What Is Mid-Century Modern Style?

What Is Mid-Century Modern Style?

It's not unusual for styles from another era to make a comeback, and this is certainly true of mid-century modern. Learn where this iconic style came from and why it's still so influential in home design.

The Origins of Mid-Century Modern

The century referred to in mid-century modern is the 20th, specifically the years immediately following the Second World War, from the mid-1940s to the late 1960s. During this time, North America enjoyed a booming economy and a booming population.

With so many young families buying and furnishing their first homes, suburbs grew with newly constructed homes that reflected new building techniques and the populace's desire for features that reflected their optimistic outlook. 

They wanted their homes to be different from those built a century before; they wanted more windows, more family-oriented gathering spaces, more efficient and functional designs. Parallel advances in science and technology brought new materials, textures, effects and forms to these homes. The resulting aesthetic is what we now call mid-century modern – and it’s a style you can’t miss. Despite being named in industry trend reports, year after year, as a fad that surely isn’t here to stay, mid-century modern has shown up diligently, year after year and even now into 2021, as one of the most beloved and secure styles in the U.S. Perhaps its persistence is due to a collective reverence for that time period when the television, microwaves and Barbie dolls were all the rage. Today, the style is like a living time capsule that captures both the simplicity and excitement of decades past. It’s iconic, focused and specific: a fresh alternative to the vaguer forms of modern and contemporary design in the 21st century.

3 Distinguishing Features of Mid-Century Modern

Even if you don’t know the names of its features, mid-century modern is one of the easier styles to identify. This is because it’s both unique and popular: the features aren’t found in any other style of design (so there’s no mistaking it), and, since it’s ubiquitous in many public spaces like restaurants and hotels, you are given, in a sense, many chances to observe and study it. While looking at images of the style – and, better yet, experiencing it in person – is the best way to familiarize yourself with it, knowing the terms of some of the key elements can help solidify your understanding of some of the subtler nuances.
Distinguishing Features of Mid-Century Modern

How to Use Mid Century Modern Style in Your Space

If you want to bring the mid century modern style into your home, try not to go all-out, all at once (as tempting as it may be!). Many pieces of mid-century modern tend to be bright and bold, so a space decked out in the full aesthetic may feel a little overpowering. This is especially true if you’re buying pieces just to buy them; as with other styles, make sure to build your vision slowly and steadily.

Bringing home mid-century modern style is easy, but as with any style, can seem daunting. With all the reverence for the style, all the ways the style has been lovingly tributed in movies and TV, all the style’s books and photography written and published (by some of the world’s most influential scholars, no less), can make it easy to feel like you’re missing something or not doing it justice, especially if you’re starting from scratch. The key, as always, is balance; incorporate a few iconic elements, and balance the rest in color, size and texture. When in doubt, go softer – mid-century modern is more neutral than it is bright.

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