An enduring appeal
What is it about mid-century modern style that still so appeals today? Is it the sleek, unfussy silhouettes of the furniture, the metal hairpin legs or the use of teak, rosewood and walnut? Could it be the association between large windows and the careful positioning of house plants to blur the boundaries between inside and outside? Alternatively, is it to do with bright colours, geometric patterns, bold lighting and a general absence of dust-gathering ornaments?
In short, it is all of these things. More than that, it is also important as a signifier of a new post-war world and of the rapid technological developments of those years.
Due to its origins in both the German Bauhaus movement and, thanks to the trans-Atlantic pre-war migration of many of the associated designers, also in America, it was not until after the end of the Second World War that mid-century modern design came into its own in the UK. However, as incomes rose, rationing receded and the “make do and mend” mindset became a choice rather than a necessity, people began to choose furniture and decor for its functionality and aesthetic value rather than because it was all that was available.
More than 70 years after its inception, mid-century modern design remains hugely popular. Perhaps you grew up surrounded by it or have admired the look in the homes of friends, relatives or in museums and galleries, and now want to recreate its appeal in your own home.
How you go about this depends on whether you want to reproduce the look in its entirety or prefer to use elements of it. Budget may be a consideration but, with persistence and a little ingenuity, you might be surprised what you can achieve with even limited funds courtesy of contemporary retailers and the likes of Etsy, eBay and vintage shops.
We’ve already touched on the importance of such attractive, light-reflecting woods as teak, rosewood and walnut. Many of the best-known designers of the original era, including the eponymous Eames, made very good use of these woods. However, these designers also extended their interest to include plastic, vinyl, Plexiglass, glass and plywood so you should not be afraid to include pieces made from similar materials.
Furniture shape and silhouette
A defining feature of furniture from the era is its sleek, streamlined silhouette. Resolutely unfussy, these pieces are the antithesis of the heavy, often intricately carved “dark brown” items of the earlier Victorian and Edwardian eras. Due to their popularity, mid-century pieces can be considerably pricier than older items. Fortunately, this popularity has also prompted a revival of mid-century-style designs from contemporary designers, and this can be a more affordable way of incorporating the style into your home.
Alternatively, a single vintage item, particularly if it’s a large statement piece, such as a sideboard or Saarinen tulip chair, can be an effective focal point and give a definite nod towards mid-century modern styling.
For many lovers of the era, the bright colours of the fifties and the acid shades of the sixties encapsulate mid-century modern design. Judicious use of “pops” of colour is a great – and usually inexpensive – way of making your home resonate with the period. Cushions, throws and blankets are easy ways to include colour although, to be as authentic as possible, be wary of using pieces with embellishments such as sequins or embroidery. A simple geometric pattern is far more typical of the era. If you’re feeling bold, you might choose to use wallpaper to generate the same period feel.
Glass and greenery
The mid-century modern style evolved around relatively small modern homes with disproportionately large windows that were used as a focal point. Regardless of the size of your home and its windows, you can mimic the look by using minimalist window dressings and careful placing of houseplants. Positioning large, easy-to-grow types, such as spider plants and yuccas, close to windows helps draw the eye towards what lies beyond the glass.
Finally, do not overlook lighting. While the mid-century modern period is not known for its love of knick-knacks or ornaments, lighting, whether in the form of ceiling pendants, floor lamps or side lamps, is critical. Tinted glass shades, starburst pendants and ceramic lamp bases etched with geometric designs are all typical of the period and are widely available from contemporary retailers.