Midcentury Modern Design: a column by Traci Lewis

An industry expert column by Traci Lewis, owner of Blairhaus and home decor expert

Do you love clean, straight lines? Do you believe that less is more? Do you enjoy large, unobstructed windows with minimal window coverings and tons of natural light? If you answered yes to these questions, then you likely share my love of mid-century modern design.

Mid-century Modern refers to the architectural and design movement of the mid 20th Century. Many contribute this style to the post World War II era where new technologies in steel and plywood production made possible an explosion of home building in urban and suburban areas. Further, many of the founding fathers of midcentury modern design and architecture fled Germany during and after WWII bringing with them new ideas for furniture development and mass production technology. Furniture that was previously handcrafted was replaced with mass produced pieces to satisfy the demand of homeowners.

Additional developments in product technology made the use of nontraditional materials possible as well. Plastics, plexiglass, lucite, metal and glass were used alongside traditional materials like wood, leather and cotton textiles to create a new design movement that many of us still love and appreciate today.

Mid-century modern design is characterized by simple and organic lines. Architecturally, mid- century modern homes are known for open floor plans, expansive glass walls, flat rooflines and unobstructed views of the outdoors from almost every room. Indoor outdoor living was introduced and encouraged to promote a healthy lifestyle for the homeowners.

It makes sense, then, that the interior design elements of mid-century modern style should highlight the home’s architecture through the use of simple and minimalistic furniture and accessories. Furniture designers during this period coined the phrase “form follows function” because functionality without unnecessary frills was paramount. Furniture was designed to be long and low on thin, sleek legs to further accentuate and not obstruct the outdoor views. The lines of the furniture are clean and understated with minimal fuss. Hard, straight lines on sofas and tables are softened with round, organic accent pieces. Window treatments, if used at all, are simple and unadorned, used mainly to add softness, texture and warmth to a room without obstructing the outdoor views. Decorative accessories are used sparingly and the negative space within a room is celebrated.

Commonly, the color palette of a mid-century modern home is neutral – white walls; cream, gray, brown or white fabrics on the furnishings; and teak or walnut wood furniture . Bold pops of color and geometrics are used in accessory pieces, wall art, pillows, light fixtures and lamps. Accent furniture pieces are often colorful as well – think molded plastic tables or chairs in orange, red, blue or yellow on thin chrome legs. Divine!

One of the best features of mid-century modern design is that you can seamlessly incorporate aspects of it into nearly any decor style. Small changes can create big impact if done correctly. By understanding the distinguishing characteristics of mid-century modern design, you can start slowly and incorporate a few elements at a time. For example, decluttering and pairing down decorative accessories to only those pieces with meaning and interest is cost free and can be done quickly. Neutralize wall colors and add pillows and/or large pieces of abstract wall art with bold colors and textures. Bring the outdoors in by removing those heavy wooden blinds and installing simple window coverings that can be opened and closed. Better yet, if privacy isn’t an issue, leave the windows open and unobstructed to take advantage of the natural light. Replace that large, overstuffed, bulky recliner with a sleek Eames lounge and ottoman. I realize this last suggestion may be a life-altering decision that requires prayer and marriage counseling but the beauty and comfort of an Eames is so worth it!

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