Do the names Henry Miller or Ray and Charles Eames trigger images of sleek yet comfortable lounge chairs? If so, you may already be somewhat familiar with mid-century modern design. If not, don't worry, you're well on your way.
Mid-century modern design had its heyday from the mid-1940s until the mid-1960s, when architecture and design were infused with the relaxed, yet utilitarian, ethos of the era. Designers did away with the formal filigree of yesteryear and instead sought balance between form and function by using man-made materials like plastic, molded plywood, wire mesh, plexiglass, fiberglass and Lucite in everything from chairs and tables to clocks. Glass and wood were also key materials of the era.
Apparently the style wasn't actually coined "mid-century modern design" until Cara Greenburg published "Mid-Century Modern: Furniture of the 1950s" in 1983. And it was sometimes known as "California modern style," since so many living in L.A. and San Francisco enthusiastically embraced the style.
Today, people still love this design aesthetic for its comfortable, clean and uncluttered look, so read on to find out the top 10 ways to easily incorporate this style into your home.
To turn your home into a haven that exudes the sleek functionality of mid-century modern design, the best place to begin is with the walls. The goal is to brush on a color that makes the room feel calm and clean -- think crème, beige, taupe or off-white. But if a simple white wall is too vanilla for you, don't be afraid to paint an accent wall in lime, tangerine or chocolate. Color evokes optimism, which is why it was used in the '50s and '60s after two consecutive World Wars. It was a time of celebration.
With mid-century modern design, less is more. This is especially true when it comes to choosing furniture. Instead of cluttering a room with countless items from the era, choose one statement piece that will serve as the room's focal point. Perhaps you can splurge on an original Eames chair or set of Eero Saarinen tulip chairs? If those are too much for your budget, head to a local antiques store or garage sale and try to find a triangular glass coffee table with rounded edges, or flat rectangular couch. You can also incorporate artwork that is reflective of the period.
Changing a room's lighting is a simple way to make a large impact. Hang a lamp on a chain to draw on the period's use of form and function. Or try adding a couple of pole lamps topped with cone-shaped shades. Simple lines with a geometric futuristic feel characterize lamps of the era. George Nelson and Associates created the Bubble lampshade in 1952, which looks like a blimp turned on its head and placed on a simple steel wire base. It can also be hung from a pendant. Paul Henningsen also received accolades for his progressive retooling of the classic chandelier. Henningsen's hanging lamp looked like a series of white concentric bowls hanging upside down from a wire.
When it comes to windows, bigger is better. Large, expansive windows with simple or no window coverings allow the vistas of the gardens and fountains that have frequently been built into the floor plans of mid-century modern homes to be seen. They also add color and openness. In fact, the houses designed and built by Joseph Eichler were characterized by their post-and-beam construction, which placed support beams in the rooms so that the back walls could be turned into gigantic windows. Re-create this idea and let the sun shine in by eliminating window treatments and treating yourself to a full view of the outdoors.
Ever heard of George Nelson? When it comes to clocks of the period, he stands above the rest. He made clocks that looked like sunbursts, others whose hands pointed to colored balls on thin pins, and even others that resembled human eyes with the hour and minute hands stemming from the center of the iris. A number of other clock makers imitated his works, including Elgin, Lux, Westclox and Seth Thomas. You'll probably pay about $400 for an original George Nelson today, but could pay as little as $10 for one of the imitations.
Looking for a good conversation piece? Look no further than a sunburst mirror. These mirrors are retro-modern in style and provide a fun, visually expansive focal point for any room. Our favorite places to hang these are in the dining room, kitchen and bedroom. They can be simple or extravagant and are very easy to come by first or second-hand. They also happen to be symbols of strength and positivity.
The smallest details can define a home. Take the street number of your house for example. By using popular mid-century modern fonts, such as neutraface, microgramma and the sans serif face font, even the outside of your home will have a modern flair.
The post-war years offered design savvy homeowners a plethora of flooring to choose from -- think concrete, linoleum, cork and bold wall-to-wall carpets. Developer Joseph Eichler used cork in all of his modern tract houses in California. Concrete was loved for its price and practicality, and linoleum was popular for its casual look and its natural make up. Finally, carpeting could boost the color in a room or be a calm contrast to bright furniture. Pick any of these styles to update your home now, starting in just one room. Carpeting would be the least expensive route, while a glazed concrete or cork floor would be a pricier, yet tried-and-true nod to the period.
When doing any structural renovations or upgrades to kitchens and bathrooms, keep new cabinets, sinks and tables simple with clean lines that are reflective of the design. Start by reading books and Web sites that highlight the style of the period, so you'll develop a vision for your home or room you'd like to renovate or revamp. Next find the right architect or designer that specializes in mid-century modern architecture or has a passion for the period.
Become a mid-century modern furniture hunter by heading to garage sales or the nearest antiques stores to scavenge for period furniture steals. Don't worry if the pieces aren't in tip top shape -- if the prices are right. You can always have a piece reupholstered with some new mid-century modern-style upholstery. There are tons of great resources online. And if you luck out and find a fab piece in great condition -- at a fair price, no less -- snatch it up, because you know it won't be there long. Just remember, if you want to incorporate mid-century modern design into your home's style, you have to start somewhere -- and a piece of furniture is a great place to begin. You can mix it in with your home's current pieces and simply add on from there.
Looking for a quick way to update your room? Check out our article Using Paint to Update a Room now!
Related HSW Articles
- Coles, Stephen, "The Mid-Century Modernist." 2010. (Nov. 1, 2010) http://midcenturymodernist.com[end page 11]
- Collectors Weekly, "Mid-Century modern Design." 2007-2010. (Nov. 1, 2010)http://www.collectorsweekly.com/mid-century-modern/overview
- Collectors Weekly, "Mid-Century modern Clocks." 2007-2010. (Nov. 1, 2010)http://www.collectorsweekly.com/clocks/mid-century-modern
- Collectors Weekly, "Mid-Century modern Lamps." 2007-2010. (Nov. 8, 2010)http://www.collectorsweekly.com/lamps/mid-century-modern
- Eaton, John, "ModusModern." 2007-2010. (Nov. 5, 2010)http://www.modusmodern.com/
- Modern Phoenix, "Dress it up! Flooring Options for Midcentury Modern Concrete Floors." 2003-2010. (Nov. 2, 2010) http://www.modernphoenix.net/concretecoverings.htm