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Homes of Most Any Era Can Embrace the Timeless Style of Mid-Century Modern

When decorating and furnishing a mid-century modern home, designers first take in the unique architectural features of the house, including its flow and design, built-in furnishings, use of color and light, and existing decor and accessories. The homeowner’s day-to-day lifestyle is also an essential part of the overall design strategy.

A mid-century modern living room and dining area in the 1950s, compared to those same spaces in a contemporary home with a mid-century modern feel. PC: TheVintageResource and Satin & Slate

Talented designers know that working with a mid-century home means respecting those details. That holds true for any home, but the beauty of mid-century homes is magnified exponentially when the accompanying decor accentuates the home’s architectural nuances.

To incorporate the mid-century look and feel into today’s homeowners’ lifestyles, it’s important to keep two things in mind: functionality and simplicity. Less is more in mid-century interiors. No one wants a house that looks like a museum, it simply doesn’t work with today’s lifestyles. Remember the rebellion that the mid-mod design aesthetic represents. The style was in direct contrast to the more ornate Victorian and Art Deco styles it replaced.

Mid-Mod favored clean lines and easier living. That includes statement pieces and organic shapes with texture, such as curved sofas and textured fabrics. Color is essential, too. Introduce bright tones in accessories, and add tactile rugs, like shag or mohair. Using plants brings the outdoors inside, as mid-century design emphasized blending indoor and outdoor spaces.

A furniture ad from the 1950s. Sleek? Yes. Inviting? No. A contemporary sofa clearly shows the influence of the mid-century modern aesthetic but with more emphasis on comfort. PC: Kroehler and Brooklyn Space

Incorporating key pieces, appropriate colors, and textures establishes the look without recreating 1950. In fact, without the careful blending of old and new, original, period-perfect 1950s MCM homes can be uncomfortable to actually live in. Contemporary decor often includes oversized sofas and tall, deep cabinetry in kitchens, while furniture and storage of the era were generally smaller in scale.

One of the easiest components to work with is lighting, whether its source is natural or from fixtures. This is especially useful in creating a mid-century feel in a modern high-rise, in which spaces start off as little more than white boxes in the sky.

A room challenged by a dark fireplace and paneling lightened considerably by removing window treatments and adding plants, a geometric light fixture, and “see-through” furniture – tables and chairs with slender legs that allow light to pass through. PC: All Modern

Options include Sputnik chandeliers or lighting in ‘mod’ geometric shapes. When privacy is not an issue, avoiding window treatments altogether is a viable option. Otherwise, minimalistic solutions, like rollup shades that virtually disappear during the daytime, allow outdoor light to illuminate interiors.

Despite the “fundamentals” that characterize mid-century design, some authentic 1950s-era homes present common issues. One is square footage. The average size of homes built in the 50s and throughout the 70s was around 1,500 square feet, compared to 2,300 square feet, the average size of a new home today. Structural changes to Mid-Mod homes are often nearly impossible if not impractical.

When the structure must remain largely as is, designers have developed workarounds to solve structural challenges. For example, dark spaces caused by heavy stone walls and north-facing windows can be counterbalanced by using low-profile furniture. The low-profile furniture can also offset low ceilings, especially when the pieces are light and smaller in scale. Look for “leggy” furniture – tables and chairs with long wooden legs – which visually expands both vertical and horizontal spaces.

Furniture and accessories from Populuxe.

This approach sums up the basics of mid-century décor: the structural basics of most such homes are also decorative. Not much needs to be done to create a mid-century feel today. Lovers of the style can enjoy it without having to go back in time.

While many mainstream retailers, big-box stores, mid-range, and high-end retailers offer MCM-inspired designs and reproductions, many finds remain to be discovered at local vintage warehouses, especially in Kansas City’s West Bottoms, the River Market, and Hyde Park.

Side chairs from Vintage Source KC.

In spite of a home’s square footage, design style, or age, mid-century modern decor has proven to be a highly versatile and adaptable style. Almost 70 years after its introduction, Mid-Mod often seamlessly coexists in the same room with other design styles – reflecting the owner’s taste – and can be done within limited budgets.

Best of all, getting a Mid-Mod look rarely requires major home renovations or drastic remodeling. A few well-chosen pieces and the thoughtful introduction of era-appropriate colors, accessories, and fabrics are enough to blend the mid-century modern aesthetic into most any setting.

Need help locating, renovating, or decorating your own mid-century modern gem or, interested in buying or selling a Mid-Mod? Put Ashley Kendrick’s real estate and design expertise to work for you! Click here to send her a message online!