Mid-Century Modern Design: 6 Ways to Add Retro Flair to Your Space
If the 2010s mid-century modern craze wasn’t any indication, this enduring design aesthetic will never go out of style. In fact, countless designs that we know and love today have roots in the 1940s to 1960s, including trending marble-topped tulip tables and paper lantern-style lighting.
Suffice to say, adding some MCM modern flair to your home is always a worthwhile investment. Whether you’re just looking to add a few retro touches, like an Arco floor lamp, or going to embrace Mad Men with wood furniture and plastic Eames chairs, chances are your pieces will retain value and stand the test of time.
To kick off your MCM design brainstorm, we’ve outlined the six building blocks of mid-century modern decor. From low-lift accents like houseplants and lantern lighting to genuine vintage styles from the likes of Eero Saarinen, George Nelson, and Charles Eames, there’s a little something for every budget and design aesthetic. Find our pro tips below:
6 Mid-Century Modern Design Ideas
1. Warm wood tones
This could be considered the single thread that runs through nearly every mid-century modern design, both old and new. Whether it’s a deep oak MCM dresser or a wooden TV stand and coffee table, mid-century modern interiors are brimming with warm wood tones. Even the tapered legs on most MCM-style couches and accent chairs are wood. If you’re considering making architectural changes, a wood-panelled wall paired with a straight brick or stone fireplace is classic MCM.
2. On-point accent chairs
From the classic Eames plastic armchair and the Eero Saarinen tulip chair to Harry Bertoia’s metal Diamond Chair and George Nelsons’ countless iconic styles, so many on-trend accent chairs were conceived during the 1950s and ‘60s. Adding one of these classic styles to your living room is a surefire way to lean into the MCM look, whether it’s genuine vintage or a modern replica.
3. Funky lighting
The paper lantern-style lighting of Instagram fame has roots in the 1950s, thanks to renowned designer Isamu Noguchi and his prolific trip to Gifu, Japan. But it doesn’t stop there — starburst pendants, Arco floor lamps, and grasshopper lamps were all designed during this inimitable era. Mix a few wood furniture pieces with a Noguchi-style lantern fixture, and you’ll have instant MCM vibes.
4. Mixed materials
At the time, mid-century designers were heralded for their unique use of mixed materials, including plastic, leather, chrome, brass, wood, and velvet. If you dissect a classic MCM-style space, you’ll likely see an assortment of mixed materials rather than a single prevailing aesthetic. Think: a deep navy or evergreen velvet couch with wood tapered legs, a black leather Eames lounge chair, a chrome or brass floor lamp, and plastic dining chairs.
5. Plants, plants, and more plants
While the houseplant craze may have peaked in the 1970s and ‘80s, greenery was still a prevalent decorative accent in MCM spaces. From the tropical Bird of Paradise to classic palm plants and ficus trees, indoor plants lend an airy touch to otherwise moody MCM interiors. Our modern-day interpretation of the classic design style is particularly heavy on plants — a wood tallboy dresser just doesn’t look complete without a cascading pothos plant.
6. Wall-mounted floating shelves (and plenty of books)
Designers Nils Strinning and Poul Cadovius designed two prevailing shelving systems that are incredibly ubiquitous in MCM designs: the String system and the Royal system. These modular wall-mounted designs were considered revolutionary at the time and are still vintage treasures today. Channel the look in your space with oak floating shelves complete with decorative books, houseplants, and a starburst-style tchotchke or two!
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