Mid Century Modern Design Style

In this episode, Mark and Kathryn assist Katie and Roy Allaway in their search for a retro interior to suit their 1950s bungalow. Mid-century modern style, as it is known, features design classics by big names like Eames. Mark and Kathryn help Katie and Roy create a cool, contemporary living space with original vintage pieces.


Mid-century Modern generally describes mid-20th century developments in modern architecture, interior design and urban development. The time period it covers is roughly 1933 to 1965 and the term was coined by Cara Greenberg in 1983 from the title of her book, Mid-Century Modern: Furniture of the 1950s. With the popularity of the TV series Mad Men, this style is making a comeback in a big way!

The emphasis in homes of this type is on marrying function and form. The layout should be open and uncluttered and the furniture sleek and streamlined. Accessories and furnishings are where you can add playful and surprising elements with pops of colour.


As you saw from the episode (click here for full details of the items mentioned), some key things that you can do to achieve this look are:

1. Decorate with durable, functional furniture that has a space-age flair. The big furniture name of this period is of course, Eames. Ray and Charles Eames, a husband and wife team are considered American Modern Royalty. The Eames lounge chair wood is the ultimate in simplicity – with its low slung from and two separate pieces for the seat and backrest, it’s comfortable, sleek and modern.

The other Eames item to covet for your loungeroom is the Eames lounger and ottoman. In the 1950s, Charles Eames set out to design a chair as a birthday gift for his good friend, the Academy Award-winning film director Billy Wilder. His aim was to design a modern answer to the Edwardian English club chair that had ‘the receptive look of a well used first baseman’s mitt’.

It was the first chair Eames had designed for a high-end market – it consists of three curved plywood shells created from several thin layers of wood veneer but unlike previous Eames creations, the Lounger and matching Ottoman were upholstered in thick, luxurious leather. Finnish Eero Saarinen is another famous icon of the period and his tulip shaped table and chair designs are almost ubiquitous. As well as lounges and chairs, the other pieces of furniture that complete this look are entertainment units and coffee tables.

Try a light coloured teak wood for the entertainment unit or white or colourful melamine plastics. Be adventurous with your coffee table – you could go for a classic Isamu Noguchi Coffee table, with a steel base and glass top or choose something in either an unusual shape like an artist’s palette or something with a patterned circular top.

2. Be bold and bright. A word of caution here though, this style isn’t about a chaotic riot of colour, it’s more about the bright colours bouncing off the neutral tones of the wall and furniture. Be discerning about how much colour you use otherwise you may need to wear sunglasses while inside! The obsession with brightness in this period came about because new technology made more vivid paint and upholstery colours more accessible. The colours you should consider using are aqua, hot pink, cherry red, yellow, orange, turquoise and chartreuse. A tip is to colour block when you paint your walls. This means you keep the majority of your wall in a neutral tone but paint large blocks of colour behind artwork.

3. Go for graphics. Graphic rugs, cushions and brightly hued glass vases are other ways to inject colour into your Mid-Mod home. The graphic prints usually revolve around unusual shape combinations like multi-coloured dots, squares, diamonds and circles. Black and white combinations also work very well alongside the more vivid pieces. You can also be a bit more creative if you’re happy not to stick to a specific part of the mid mod era and go for psychedelic swirls, florals and Chinese inspired prints. If you don’t have a huge amount of cash but would like some artwork in keeping with the period, it can be fun to buy some old magazines from a thrift store and frame either a colourful or black and white ad. You could also make and hang a collage of retro memorabilia.

4. Arrange abstract objects like an art director. Many people choose to combine vintage and modern retro accessories when they redecorate in this style. George Nelson vintage clocks have built a strong reputation among collectors. One of the most famous designs has metal balls at the end of the stems instead of numbers. The sunflower, kite and eye clock Nelson designs are also simple yet striking. Another thing you can do is find abstract shaped versions of regular items. You’ll notice that on the show, the living room was decorated with a mirror made up of four circles of glass. And if you’re going to continue the mid Mod design in your kitchen, you can find loads of ‘kitchenalia’ with great retro cred like blenders and toasters – basically anything with a chrome finish.

5. Unusual lighting makes it unique. Lighting is a defining element of Mid Mod style and helps keep the design from looking dark or dated. It’s also important to choose light fixtures and lamps that will stand out against the minimalist backdrop and will illuminate your brightly coloured artwork. Space age and atomic inspired shapes work best – try a cylindrical or curved shape for ceiling light fittings and conical shades on lamps.


1. http://www.retroantiques.com.au/
2. http://www.funkis.com/
3. http://vamptvintagedesign.com/
4. http://www.ccantiques.com.au/
5. http://www.retromodern.com.au/


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