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7 DIY Mid Century Modern Decorating Tips (The Experts Weigh In)

Example of a mid-century style living room and dining areaDespite being more than 60 years on from its heyday, Mid-Century Modern style continues to appeal to us today. But, there are a few tricks to getting the combination of clean lines, organic curves and the functionality synonymous with the style, just right.

Lamps plus.

At Decorami, we have a deep admiration for the decor style, so much so that we feature a carefully curated selection of mid-century modern furniture for other home-decor lovers to delight in. And so, we thought it was time to turn to the experts in interior design, for some guidance into the do’s and don’ts of Mid Century Modern decorating and why this style still matters.

1. Concentrate your design on an open plan feel

“The first aspect to analyze when starting your Mid Century Modern design is the space plan. It is important to make sure if your building from scratch that you keep the architectural structure as an open plan, with keeping in mind incorporating window walls and a free-flowing feeling from indoors to outdoors. While designing the interior space, it is essential to keep your furniture plan in circulation with the rest of your space. It should include a minimalist mindset that does not block the free flow of the overall space.

While keeping in mind the layout, the type and lines of the furniture are a determining factor of your Mid Century Modern look. Make sure to include pieces with sleek lines that have geometric and organic flow. To really accentuate the style, you can incorporate classic furniture designs that resemble an Eames, and Mies Van Der Rohe piece.

It is important to avoid going overboard on the accents if you add in too much the style will begin to dissipate from Mid Century Modern sleek appeal and start to feel more eclectic.”

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Josh Fredman for Hanna Callaway, ExflooritExample of mid-century arm chair and table.


2. Keep it simple and edit for a homely atmosphere

“A homeowner attracted to this look is interested in clean, simple styling, accented with curves, textures and colors. They are looking for a comfortable and livable space, warm and inviting, and not overly ostentatious.”

Aileen Donovan, Lamps Plus

“MCM is definitely a specific look. As per decorating, it’s about furniture choices and working with the pieces that are indicative of that period. It’s also about editing.

We recently completed one of our favorite projects ever – The Timber Cove Resort in Sonoma, California. It was a 60-year-old beauty that needed a little love. Designers like us love things and layers but designing Timber Cove was a great exercise in keeping things simple and edited.”

“Design is a plan for arranging elements in such a way as best to accomplish a particular purpose” – Charles Eames

Amy Ziskin, The Novogratz

“The mid-century style was dominated by Charles Eames, very often designed for office spaces. So, when designing a home and using some iconic pieces, I would be careful in editing to make sure the space feels like home and not a workspace.

Don’t overdo it. Mid-century is a very specific style from 1950-1960. A project entirely filled with mid-century elements will end up looking like Madmen or a movie / TV set.”

Francis Toumbakaris, Francis Interiors

Francis Interiors - example of mid-century designed living room

3. Experiment with traditional and non-traditional materials

“This style is a celebration of the exploration of different; it espouses the use of traditional as well as non-traditional materials. This juxtaposition of different, and oftentimes contrasting materials such as wood, and non-traditional materials such as metal, glass, vinyl, plywood, Plexiglass and Lucite are key to interpreting a mid-century modern design style successfully.

Just as important to the successful interpretation of mid-century modern style are the elements you avoid; so don’t introduce overly ornate detailed furniture, avoid mixing multiple patterns and stay within a color palette range. ”

Charmaine Wynter, Wynter Interiors

The Novogratz design incorporating mid-century furniture in rustic home.

4. Brighten neutral tones with an accent color that pops

“Start with a neutral tone and add 1-2 accent colors at the most to start with if you’re having trouble trying to narrow down choices for your Mid-century modern exterior. The neutral tone will be the main color on your home. One accent color can be the trim color and the other accent color can be your front door color. Other colors can be added with planters, fencing, patio furnishings, etc.

Originally, general Mid-century modern colors of the time were muted earth tones with accents of bright colors such as turquoise, orange and yellow, usually found on Masonite or plywood panels. Paint color cards from the era show a wide variety of available colors, though many homes gravitated toward earth or neutrals as the predominant color with these brightly colored accents. Mid-century modern architects were experimenting with local materials such as wood and stone, and with radical new uses of materials such as glass, steel and concrete so all these elements helped to highlight the importance of indoor/outdoor living, concepts we’re quite familiar with and appreciate today.

If your door is original to the classic Mid-century home, choose a fun color full of personality.

Look to vintage images of the Mid-century era homes for inspiration. There are many online sources, as well as great finds in vintage shops.

Don’t be afraid of color on Mid-century modern homes. Many of these homes were built during a time of optimism after the war, and color was used to show the optimistic feeling. Though we discussed the original neutral hues above, it’s ok to experiment with these homes. Dark charcoal, rust, blues, etc. provide a wow factor in the right areas of the home’s façade.

Don’t tear out that pink-tiled bathroom! It’s a classic and Mid-century enthusiasts look to original elements when searching for properties.”

Judy Lynes for Sara McLean, Dunn-Edwards

Dunn-Edwards mid-century front door (red).

5. When it comes to furniture, variety is the spice of life

“Mix the old with the new, throw in a few antiques, Chinoise and even contemporary pieces. If you have a few great MCM pieces mixed in with a few antiques and a few contemporary pieces, maybe even some vintage pieces, and a healthy dose of both western and eastern flair, the space will grow and adjust with your taste over a longer period of time.

Do not make your home into a museum of mid-century modern furniture. Seriously, don’t trap yourself with just one style, it is an expensive mistake. Here’s the thing, every trend has a beginning, a height, and a certain end. Even mid-century-modern (MCM) will end (or if you are in the interior design world, it has already ended). If you fill your entire house with all MCM furniture, you will be kicking yourself in a few years from now when it is no longer in style.”

Michi Suzuki for Justin Riordan, Spade and Archer Design Agency

Spade and Archer Design Agency example of incredible mid-century contemporary living room and dining area

6. Look for quality, original pieces

“Shop at estate sales and secondhand shops. It’s no secret that mid-century modern-inspired furniture and décor are hot commodities nowadays, so such sales and shops are often where you can find quality, *well-built* furniture at reasonable prices.

Look for original art. I buy art from the era almost exclusively at estate or yard sales and thrift stores because not only can you find unique pieces, but often better prices than you would find on prints.

Don’t fall for today’s replicas, most of which are not 100% wood, built-to-last, etc.

Don’t be afraid of items that need a little TLC. I’ve found pieces that are at least 70 years old that, while they may need to be refurbished a bit, are as good as new, durability-wise. Those are my favorite finds.”

Mark Brinkerhoff for Darcy Segura, The Eclectic Den

7. Light it up with form and function

“Do update lighting. Pendant lights and hanging fixtures accentuate and define a mid-century modern room. Think dangling lights, industrial statement lighting, vintage style pendant lighting, or architectural lanterns.”

Kelley Lauginiger from American Freight

“When choosing lighting, look for form and function. The flowing lines of the Rocco table lamp has a gorgeous shape, beautiful materials in the wood finish, and the flowing pattern on the white ceramic body of the lamp. There is an emotion to a piece like this, just as a piece of art draws out an emotion in the person looking at it. Find pieces that make you feel good. A wide pendant light over a kitchen table or island is simply stunning in its design and simplicity, from the blending of the materials used to the beautiful natural curves.

Don’t overdo it. Too much can make it look like you are living in a different era. Less is better, a few select pieces, furniture, subtle lighting and accents are all that is needed to create a beautiful and livable mid-century modern look in your home.”

Aileen Donovan, Lamps Plus

Example of round mid-century dining table and buffet

It’s safe to say that balance is an essential factor when decorating with Mid-Century Modern furniture. Don’t feel as though you should adhere to the trend 100% but choose some key pieces and then work on complementing them. Above all – have some fun with it! The space you create for yourself and your family should be one that delights.

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