The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel.
Call the Midwife.
These plots kept us tuning in every week, or binging an entire weekend away. And then there’s the sets. All that stylish mid-century modern design and decor.
Some interior designers are crediting those shows and others for the resurgence in the interest in, and demand for, mid-century modern furniture.
And that creates a problem for some homeowners. They really don’t know what mid-century modern style is.
You can consider this your complete guide to all things mid-century modern. We’ll be discussing what it is, who some of the best designers were and are, and showing you pieces that will fit into any home with ease.
What is Mid-Century Modern?
Mid-century modern is a rather distinct design style that arose in the middle of the twentieth century in America. Its heyday was roughly from 1933 to 1965.
Mid-century modern was both influenced by and borrowed from Scandinavian design and Brazilian architects and artists, often resulting in a blended look that is difficult to define.
It is characterized by sleek, clean lines, with an emphasis on function over fashion. Mid-century modern architecture introduced large windows with sheer or no coverings, letting in vast amounts of natural light. It also gave us the open floor plan that is so popular today.
What is Mid-Century Modern Furniture?
Today, we consider any furnishings, graphic designs, or architecture that adhere to the basic principles of mid-century modern design to be mid-century modern in style.
The current interest in mid-century modern styling has a lot to do with the television shows we mentioned, as well as the economic downturn of 2008–2009 had people looking for items that were at once fashionable, classic, and long-lasting.
The main aspects of mid-century modern design furniture are:
- Clean lines and simple designs
- Natural woods without paint or stains
- Linear lines with few curves
- Natural textures mixed with manmade materials—i.e., caned seat on a plastic chair, chrome or steel legs on a wood table
- Neutral tones including greys and beiges highlighted with pops of bold colors like orange, red, and royal blue
- Modern prints such as geometrics, starbursts, or “boomerangs”
- A sense of warmth and “earthiness”
Let’s look at some photos from our collection that perfectly exemplify some of mid-century modern furniture’s aspects:
Clean Lines and Simple Designs
This Saarinen armchair shows several of mid-century modern furniture’s best aspects:
- Clean lines and simple designs without fuss or extra decorative touches
- The use of woods without paint or stain
- Few curves (in this case none at all)
Neutral Tones With Pops of Color
This room is a perfect example of the use of neutral tones with just pops of bright, often dark colors.
Notice the grey flooring choices and the not-quite-white walls. Notice, too, the way the chair’s leather nearly matches its woodtone. The darker woodtone of the console and the natural undyed baskets add to the neutrality.
And then there’s the tree. Deep green leaves almost jump out at you as the only thing in the room that's not in some shade of grey, white, or brown. That’s mid-century modern styling at its finest.
Combining Natural and Manmade Materials
Look closely at the coffee table. Its legs are tubular steel, while its top is laminated wood. Now, check out the side chair. Again, we have a piece with metal legs and natural linen upholstery.
The combination of metal, especially steel and chrome, with natural materials is another hallmark of mid-century modern design.
Use of Geometric Prints
The bold stripes flowing across this rug showcase the mid-century modern use of geometric prints in textiles. The use of geometrics in textiles began with the Art Deco movement but really came into its own with mid-century modern a decade or so later.
Meet the Best Mid-Century Modern Furniture Designers
We’re going to look at seven innovative and imaginative designers, both past and present, that we think best exemplify mid-century modern style. Some of them should, as they created it.
Charles and Ray Eames
This husband and wife team helped define mid-century modern design, and no discussion of it would be complete without them.
They began their furniture design endeavors by attempting to mold a single sheet of plywood into a chair.
During World War II, they used their plywood molding experiences to create a new leg splint for the Navy medical department. Previously used metal splints often caused gangrene and the loss of an otherwise salvageable limb. Their splint eradicated that danger.
After the war, they continued to work 13-hour days, six days a week, pioneering such technologies as using fiberglass to form lightweight, stylish furniture; successfully mass-producing molded plywood pieces; and children’s pieces like stools and stacking chairs.
We carry the “chair that made tomorrow,” the iconic molded Eames side chair.
“I needed a piece of furniture for the job and it wasn’t there, so I designed it.” ~ Florence Knoll Bassett
Florence Knoll has been called the “First Lady of Modern Design,” and some art and design historians claim that the “look” of post-war America, especially office furniture, just wouldn’t be the same without her influence.
After design school, she got a job with an architect firm in New York City. “Being a woman, I was given interiors,” she has famously said. To get the looks she wanted, she partnered with Hans Knoll’s furniture company.
She left the architects and joined Knoll’s firm in 1943. They were married in 1946. And the rest is interior design history. Knoll furniture is still one of the most sought-after mid-century modern lines today.
Take a look at this executive armchair from our Knoll collection for an example of the elegance and sophistication Florence brought to “office” furniture.
Ludwig Mies van der Rohe
“A chair is a very difficult object. A skyscraper is almost easier.” ~ Mies
Known most commonly as just “Mies,” he is considered the grandfather of mid-century modern. Mies was a German-American architect who created some of the style’s iconic looks.
How iconic? Designers like the Knolls copied some of them. And are still copying them today.
Mies was the first to combine such “classic” mid-century modern aspects as velvet and leather with chrome. He gave us the curved tubular metal legs so popular on mid-century modern chairs and table legs.
Much of what we know and recognize as mid-century modern style and design, we owe to the man known simply as Mies.
Hem Design Studio
“We want to work with the next generation icons.” ~ Petrus Palmer, Hem founder
Hem is a Swedish design shop founded in 2014. They have dedicated themselves to producing distinctive, high-quality items in the spirit of those earlier pioneers of mid-century modern design.
They work with many designers and design studios to bring new ideas and perspectives to their work. Their stated aim is to “bring truly unique furnishings to those who won’t compromise on design, quality or sustainability."
“Working people around the world should be able to afford and enjoy an aesthetic quality in their everyday lives.” ~ Karazona and Veerle Cinar
Organic Modernism has a rather unique backstory. Karazona would find and restore pieces left by the side of the road or in thrift shops. Then, he would sell them to others.
Over time, he came to notice both the aesthetic and quality in mid-century modern pieces. This led to trips to Europe to buy entire container-loads of vintage Danish furniture for their Brooklyn workshop.
Today, they sell their designs all over the world, from New York to Hong Kong.
HD Buttercup is one of the retailers proud to carry the Organic Modernism line, and we encourage you to check it out for yourself.
“Mid-century for this century.” ~ The Canyon Collective
Using the finest Italian leather and other natural textures like rattan and solid walnut, the Canyon Collective created the Canyon Collection with the fundamental belief that the finest materials make the finest products.
Their pieces bring the earth tones and warmth of mid-century design to the forefront, bringing that cozy, homey feel to every room of your home.
“Furniture that adds an eclectic spin on the ordinary.” ~ HD Buttercup
Sometimes, you have to take your cue from Florence Knoll. If you can’t find what you’re looking for, you just have to make it yourself.
And that’s what we do here at Buttercup Studio.
We work with designers and factories the world over to bring our customers just the “right” items they are looking for. Buttercup Studio isn’t strictly mid-century modern in style, but we do take inspiration from the era and produce pieces that we think Mies would be proud of.
Take a look for yourself and see what you think.
How to Decorate Mid-Century Modern
Now that we’ve discussed what makes mid-century modern what it is, and a bit about where it came from, let’s go step-by-step through creating this iconic look for your home.
Step 1: Go Neutral
Repose Gray. Lookout Point. Frostine.
Whatever silly name your wall paint color wears, make sure that you choose one that conveys that mid-century modern neutrality. Soft whites, greys, and beiges set the tone for your style. And don’t forget the flooring. It needs to be neutralized, too.
Step 2: Start Big
What will be the biggest piece of furniture in the room? Use that as your starting point.
Several reasons why:
- It’s most likely going to be your biggest expense
- It sets the tone for the rest of the furnishings and decor
- It’s the piece that will be most used and useful
When it comes to expense, splurging on the biggest item for the room may mean you have to wait and “make do” for a while till you can afford to replace all the smaller bits and bobs. It also means you’ve got a quality piece that will last you long after you’ve completed the room.
The largest piece of furniture in a room can often be the springboard for the others in terms of style, color, and even size.
Don’t forget, mid-century modern is all about function over looks. The aesthetic is important, yes, but not as important as how the piece will be used and by whom. Usefulness is paramount.
Step 3: Fill in the Blanks
You’ve got the walls and floors working for you. You’ve invested in your “one big piece.” Now consider the rest.
What else is needed to make the room fully functional? Where and how do those items need to be placed?
The bedroom probably needs a chest or dresser before it needs bedside tables. The office is going to be pretty useless without a desk chair. And the dining table needs its seating, too.
Make a list of the remaining items, with the most useful first. Then, simply work your way down that list replacing your old pieces with new ones as your budget allows.
Step 4: Less is More
Remember, mid-century modern is all about clean, uncluttered rooms with a cozy, homey, earthy feel. That means a bit of “downsizing” with the rest of your furnishings and decor. Take a look at the rooms we’ve shown you.
While not completely devoid of decorative items, most have a purpose. A stack of books. Living plants. Bowls of fruit. A pair of candles. A single art piece or mirror on the wall.
Comfy pillows and throws are used as a way to bring some of those pops of color, too, while still there to ease your back or provide a warm napping spot.
If you’re the type to have a lot of “stuff,” you’ll want to invest in some shelves or a display cabinet to corral it all in one place. Mid-century modern homes weren’t exercises in minimalism, after all.
Best Mid-Century Modern Furniture
We here at HD Buttercup may be a bit biased (well, more than a bit, actually) but we think we can provide you with the best mid-century modern furniture for your home. We believe this because:
- We’re experienced, having spent decades both working in the furniture business and traveling the world to find today’s best designers and manufacturers.
- We form relationships, chatting over tea, and getting to know “our” people.
- We want only the highest quality—the best—for ourselves, and our customers.
- We are furniture people—it’s what we do, it’s who we are, it’s why we’re here.
Let’s take a look at some of our finest mid-century offerings, so you can judge for yourself.
Mid-Century Modern Sofa
Take a look at the Athens model from our sofa collection. It’s everything a mid-century modern sofa should be: sleek, neutral, functional, uncluttered. Imagine it as the focal piece in your living room.
Mid-Century Modern Bed
We think the star of our beds and headboards collection is the Distrikt, available in King or Queen. Its natural oak, clean lines, and sculptured legs make it the elegant yet easy-going haven of any bedroom.
Mid-Century Modern Desk
There’s no reason you can’t bring mid century modern style into your workplace. The Sabine Desk is inspired by 1930's Paris. An understated silhouette with two drawers is clad in faux-shagreen with antique brass. Offering an elegant home office solution for any sophisticated interior.
Mid-Century Modern Coffee Table
You’ve got your sofa all worked out. Now it’s time to accessorize the rest of the room. Here’s the Del Mar Coffee Table to do just that.
It has a low profile, angular lines, a “fossilized” modern print on the top, and shiny brass legs to bring an added touch of mid-century modern to your living room or lounge.
Mid-Century Modern Dining Table
Nothing says “home” like family and friends gathered around the dining table. Whether it’s Taco Tuesday or a Monopoly marathon, the Recoleta Dining Table can take it on with style and easy grace.
We love its solid walnut base and its tempered glass top. It brings a bit of refinement to both the pico de gallo and Park Place and all your other gathering ingredients, too.
Mid Century Modern Seating
Does your kitchen island need some mid-century sprucing up? Or how about your office or bar area? You can’t go wrong with the Tasmania Bar Stool.
A classic stool in a clean cut sugar mango frame with a comfortable tractor seat and polished brass footrest for added style. A timeless stool for the minimalist-minded. And yet, there’s a serious touch of earthy whimsy to this mid-century modern minimalist beauty, too.
Mid-Century Modern Chair
Those Monopoly maniacs need somewhere comfy and classy to sit, right? Our Markson Dining Chair provides just the “right” touch. Ideal for any sophisticated contemporary dining space, this chair boasts an enveloping shape with generously curved back flowing gently down to a waterfall seat. Slender long tapered legs give an added touch of elegance.
Mid-Century Modern Outdoor Furniture
There’s no reason you can’t bring mid-century modern styles to your outdoor living space. Look at how lovely and stylish your patio can be.
Our Mid-Century Modern Furniture
As you can see from the many examples in this guide, HD Buttercup carries only the best in mid-century modern styles.
You’ve met some of our innovative and creative designers. You’ve explored various pieces for nearly every room of your home. And we’ve given you a step-by-step guide to help you put it all together.
It’s Your Turn
Whether you decide to do a lot—the whole house—or a little with just a touch here and there, we’ve given you everything you need to bring your mid-century modern fantasy to life. Stop dreaming. Stop binge-watching. Start your foray into mid-century modern today.