century necessities. These shapes can show up in both mid-century modern furniture and home decor.
Hugely popular in mid-century design, the tripod lamp is a great example of how to incorporate geometric shapes and sleek lines into your mid-century space. Tripod legs add stability while maintaining a simple and elegant form—it’s both functional and design-savvy.
A starburst mirror or atomic light fixture are also popular staples of mid-century style. Both feature a whimsical and retro look that creates an immediate focal point in a room. End tables, bookcases, and coffee tables with strong geometry in their design are another great way to bring both form and function into a mid-century modern design.
It’s a “must-have” because… The dynamic shapes used in mid-century design are not only eye-catching, but they also often work to enhance the quality of the space by creating focal points around a room.
Organic and Natural Textures
Mixing organic textures was all the rage during the peak of the mid-century era! Incorporating these textures in your furniture and home decor is still a great way to bring a room together today.
Looking for ways to do this? A square leather ottoman features a simple shape that can bring out the vintage of the leather. A patterned jute rug gets double mid-century style points for its groovy geometric pattern and organic material. And a marble-top coffee table adds a bit of luxury to the more down-to-earth design elements in a mid-century space. Plus, when paired with slender metal legs or tapered wood legs, it gives a piece like this additional mid-century finesse.
It’s a “must-have” because… A big tenet of the mid-century movement was making designs that were both comfortable and livable. The organic materials preferred by many mid-century designers (leather, teak, tweed, jute) reflected that sensibility, providing both natural warmth and durability.
Iconic Furniture Pieces
So many amazing signature design styles came out of the mid-century movement that it’s easy to find an item (whether it’s an original or a reproduction) that’s perfect for your own take on mid-century.
What are some of the most iconic furniture pieces that came out of the mid-century modern design movement? The Noguchi coffee table designed by Isamu Noguchi, is a classic representation of bold mid-century style, with its tear-drop-shaped glass top and boomerang-shaped legs. The Eames lounge chair and ottoman or the Jeanneret Chair designed by Pierre Jeanneret are a few other classics. There are lots of gorgeous (and affordable) reproductions that make them easily accessible—you don’t have to hunt down and pay the hefty price for an original!
It’s a “must-have” because… Having a recognizable piece of mid-century modern furniture will not only give you some design cred, but it also functions as a work of art and adds tons of visual interest to your space!
A Bar Cabinet
Want to bring those Mad Men vibes into your living room? A simple, clean-lined bar cabinet serves up plenty of mid-century charm while giving a home to your bottles and barware. Look for a bar cabinet with a simple shape, tapered legs, and a warm wood finish. Antique brass hardware is a refined detail present in lots of mid-century furniture pieces, so those details add to the retro style of a modern bar cabinet!
Style tip: Add some retro accessories like a gold martini shaker for extra mid-century pizzazz! We think Don Draper would approve!
It’s a “must-have” because… This retro piece of furniture is a great way to incorporate more mid-century shapes into your space while offering plenty of functional closed storage.
A Conversational Layout
One of the key philosophies of mid-century design was to create social spaces that were equal parts functional and inviting for gatherings. This is why these spaces tend to have such a conversational feel.
To create a conversational layout in your space, keep things casual. Try an asymmetrical arrangement of your furniture, which will feel less formal and more inviting. Play with proportion by using foundational pieces with different shapes and colors. This helps create dimension and draws the eye around the conversational area instead of into one focal point as more formal spaces do.
It’s a “must-have” because… Many mid-century designers wanted to create spaces which made social gathering feel more organic and fun. Using mid-century furniture to create a living room that feels open and welcoming is the perfect way to make your space feel both modern and homey.
Another great way to drive home the mid-century vibes of your space is through home decor—especially wall art. Artwork is like the crown jewel of a room—so it can really pull a whole mid-century modern space together.
Non-objective, abstract art grew in popularity in the 50s and 60s, so look for pieces that have that abstract quality. Graphic patterns and geometric shapes were popular motifs in the mid-century, as were primary and bold colors—so, look for pieces with these qualities. You could also look to popular mid-century artists, like Jackson Pollock, for inspiration. Framing a print of a famous piece of artwork or looking for pieces in a similar style are great ways to bring your space to life.
It’s a “must-have” because… Mid-century modern art is so recognizable and iconic—so a mid-century space really needs some statement art.
Since geometric patterns were so popular in mid-century design, it makes sense to incorporate geometric shapes in a large piece like your rug. An area rug with a geometric pattern adds movement, plush texture, and dimension to any room. (Rugs are also great for zoning open floor plans and adding a plush base to any seating area.)
It’s a “must-have” because… Adding a geometric rug is a great way to bring mid-century modern design elements and patterns to your space while also offering a practical element.Shop This Look
Ready to Design Your Mid-Century Modern Space?
This post was updated on June 28, 2021