Thinking about styling your home in the iconic Mid-Century Modern fashion? Design and furniture experts weigh in to guide you through the process, ensuring a seamless blend of timeless aesthetics and contemporary flair. From balancing neutrals with bright colors to orchestrating a collection of accents, this Redfin article explores the intricacies of creating a Mid-Century Modern haven. Get tips on incorporating this classic design into your space, whether you’re in a small New York apartment or just moved into a larger open concept house in LA. We got you covered.
1. Balance neutrals and bright colors
“When you decide to go with a Mid-Century Modern design in your home, you first want to think about colors,” suggests Henry Jara, Owner of Casara Modern, a MCM style furniture building company in Huntington Beach, CA. “You can either go with neutral tones in your upholstery and bright accents, or more neutral in your decor with brightly upholstered furniture. MCM (Mid-Century Modern) designs accent well with a lot of other styles too. You don’t need to change everything at once. You can change just a few things to start with and slowly add more to your home over time.”
2. Focus on clean lines and simplicity
Out of Los Angeles, The Hollywood Home’s writer and real estate agent, Jacqueline Tager, recommends to “Focus on clean lines, organic shapes, functionality and natural materials to create a warm welcoming aesthetic. Don’t be afraid to mix authentic vintage pieces with new reproductions. I have bought many Sputnik light fixtures right off of Amazon to prep my listings. Keep it simple, don’t be overcrowded. Stick to mostly neutral earth tone colors inspired by nature for larger pieces you have. Throw in pops of color with accessories and artwork. Don’t forget to bring in plants.”
3. Consider space and budget
Mod City Madness, a company that restores original 1960’s furniture, suggests “Incorporating mid-century modern style into your home involves careful consideration of space, budget, and the opportunity to make environmentally friendly choices. Whether you’re accentuating existing decor or establishing a foundational style, mixing vintage with contemporary furniture provides flexibility while embracing MCM design.
Finding vintage pieces, whether at local estate sales, online marketplaces, or from specialized dealers, is an exciting journey. Seek items that resonate with you, transcending decoration to become functional art reflecting your personal style. However, exercise caution to avoid pitfalls like scams and damaged items. Thoroughly inspect each piece or rely on trusted sources, emphasizing the importance of genuine quality, condition, and rich history.”
Courtesy of Mod City Madness
4. Unify and harmonize your interior decor
“By choice or by circumstance, most homes have a jumble of decor styles,” says Neal Kielar, Owner & Creative Director at MidModMen+friends. “There’s the intentionally eclectic few and then there are the many whose circumstances – merged households, carryovers from younger days, hand-me-downs from the family – result in a lack of focus.
Building your decor around the simplified lines of mid-century modern design can be a great unifier. Anchor your living room, for example, with mid-century pieces like a credenza, sofa or pair of chairs. In a bedroom it’s all about the case goods: dressers, chests and even the headboard. With mid-century style as a foundation, it’s possible to indulge in more diverse accents while keeping the room in harmony.”
5. Orchestrate a collection of accents
Neal continues, “A good space has all the things you need to function day to day. A better space is layered and might pack a surprise or two. But the best space of all is one that truly reflects your distinctive personality. Use mid-century modern furniture and accents – the more authentic the better – to create a foundation that’s flexible enough to accommodate your more eclectic flourishes. For example, the clean lines of a Danish modern credenza or no-nonsense sofa sets an uncluttered stage so you can orchestrate a collection of accents that serve as high notes in the room. And that reflects your personal style.”
6. MCM starts at the curb
Robert Baker from Modern Mailbox suggests, “Our advice for anyone looking to add some mid-century modern inspiration to their home is to keep it simple. Less is more, and incorporating key elements, such as a mid-century modern-inspired mailbox, will help elevate your modern curb appeal to the next level. A mailbox is a jewel or a finishing touch that homeowners shouldn’t overlook. Mailboxes are something we interact with on a daily basis and can be a simple and cost-effective solution to update. Mailboxes also dramatically improve a first impression of a home and add value by showcasing a well-thought-out design. Our modern mailboxes offer clean, modern lines, hidden hardware, and a classic mid-century modern design that will never go out of style.”
7. Anchor your design from the start
“Bringing home mid-century modern style can be easy, but, as with any style, it can seem daunting,” says Demi Tran from Big Whale Consignment. “Begin by selecting key mid-century modern furniture pieces that will anchor your design. Items such as a classic sofa, lounge chair, or a statement coffee table can set the tone for the entire space. Consider investing in high-quality, authentic mid-century modern pieces or high-quality reproductions from reputable sources.
Designing a home in the mid-century modern style is a process that takes time and careful consideration. Take your time to curate and select pieces that resonate with you and contribute to the overall aesthetic you want to achieve.”
8. Just the essentials
“Looking at the homeowners and architects of the Mid-Century Modern homes in New Canaan in the 1950s and ’60s, the architecture came with an ethos,” shares Nancy Geary from New Canaan Museum and Historical Society. “People didn’t want clutter. They lived with the essentials of what they needed, using the landscapes they could see through their glass walls as art. Houses were designed with few closets, and often kitchens had open shelving, because owners didn’t need places to stash extra stuff. The clean lines that we associate with mid-century modern architecture and furniture reflected a simplicity and a serene aesthetic.”
9. Source MCM furniture and pieces wisely
“My best advice for buying MCM or any other antique or collectible design pieces would first be to take the time to do your homework,” suggests Judy Engel from Modern on the Hudson. “There are so many ways to source amazing pieces, from places like Craigslist and Facebook Marketplace to auctions and estate sales, to dealers, galleries, and shops. Don’t assume one is a better deal than another. All types of pieces (good, bad, and fake) can be found in each of these venues. If you have the time to look at authentic pieces in galleries and auction houses in person, then do it.
While you’re there, talk to the experts. They are typically in this business because of a passion for the pieces. Finally, I always advise: if you are comparing a newer piece that you love to a vintage or antique piece (especially with a provenance or designer name associated) that you love equally, then go vintage. If you continue to buy like this, you will soon have a collection. These pieces often hold, and sometimes increase in value. Not to mention decreasing your own carbon footprint.”
10. Buy vintage for better quality
“Buy vintage and shop local,” recommends Jillian and Jeremy from Cabin Modern. “New products marketed as “mid-century style” often are of lesser quality, may have toxic environmental footprints, and may not last or accrue in value. Vintage items were made to last (that’s why they are still around), are better for the environment, and help support smaller independent businesses in your community. If these pieces are properly cared for they will accrue value and could become family heirlooms.”
11. Grasping the fundamentals
“For those designing their home in the MCM style, start by grasping the fundamentals of clean lines, organic shapes, and the marriage of form and function,” states Stamford Modern. “Experiment with MCM color palettes, incorporating earthy tones and bold accents. Mix vintage finds with modern elements for a curated aesthetic, and invest in key iconic pieces like Eames chairs or Noguchi tables to anchor your design.
Embrace minimalism and prioritize functionality while integrating organic elements for warmth. Remember that personalizing the space with MCM-inspired accessories, such as geometric patterns and vintage ceramics, can add a unique touch. Be cautious of overloading the space with MCM items—opt for a balanced blend that resonates with your style.”
12. Look for premium materials to elevate your space
Peter Triestman from Olek Inc. says, “Mid-century modern pieces, although unique in design, present a style that can easily be incorporated into most interior designs. When constructed of premium materials like Teak or Rosewood, they not only enhance the overall aesthetics but also deliver a natural wood appearance that adds warmth and authenticity to your space.”
13. Hunt for pieces that speak to you
“Ditch the sterile showrooms and embrace the thrill of the hunt,” says Mid Mod Lounge. “While iconic designers like Eames and Nelson are coveted, remember, mid-century modern encompasses a vast array of styles and lesser-known talents. Keep an open mind and let the pieces themselves speak to you. You might stumble upon a stunning sculpted lamp or a funky geometric coffee table that injects personality into your space. Play with textures, colors, and patterns to create a unique and dynamic space that reflects your own personality.”
14. Refurbish vintage finds
Design Conundrum recommends, “Refurbishing vintage furniture is a great way to achieve authenticity in mid-century modern decor. It’s not only cost-effective but also environmentally friendly. When refurbishing, pay attention to the original design elements like tapered legs and natural wood finishes.”
15. Play with iconic elements of MCM
Matt Bliss, Owner and Co-Designer of Modern Christmas Trees says, “Embracing mid-century modern design in your home is a journey into a style that balances simplicity, functionality, and timeless aesthetics. Here are some key insights and recommendations for those looking to dive into this iconic design era:
- Start with statement pieces: Look for items with sleek lines, tapered legs, and natural wood finishes. Think of these as anchor points around which you can build your space.
- Play with color and patterns: While neutral palettes are common, don’t shy away from bold colors and geometric patterns. Accent walls, throw pillows, or art pieces can add a vibrant touch without overwhelming the space.
- Incorporate iconic lighting: Seek out fixtures with geometric shapes and metallic finishes, or iconic designs like the Sputnik chandelier or Arco floor lamp.
16. Scavenge for second hand pieces
“I source my mid-century modern treasures through Facebook Marketplace,” suggests toolify.ai. “Specifically looking for furniture in wood tones like walnut and teak, as well as abstract art pieces with bold shapes and colors.”
17. Ask yourself the following questions
Madelaine Mayer from AD:ROIT, an architecture and interior design service, suggests, “For those looking to bring MCM pieces into their home, I recommend asking yourself a few questions before starting:
- How will you use the piece? If you’re looking for an everyday workhorse, a high quality modern replica may be a better selection than a high investment original which may not be able to handle wear and tear.
- Why are you drawn to the piece? Is it because it’s iconic? Are you looking at it as an investment to appreciate in value? Do you genuinely love it apart from its heritage? Think about what you really want in your space – a mini museum or somewhere you can put your feet up and spill some coffee. There are no right or wrong answers, just the best fit for you.”
18. Don’t forget the wall
“Wall art is the most fun,” says Vanessa Morsse from Little Gold Pixel. “Keep your eye out for pop and abstract expressionist art, in bright colors such as red, orange, pink, turquoise, mustard and avocado. Grab anything that features these shapes: boomerangs, atomic particles, starbursts, diamonds, googies and half moons.”
19. Make a mood board
“Don’t use too many reference images,” warns Mattoboard, a 3D moodboarding tool for architects and designers. “Too many can confuse the concept and steer you off course. Limit yourself to three or four images and build a mood board from that.
The key to winning at creating the mid-century modern aesthetic is to leverage iconic pieces, and minimalism while mixing in artistic shapes and form. One concept a trained designer applies is ‘thinking about mixing scales’ – but what does this mean? When you are picking materials and objects, look at the detail of the textures, is the weave big, or small, is the pattern of tile large or small? A curated mid-century look will have a mix of these textures and scales.
A potential pitfall: Keeping it clean and minimalistic at the same time. A great way to do this is to come back to your mood board for inspiration throughout the process. It’s important to have the right tones of materials and objects at the concept level so you can see the direction is going well. The mood board and material board are always your base and foundation to a successful scheme.”
20. Go to your local vintage stores for well-made pieces
“I would suggest that buyers look beyond the initial images on Pinterest and Instagram and elsewhere online,” says SPARKLEBARN, a vintage furniture gallery in Seattle. “There was a strong sense of regionalism during the 50’s-60’s with local designers and manufacturers, in addition to the national brands. Actually visiting your local vintage furniture stores can help inform you about some of these very unique pieces. There is a real tangible and unique characteristic to these vintage pieces that you can only really appreciate by seeing, touching and feeling them in person. Craftsmanship and design was a priority compared to what we typically see in today’s mass market production of home furnishings, whether it’s a chair, coffee table, or lighting.”
21. Some authentic pieces are hard to come by
“We find two levels of customers interested in Mid-Century Modern Furniture,” shares Red Door Consignment Gallery, “The customer focused on brand identity and the customer who is just focused on the style of clean lines. While there are many reproductions of famous mid-century furniture brands and designers, that is not necessarily a bad thing, if it’s just about the style. Identification of authentic pieces can sometimes be a challenge, as often labels are no longer intact. When shopping for more authentic mid-century pieces, smaller communities can often offer some great finds at great prices.”
22. Know the MCM color palette
“There is a sense of optimism in mid-century homes that resonates in modern design today,” says Greg Wiedemann, FAIA of Wiedemann Architects. “MCM color palette is rooted in nature’s bright colors against primary neutral tones of white, black, and wood tones. Woods like teak and walnut were favored for their warmth and timeless appeal.”
Courtesy of Wiedemann Architects
23. Mix up materials
“Designers in the 50s and 60s often used mixtures of different woods, warm wood tones, metals and other new materials of the time,” says Nicole Hobbs from Hobbs Modern. “The designers of the time were innovators, they worked with new materials like plastics and metals and techniques like bending wood. Be inspired by their fearlessness and sense of adventure.
Much of what you see in the big box stores are knock offs inspired by this period. If you buy something original, it has been built well, is comfortable and has superior materials and will last. Knock offs may look the part, but they have inferior materials and end up in the landfill.”
24. Accessories with flare and color
Cyd Raduchel from Mod Pod Miniatures recommends, “My advice for making a mid-century home is to add pops of color with art, accessories and paint or wallpaper. In my mid-mod home, my furniture is mostly neutral but I’ve added accent colors in the form of pillows, art and colorful accents on my walls. You can save a lot of money by stenciling geometric patterns on your walls rather than purchasing wallpaper. Be bold and don’t be afraid of what others think. It’s your home, make it reflect your personality.”
25. Create an open and airy layout
Marion Dinofa, a realtor and modern home specialist from Philadwellphia, recommends, “Mid-century modern design often incorporates an open and airy layout. Opt for furniture with raised legs or a tulip base to create a sense of space. Or try a fun acrylic piece that allows light to filter through. My acrylic bar cart is one of my favorite pieces — it disappears into the space and lets my glassware and guests become the room’s focus.”
26. Integrate Retro Patterns
“Add in geometric patterns and bold prints such as chevron or abstract designs sparingly to avoid overwhelming the space,” recommends Lana Bailey from Vintage Blue. “At the same time, embrace minimalism by focusing on clean lines and simplicity in furniture and décor. Declutter your space by removing unnecessary, overly ornate and rustic pieces and keep only what is essential for functionality and aesthetic.”
27. Designing MCM architecture
“Renovating a mid-century modern home is a balancing act between modern conveniences and mid-century authenticity,” says Carol Marin from Mid Century Modern Ashville. “While removing walls and adding windows can bring about an amazing transformation by opening the space and bringing the outside in, I’m a big fan of keeping and enhancing the features that make a MCM home. Original cabinets, ceramic tile, slate flooring, wood paneling, as well as other wood and stone accents are in many cases irreplaceable design features that should be left intact if possible. They aren’t making any more of these homes and we need to treasure them.”
28. Don’t rush into buying furniture
“Our number one piece of advice is to take your time,” recommends Jason and Emily from DEN. “Don’t add placeholders from fast furniture brands as those pieces tend to not stand the test of time. Go out to your local vintage shops, look around and see pieces in person. Browse the internet to view vintage shops outside your neighborhood and get a feel for what speaks to you. There are many designers from Europe to the US, but understanding what works for you is the key to building your mid-century dream home. There is no right or wrong piece if you’re purchasing what you truly love, not just a trend.”
29. MCM is a marriage of multiple designs, so have fun with it
“Mid-Century covers a lot of design. It can be sleek and minimal or layered and eclectic,” says Erin and Sara from a Mid-Century Modern furniture upholstery, Again & Again. “So take design inspiration from existing elements of your home and use this to your advantage. Don’t be shy with color – have fun and be innovative. Don’t lose your sense of individuality. Accessorize with art and add dimension with sculptures and vases. Never underestimate the power of refinishing and reupholstery. Some of the best pieces might just need a makeover to become a total showstopper.”
30. Blend in different time periods
“My advice to people designing their homes would be to incorporate various styles along with their Mid-Century furniture. Unless you’re trying to create a time capsule, blend pieces from various time periods,” recommends Kayla Benedict from SPACED OUT STUDIO. “It boggles my mind when clients tell me that one piece they’re considering ‘won’t go with’ another piece already existing in the room. I would never let that sway me from buying a piece I love.”
31. Build your knowledge
“I always encourage customers to take their time when sourcing vintage modernist pieces for their space, adding a piece or two as their needs evolve or their taste changes,” suggests Atomic Threshold. “An entire decor scheme doesn’t need to come together in one swift move, but rather can be built up over time. Additionally, I would suggest that anyone interested in starting to collect mid-century or other modernist furniture begin to build their design knowledge base so that they don’t fall victim to poor quality knock-offs as that is becoming increasingly prevalent in the market.”
32. Inspect your antique furniture
“There are some safety concerns of which you have to be aware with MCM furniture much like purchasing an old house where the electrical has not been rewired,” warns Elizabeth Williams from Modern in San Antonio. “For example, if you are purchasing a console with a radio in it from the 1950’s, the wiring could likely now be a fire hazard. If you have already purchased a piece that needs restoration, I would highly recommend taking it to a professional who is familiar with restoring these delicate pieces.
Also, old furniture that has not been cared for in a while could have pests living in it, so going from purchase to your home and plugging it in could also be hazardous. You also should use caution with restoring wood furniture yourself since varnishes and stains that were used in this time period are no longer the same chemical makeup that you will find in Home Depot or Lowes. You may not get the result you are looking for so it is always great to get a professional opinion before diving in.”
33. Add tiny details
Jennifer Caminiti from Mod Lounge Paper Company, says “I feel the main furnishings should be neutral and comfortable, but using clean lines. The design can be brought to life with artwork, throw pillows and other decor. This allows for easy re-fresh when you feel the need for change. I also feel that details using pops of mid-century elements are key and can create conversation in any room.
The use of cocktail napkins or interesting cocktail picks on a bar cart, or a tea towel hanging from a cabinet or stove. You can design with coffee mugs, or vintage barware to bring the nostalgia back to modern times. You can find some great finds at local vintage shops, or there are many online shops that carry new items with vintage flair.”
Courtesy of Mod Lounge Paper Company
34. Don’t overbuy on one design
“Don’t overbuy furniture and decor on one design,” recommends ModernMix+. “Don’t buy only teakwood. Don’t confuse the late 1960’s design and 1970’s as Mid-century. Mid-century ended in 1963 – 1965.”
35. Don’t overdo the theme
“It’s easy to get carried away with thematic elements,” says Studio 818. “We avoid turning client homes into a Mid-century museums by creating a neutral base blended with some contemporary pieces and neutral elements to avoid Mid-century Modern overload. While aesthetics are important, comfort should not be compromised. Avoid selecting furniture solely based on looks; ensure it is also comfortable and functional for everyday use.”
36. Buy quality for long lasting material
“Buy the best quality of upholstery and case goods possible, even if the initial investment stretches your budget,” says Todd Nabors from Thayer Coggin. “Well-built upholstery can be recovered and fitted with new cushions as needed over the years. In the long view, paying more for beautifully-designed home furnishings, built to last for the next generation, is the best choice.”
37. Know how to spot authentic pieces of furniture
Grace Baena, Director of Branded Content at Kaiyo used furniture shares, “Here are some tips to tell if a piece is authentic MCM:
- Pieces from this era are often made from solid woods, such as teak, elm, beech, and rosewood.
- Mid-century designers and manufacturers wanted to create pieces that were made to last. The craftsmanship, functionality, and weight (heavy is better) are factors to look for.
- Inspect the furniture for a maker’s mark to verify its quality.”
38. Decorate with teak
Simone Elderot, Interior Designer and Founder of Stockhomed, offers key insights for individuals venturing into mid-century modern design, suggesting to “Embrace the style’s fundamentals such as open floor plans, natural materials, and large windows. Highlight authentic materials like teak for furniture, but also appreciate the interplay of wood, metal, glass, and vinyl. Focus on functionality, let wooden pieces shine, and understand MCM decor elements like minimalist aesthetics and a fusion of indoor and outdoor motifs. By following these tips, create a timeless and visually appealing mid-century modern space.”
39. If you can’t find it, DIY it
Karl Rowley from the Mid Century Style Shop says, “Over the past few years, I’ve been redecorating my condo in mid-century modern style. I took the time to choose each item carefully. I’ve designed many home decor items myself, which I use personally and sell through my online store. If you’d like to try for yourself, you’ll find many print-on-demand companies that provide pillows, blankets, towels, bedding, etc. with your own custom designs. I’ve also created many DIY projects that have helped me achieve a mid-mod vibe with simple tricks at little cost.”