What is mid-century modern design? All about the style that everyone can't stop talking about

Mid-century modern is THE enduring interiors trend

Colorful, mid-century modern inspired living room with shag rug and lamps
(Image credit: Instagram / @mylifeinmulticolor)

Of all the interior design styles, from brutalism to Japandi, there’s one you’ll hear about again and again: mid-century modern design. It’s an enduring look that has been huge in the US, UK, and Europe starting in the 1950s, with people going absolutely wild for pieces from this period ever since. 

As sustainable buys and pre-loved furniture continue to be a huge part of how we furnish our homes, raiding vintage stores for these classic designs, which are still going strong 80 years on, should be your first port of call. 

Even if you can’t get your hands on a lusted-after Danish sideboard or vintage teak coffee table, don’t sweat, because there are so many current takes on this style that look like they're straight from the era. From the history behind the mid-century modern decor movement to how to nail the aesthetic at home, here’s everything you need to know about it. 

What is mid-century modern design?

Extra points if you guessed this, but from the name, it’s pretty obvious that this design style started in the middle of the 20th century, around the 1950s. As a rule, design usually reflects what’s happening in society at the time — you know, the wants and needs of the people. When it comes to mid-century modern design, the idea was that after the Second World War, people were focused on moving forward, embracing the future of technology, and what that meant for mass production. This led to the creation of stable, simple homes that allowed them to embrace a more modern way of living.

And voilà. As a result, people started favoring classic, simple designs with clean lines and a functional purpose. After such a difficult time, it became popular to buy furniture that would last — in solid wood and timeless styles — to move into the next era. 

What does mid-century modern actually look like?

When you think of mid-century modern pieces today, most people picture vintage furniture in warm-toned teak, rosewood, or oak wood. The aesthetic is form-led — it’s all about throwing unique shapes together and creating an almost futuristic feel, compared to what had been in fashion pre-1950s. 

Think low, sloped back armchairs with interesting back designs or missing panels, and round dining tables with a ribbed, central leg. Overall the defining characteristics were and are about clean lines, interesting shapes, and the use of what you might think of as "earthy" materials like wood, but also glass, metal, or vinyl. 

Although this design was created decades ago, it hasn't lost popularity. Everyone and their dog have tried their take on mid-century modern design and, of course, the boundaries have been continually pushed. 

What's the easiest way to add a mid-century modern feel to my home?

The most commonly used mid-century modern pieces are usually statement chairs or storage furniture — both of which are super easy to incorporate into your current interior scheme. 

You see, this is the beauty of the mid-century modern look, the simple nature of the furniture’s aesthetic means it goes with pretty much anything. The key to a well-designed home is bringing in layers of different vibes. You never want a space to look themed or too matchy-matchy. So, adding a pop of either vintage home decor or vintage-inspired furniture to the space will help bring in character and a sense of considered design, which is a win-win. 

My advice is to try a low, wooden sideboard in a hallway or along a longer wall in the living room, a singular accent chair in an unused corner of a bedroom, or a glass coffee table with a retro feel from that time. You could also swap out your dining chairs for a mid-century modern-inspired set. This is super easy as to do as there are so many copies these days.

How can I style mid-century modern pieces?

My favorite way to style a mid-century modern piece is to stick with a classic sideboard and decorate it with home accessories that reflect you. As I said earlier, you’re not trying to recreate a museum, so don’t pick all retro decor items to put on top. 

Instead, choose a big vase, some plants, and a large print that you can lean against the top of the sideboard and the wall. While natural materials were a big part of this movement, the designers from this time were actually known for their ability to use fun flashes of color, so don’t be afraid to go bright!

Give your home a mid-century modern-inspired look with these decor buys

You don't need to spend your whole budget to get a slice of this timeless style for your apartment or home. Check out our buys below and get the look. 

The prices below were correct at the time of publishing this article.