8 Approaches to Mid-Century Modern Design

If you’re among those attracted to streamlined and minimalistic style, there are ways to incorporate these touches into your home without a total remodel.


The TV show “Mad Men” has not only earned widespread praise and dozens of awards, it’s also inspired a renaissance for mid-century modern design. If you’re among those attracted to streamlined and minimalistic style, there are ways to incorporate these touches into your home without a total remodel.

Mid-century modern describes an era of style and design that began in the mid-1940s and continued into the mid-1960s. At the time, architecture was greatly influenced by Frank Lloyd Wright’s environmental focus and Ludwig Mies van der Rohe’s functional structures. Most of these homes included expansive windows, open layouts and materials such as glass, wood, metal and concrete.

Interiors complemented the architecture with furniture made of natural resources and sleek, modern plastic accessories — think egg chairs, bubble lamps, tulip tables and geometric-shaped, low-slung furniture. Each piece had a function, and lines were clean and simple.

As cyclical styles re-emerge, they’re often paired with contemporary elements to bridge the time lapse. Here are tips from eight designers who are successfully incorporating mid-century modern touches into their designs:

1. Fresh texture

Emily Henderson, a frontrunner in mid-century modern style and a designer featured on HGTV, advocates white-painted walls and no more than five accent hues per room. Her designs are asymmetrical and full of texture. One highlight is her trademark inclusion of plants. The punch of rich green works effortlessly with her mod finishes.

2. Budget antiques

Designer and blogger Carrie Waller mastered 1960s decor with retro patterns and lamps, all while on budget. Her takeaway advice is to wait for the perfect piece. She decorated her home by perusing estate sales, collecting old brass animals and other iconic accents.

3. Clean simplicity

Blogger and event planner Camille Styles offers expertise across numerous design styles, but often incorporates mid-century modern touches into her projects. The design for her new office space is focused on function, with minimal furniture, closed storage for clean lines and ample lighting. She opts for soothing neutral hues with pops of color.

4. Planned vision

Designer Darlene Weir is function-focused and says envisioning a plan is the key to any successful design. Having a specific vision before she ever begins a design project enables her to avoid clutter from the outset. Her mid-century modern flair is reflected through her choice of furniture. Whether paired with cottage or contemporary styles, Weir’s chairs and sofas are true 1960s design inspiration.

5. Statement piece

Vintage furniture helps ground Erin Gates’ mid-century modern rooms. The designer uses just one statement piece per room and allows that single piece to inspire the rest of the furniture and accent choices within the space. Because vintage elements can get expensive, splurging for a single statement item is a cost-effective method for successful styling.

6. Eclectic layers

Designer Kristin Jackson prefers to blend eclectic design with mid-century modern style for a layered look. A room that features wood accessories only, for instance, is not nearly as interesting as one that layers elements such as wood, metal, fresh flowers, antique lamps, brass accents and retro patterns. Before making any big investments, she suggests shopping your own home. Rearrange your decor to expose the perfect accents for the greatest design impact.

7. Researched history

Curious about the history of one of your vintage pieces? Suzanne and Lauren McGrath are the authors of “Good Bones, Great Pieces: The 7 Essential Pieces That Will Carry You Through a Lifetime.” The mother-daughter design team takes a special interest in the origin of the pieces they include in their designs, noting that understanding history helps dictate how retro pieces best pair with contemporary designs. Their style features tasteful, practical combinations of low-slung tables, retro patterns and saddle chairs.

8. Balanced pairing

Interior designer and blogger Samantha Penner is known for her ability to combine mid-century modern flair with elegant contemporary styling. She effortlessly adds antique bar carts and Milo Baughman chairs for a look that’s chic without looking like it belongs in a museum.

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