What Is Mid-Century Modern?

Lauren Murphy
Written by Lauren Murphy
Updated June 14, 2021
a midcentury modern style sofa in a loft style livingroom with wood accents, a wood wall, and hanging lighting
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Mid-century modern designs are a way to make your home feel clean and timeless

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Mid-century modern is a design style made popular in the middle of the 20th century in the U.S. It regained popularity in the late 20th and early 21st century, with furniture retailers and homebuilders constantly vying for the mid-century modern look characterized by clean, simple lines and natural materials. Today it’s a popular design style you’ve definitely seen before—even if you couldn’t put a name to it.

Mid-Century Modern Characteristics

Mid-century modern is a widely popular home and decor style spotlighted in television shows like “Mad Men” and “The Brady Bunch.” Or, if cartoons are more your thing, picture the sleek, modern living spaces featured in “The Jetsons.

Key elements of mid-century modern design include:

Mid-Century Modern Examples

Perhaps the best-known producer of mid-century modern furniture in the U.S. is Herman Miller, a company that works with many impressive modern designers who help to create iconic mid-century modern furniture pieces. 

One of the most popular is the Eames Lounge Chair, a piece in the Herman Miller furniture catalogue by designers Charles and Ray Eames. If you frequent IKEA, you’ve likely spotted this chic chair (if it isn’t already in your house). The chair was designed to lessen pressure on the lower back while maintaining a clean and organic shape.

The campus at the University of Technology in Helsinki, Finland, is a prime example of mid-century modern architecture. Finnish designer Alvar Aalto designed the building with stunning amphitheater-like auditoriums and strip windows to provide plenty of natural light.

Palm Springs, CA is known for its many mid-century modern houses and buildings. If you’re interested in this design style, book your flight ASAP to get a big dose of inspiration. Just make sure to pack a cute swimsuit and plenty of sunscreen.

Mid-Century Modern Pros and Cons

Before you purchase a mid-century modern home or go all-in on mid-century modern decor, consider the advantages and disadvantages that come with this unique style.

Pros

  • Simple

  • Matching is easy

If clutter is the bane of your existence, mid-century modern might be a good fit. As far as design styles go, this one is exceptionally streamlined and simple. Mid-century modern decor is functional and typically does not feature embellishments that make your space look busy.

It’s also simple to mix and match mid-century modern pieces. Even mixing with pieces from other design styles will work, adding texture and interest to your space.

Cons

  • Outdated to some

  • High maintenance

While most people consider this style timeless, others favor a more futuristic home look. It’s really a personal preference. But you should also consider the maintenance associated with these home styles. Clutter isn’t an issue, but constant cleaning and exterior upkeep can be. 

Many mid-century modern interiors feature bright whites and clean lines, meaning you’ll have to stay on top of messes to keep things neat. If you have young kids and a dog, that’s a full-time job. 

Plus, natural materials like wood and glass will require extra care as they wear quicker than manufactured materials when exposed to the elements. And if your mid-century modern home comes with lots of large windows, have the window cleaner handy at all times and consider hiring a local window cleaner on occasion.

Mid-century modern living room
John Edward Linden / Corbis Documentary via Getty Images

How To Add Mid-Century Modern Style to Your Home

Mid-century modern interiors look light, clean, and chic; it’s no wonder they’re so beloved. Pieces generally align with the form-follows-function principle, which results in a sort of minimalist appearance. If you’re interested in incorporating this timeless style revamping your own home, there are several ways to go about it.

  • Add furniture with wood accents

  • Prioritize pieces with clean lines

  • Keep decor simple

  • Use bright pendant lights

  • Include sleek mirrors

  • Stick to natural materials

  • Swap stock table legs with hairpin legs

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