So That Your Design Is: Midcentury Modern

What it is: Midcentury modern style reappeared on our radar displays more than a decade ago, however, the wildly popular show Mad Men has pushed it further into the limelight. As its name implies, it spanned a period of about two and a half a year in the middle of the 20th century, by the mid-1940s into 1970. Its simple, new aesthetic arose out of a desire to propel postwar America to the modern age and recast design via a bold new lens.

Why it works: Midcentury contemporary’s emphasis on pared-down forms, contemporary patterns, natural materials and a seamless flow between indoors and outside create a medley of practical comfort and chic style. The look bridges the natural and the man-made, with one foot from the natural world and another in brave new land that still has the ability to surprise us today.

You will love it if: You miss your childhood home’s conversation pit. You are impatient with people who take forever to reach the stage. The previous masters make you yawn — for you, it is modern artwork all the way. You see Pulp Fiction just to hear that Dick Dale–thick soundtrack. You program Sunday nights round — what is? — Mad Men.

More ‘So Your Design Is’:
Traditional | Arts & Crafts | Hollywood Regency | Rustic | Old World | Cottage
French Country | Art Deco | Transitional | Contemporary | Industrial | Eclectic
Coastal | Preppy

Johnson Berman

Design Secret: Indoor-Outdoor Flow

It may seem quaint now, but back in the ’50s, the concept of indoor-outdoor living was revolutionary for the average American. Midcentury modern houses make the most of the new passion for bringing the indoors out and vice versa: wide windows, sliding doors, doors. The idea was to create a connection with the natural world that worked equally well with a book on your lap during a quiet moment or a cocktail in your hand in a party.

Make it yours: If you’ve got the means, space and wish to knock out a wall or install a giant plate-glass window, do not hold back. However, you can still create an indoor-outdoor aesthetic without major demolition. Leave windows bare so as not to obscure the view consider installing skylights. Or, in least, select wallpaper and other colors with a natural motif.

Architects, Webber + Studio

Style Secret: Iconic Furnishings

Midcentury style is exceptional since it’s mostly driven by innovative mass-produced furniture and accents. Maybe no other interval created the exact same quantity of household-name designers and artists as of this age: George Nelson, Charles and Ray Eames, Eero Saarinen and dozens more. Their magnificent furnishings and accents drive and define the look, from Marshmallow couches to sculptural Egg and Womb chairs.

Make it yours: These prizes come at a price, but you can discover knockoffs and reinterpretations that will give you the look, if not the pedigree. Or invest in a single authentic signature piece to anchor the space, then coating it with others that complement the look but aren’t necessarily accurate to the time.

Baltis Architects

Design Secret: Simple Lines, Pure Forms

Midcentury interiors are all about natural style and ease of living, and that is reflected in their structure and trappings. Furnishings and floor plans are stripped down to their essential forms, without the surplus detailing or unnecessary shouts.

Make it yours: Put furnishings and items with striking form on display by making them centerpieces of an otherwise simple room. All these George Nelson Coconut chairs create a quietly stunning focal point, offset from the pop-art wall that they face.

Design Secret: Graphic Patterns

There is nothing bashful about midcentury modern patterns. Bold geometrics, powerful, sensuous curves and whimsical motifs give rooms a strong graphic punch. Heavy, textural fabrics, like burlap or nubbly wool knits, give the routines added weight.

Make it yours: Want the real thing? Many of the fabric-compamy stalwarts of the midcentury age, for example Maharam, Marimekko and Knoll, still create timeless patterns, or new takes on these. Or search for reclaimed midcentury fabrics online.

Style Secret: Statement Lighting

Sputnik chandeliers, Bubble lights, Arco floor lamps — classic midcentury lighting pumps a room’s drama. Although its kinds are sculptural enough to double as artwork, function remains predominant. Yet lighting fixtures from this age are so striking that they have become design motifs all of their own; the background in this dining area even features the PH Artichoke light.

Make it yours: These fixtures are so powerful that it is best to let them have the spotlight — do not force them to contend with each other in a single area. Three or four in 1 room is like adding an excessive amount of vermouth to your martini.

Design By Lisa

Design Secret: Sleek Kitchens

Midcentury kitchens were Meant to represent the wave of the future. Total of showy, shiny new appliances, vivid colors and space-age surfaces, they are intended to look compact and cutting edge — at least for their own time. Simplicity principles: slab cabinet doors, plain counter borders, no-fuss materials.

Make it yours: Even if your kitchen looks as though it came out of a Tuscan villa, you can give it a midcentury spin without too much difficulty. Remove paneled cabinet doors and install frameless versions, dress the flooring with cork or linoleum, or choose a brightly colored patterned laminate and vibrant backsplash tiles.

Style Secret: Stage Art and Accents

We know — that is a fairly broad umbrella. But the midcentury days were so rich with innovative and talented musicians, from Hockney and Pollock into Calder and Lichtenstein, that you truly have a great deal of latitude. Their work reflected bold new land in the art world, and it matches this groundbreaking style perfectly. Finish the room with classic midcentury accessories, like an Eames Hang-It-All or even a George Nelson clock.

Make it yours: If you happen to be sitting on a Warhol first, then go pat yourself on the back and forth. The other 99 percent of us can look for reproduction prints or surf sites like Etsy and 20×200 for functions that reflect the fashion of midcentury masters. Museum stores, both in person and online, are terrific resources for cheap art inspired by the greats.

Amy Lau Design

Design Secret: Neutrals Paired With Brights

warm and earthy colors, mostly through the natural woods that predominate, are central to the midcentury palette. Nevertheless it wouldn’t do for this look to come across as overly quiet, and a couple of strokes of rich, saturated colour give it power and presence. You will probably want to bypass the blushing pinks and pale lilacs, but the choice of saturated colors spans the spectrum.

Make it yours: The very best thing about midcentury colors: There aren’t lots of rules. Want to pair persimmon and plum? Go for it. Or bring in rich teal, avocado, oxblood red, gold or all of the above — unexpected colour combos suit this style.

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