Mid-Century Modern Style – Your Ultimate Guide

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Mid-Century Modern interiors

Photos by: alexroz,  Meokonxd, and  KatarzynaBialasiewicz.

All by Canva Pro

Mid-Century Modern homes

Photos by: monkeypics,  Solidago.

All via Canva Pro

Mid-Century modern clock, turntable, and seating area

Photos by:  Albuquerque,  braddy and Thinkstock Images Photo Images.

All via Canva Pro

Whether you’re familiar with Mid-Century Modern Style or not, we’re confident to say that you’ve probably seen it somewhere, somehow. And we’re going as far as to say that it might have caught your attention to some degree.

If you say yes to both accounts, that doesn’t come as a surprise. The style has been enjoying a good amount of ubiquity today, and its elements’ traits give them an art-like quality that makes one look.

But before we go deeper, let’s do a backgrounder on how the style came to be. If you’d rather not have a history lesson, go straight to other topics on the table of contents below.


Let’s get right to it.

As its name implies, Mid-Century Modern is a “modern” style that became popular in the middle of the 20th century, particularly in America.


Its design principles were influenced by the modernist Bauhaus Movement that came before it, and in terms of architecture, by Frank Lloyd Wright’s Prairie Style.


Apart from these, several events of the mid-1940s to the 1960s contributed to what we know now as the Mid-Century Modern Style, nicknamed MCM or Midmod. 

The Bauhaus and Prairie Style connections

Images of Bauhaus & Prairie building

 Bauhaus photos by: claudiodivizia,  senorcampesino, Both via Canva Pro

Prairie photos by: Photocopy of Plate #12, Frank Lloyd Wright, Ausgefuherte Baute, Berlin: Ernst Wasmuth A-G, 1911, Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons AND

Lykantrop, Copyrighted free use, via Wikimedia Commons

The Bauhaus Movement was interrupted when the Nazis closed down the Bauhaus school in 1933. But in 1937, its founder Walter Gropius was able to migrate to the US. He became the head of architecture of Harvard University where he introduced the modernist principles of Bauhaus. Before long, his students  accepted his teachings, and modernism in American architecture began to enter the mainstream.


Then in the 1950s, as America was enjoying a rise in its middle class population, the needs for single-family home units also rose.


Frank Lloyd Wright’s Prairie Style homes were already popular at that time. They quickly became the architects’ inspiration as they delivered on the housing demands. Bungalows, split-level, and one-level rambler homes were built – all in the spirit of the Prairie homes, done with a modernist twist.  

An Aerial view of the Levittown housing project in Pennsylvania and a stretch of Mid-Century Modern homes

Photos by:  The Everett Collection & Solidago Getty Images Signature. Both via Canva Pro

And with that, the single-level house filled the new American suburbs, becoming the poster unit representing the Mid-Century Modern residential architecture.

How post World War II events affected Mid-Century Modern

As World War II raged on, the Modernist Movement in the form of Bauhaus began to take a foothold in American soil. So when the war ended by mid-century, modernism simply picked up from where it had left off.


However, the events of that time were also significant by themselves that the Modern Style got influenced and began to take different looks.


From developments in technologies to social changes, here are the factors that shaped the Mid-Century Modern Style.

Shortage of metal

Posters about metal collection, molded plywood and molded plastics

Save Scrap for Victory – Work Projects Administration Poster Collection, Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons.

Salvage for Victory – National Archives at College Park, Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons.

Molded Plastic Chair by doodah_stock Getty Images via Canva Pro.

Plywood Chair by doodah_stock Getty Images via Canva Pro.

A great deal of metal was used during the war that it resulted to its shortage. Much so that the US government had to campaign for its collection to supply their troops with ammunition. 

So with the help of new technologies, molded plywood and molded plastics began to be used more in furniture design.

Invention of long-span glass

Stahl House, Bauhaus Building & Crystal Palace

Stahl House with floor-to-ceiling glass walls by Ovs at English Wikipedia, Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons.

Crystal Palace image by Phillip Brannan, courtesy of the Science Museum Group with Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 4.0 Licence.

Bauhaus Building by Tegula by Pixabay via Canva Pro 

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Around 1952, a new process for glass making was invented and pieces spanning up to 4 meters or 13 feet became available. Prior to that, the Crystal Palace had only used 10” x 49” glass modules. The panes used in the Bauhaus building were around the same size.


Floor-to-ceiling glass walls started to appear in modern architecture. Large glass doors and windows became commonplace too.

Migration of Europeans to the US

Migration to US concept image

Migration concept – Photo by heliopix Getty Images via Canva Pro

Mid-Century Modern is mostly identified as an American style. However, it had its roots from the Modern Movement brought by European immigrants as they fled to the US before and after the Second World War. And among them were Scandinavian craftsmen.


It became inevitable for these two groups to influence each other in terms of their design and construction techniques. And that resulted to many similarities between the two styles.


But while it’s the Americans and the Scandinavians that are today closely associated with Midmod, the style encompasses works in the same era by designers the world over.

The atomic bomb and the Space Race

Atomic bomb, Sputnik satellite & American's landing on the moon

Atomic bomb – Charles Levy, Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons.

Space Race – various, CC BY-SA 4.0 <https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/4.0>, via Wikimedia Commons.

Two major events of the mid 1900s were the atomic bombings that ended World War II, and the Space Race between the US and the Soviet Union during the Cold War.

These were so significant that they made their way to become architectural and interior design styles themselves.

The rise of Bohemianism and Pop Art Movement

Boho and Pop Art

Boho Lifestyle – Photo by carlosbezzGetty Images Signature.

Pop Art Movement – Photo by leszekglasner Getty Images.

Both via Canva Pro.

By the 1960s, Bohemianism became a big thing in the US. While its characteristics were in direct opposition to those of Modernism, Mid-Century Modern-styled space was still influenced by the Boho Style.



Simultaneously unfolding was the Pop Art Movement, which brought back a “sense of realism” in arts’ imagery as opposed to the extreme abstraction that preceded it. This can also be seen in some renditions of Midmod. Find some examples herehere, & here.

There you go. The things that make Midmod the style that it is. Let’s use this backgrounder as contexts as we define the style, its characteristics, and design elements.

What is Mid-Century Modern Style?

Mid-Century Modern is a post-World War II architectural and interior design style. It was influenced by modernist Bauhaus and the events of mid-1940s to 1960s, like the rise of Bohemianism, Atomic Age and Space Age. This diversity made it a distinct version of modernist style.



A style of a distant past, Mid-Century Modern is now described as a “retro” style, along with the other styles of its time.


So that makes Midmod unique in a way because it belongs to two families of styles – Modernist and Retro families.



What are the key traits and of Mid-Century Modern?

With many different factors and events contributing to the style, a space built or decorated in Midmod aesthetic can have different looks. While they all have overarching similarities, they can also look diverse depending on which influence its elements are drawn from.


Let’s break down the characteristics they can display according to each of the influences.



From Modernism:

  • Doesn’t include any element or reference from classic historical styles
  • Emphasis on functionality / multi-functionality

From Bauhaus that embraced the methods afforded by the Industrial Revolution:

  • Exhibits clean lines
  • Has the “machine aesthetic” as opposed to handmade
  • Has a masculine vibe

From Prairie:

  • Simple
  • Restrained
  • Use of natural elements
  • Earthy
  • Emphasizes the horizontal to blend with nature or “prairie”
  • Open spaces resembling the outdoors

Other traits:

  • Can include a mix of natural and engineered materials
  • Can look like Scandinavian Style
  • Blurs the line between the indoors and the outdoors because of the use of large glasses
  • Can include elements from the Atomic Age, Space Age, Bohemian, and Pop Art Styles – in small doses, to refer to mid-20th century events, giving the spaces a nostalgic, retro feel
  • “Close-to-nature” characteristic, shared by Scandi, Boho, and also Prairie 
  • Can be eclectic, bold, colorful, and graphic – like Boho
  • Furnishings have sculptural, art-like quality
  • Furnishings can be multi-functional
  • Furniture pieces are iconic, just like their designers who became icons themselves 

What are the design elements seen in Mid-Century Modern?

There is no shortage in design elements to choose from when it comes to Mid-Century Modern, and we’ve got them listed down below.


However, with too many elements used, a Midmod space can easily become kitschy and look dated. Whether you’re going for a faithful interpretation or a simpler, contemporary, inspired look, use just enough elements to achieve your design goals.



Let’s dive into it.

Mid-Century Modern Architectural Elements


Clerestory window, house with low-pitched roof, home with an accent wall made of decorative cement blocks  by Solidago via Canva Pro

Living room with sloped ceiling by: Jodie Johnson via Canva Pro

Glass blocks by  KatarzynaBialasiewicz via Canva Pro

Stahl House with floor-to-ceiling glass walls by Ovs at English Wikipedia, Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons.

1960s example of an outdoor space in the home – Source: 

https://c1.staticflickr.com/5/4541/37927006335_d6859e6dbd_b.jpg (image/JPEG)

Motorola Pendulum by Charles Schridde, 1961-1963. Fair use / Creative Commons license.

Architectural details:

  • Flat or low-pitched roof, with the latter reflected in the interiors as sloped ceiling 
  • Exposed beams
  • Glass walls
  • Large picture doors and windows, preferably without treatment
  • Clerestory windows which are short windows near the roof line and extending just around a foot down the wall, letting light in and providing privacy at the same time
  • Outdoor living spaces that seamlessly connect the indoors to the outdoors
  • Decorative cement blocks with uniform geometric patterns lending a space the “machine aesthetic”
  • Glass blocks
Mid-Century Modern Hard Materials


Glass door by Spiderplay

Seating vignette by alexroz

Molded Plastic Chair by doodah_stock Getty Images via Canva Pro.

Plywood Chair by doodah_stock Getty Images via Canva Pro.

Hard materials:

  • Steel and black iron
  • Glass
  • Medium or dark-colored wood 
  • Molded plywood
  • Molded plastics



Natural and organic materials:

  • Natural stones
  • Live-edged wood
  • Plants 


Soft materials:

  • Leather
  • Linen
  • Polyester
Elements of Mid-Century Modern Furniture


Eames arm chair by Andres Jasso on Unsplash, 

Green arm chair by byryoGetty Images Pro

Cherner arm chair – pressed plywood by Jodie Johnson via Canva Pro

Sideboard by Carlos Diaz  Pexels via Canva Pro

Eames Lounge Chair byAnete Lusina Pexels via Canva Pro

Sofa arm by Anete Lusina Pexels via Canva Pro

Side table Source:Temple & Webster Australia via stylesourcebook.com


Furniture pieces have:

  • Flat-paneled doors
  • Biscuit tufting, with or without buttons
  • Bent plywood frames with angular and curvilinear forms
  • Legs can be:
    • Steel
    • Splayed or straight tapered peg legs 
    • Black iron hairpin leg

Furnishings can include:

  • Works of early Modernists
  • American and Scandinavian designers of the time
  • Works of other designers of the time the world over 

Color palette can be:

  • Earthy – Boho influence
  • Neutral – Modern influence, but can look more like Scandinavian Style without enough elements that are particularly attributed to Midmod
  • Bright for a funky vibe – for Pop Art reference

Graphic and stylized patterns fabrics, upholstery, wall screens, wallpaper, flooring etc.

  • Uniform, geometric patterns or abstract –  to tap the style’s modern trait
  • Organic patterns for the style’s “close-to-nature” characteristic
  • Scandinavian stylized patterns in earthy color palette

Boho elements:

  • Earthy colors like mustard yellow, burnt orange, avocado green, turquoise
  • Floral patterns –  flower power reference
  • Psychedelic patterns
  • Macramé wall hangings
  • Musical instruments or music-related decor – guitar, vinyl, turntable. 

See some examples herehere, and here

Atomic and Space Age elements in Mid-Century Modern Style


PH pendant lamp (UFO-like) by Jesper_wh Getty Images via Canva Pro,

George Nelson Saucer Lamp by stef yau from Seattle, USACC BY 2.0, via Wikimedia Commons

Wall clock by Albuquerque Getty Images Signature via Canva Pro,

Starburst pendant light Source: Temple & Webster Australia via stylesourcebook.com

Mushroom Lamp from Merlino Furniture Australia via stylesourcebook.com

Sputnik satellite by TerryHealy via Canva Pro

Atomic bomb – Charles Levy, Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons.

Atomic formula by  serge001 via Canva Pro

Branching bubble chandelier #1, Branching bubble chandelier,  #2, Branching bubble chandelier #3 Source: Temple & Webster Australia via stylesourcebook.com

Coffee table by Phebe Tan on Unsplash 

Atomic Age elements:

  • Branching chandeliers – representing atomic formulas
  • Biomorphic shapes – the atomic reference went to include atoms in biological, cell-like sense

Space Age elements:

  • “Futuristic” furnishings, like fiberglass chair
  • Starburst chandelier
  • Sputnik-inspired bubble chandelier
  • Sun-inspired decor
  • UFO-inspired lighting

Artworks from Modernist Era and Pop Art Movement:

  • Lichtenstein-inspired pieces
  • Warhol-inspired pieces
  • Abstract

Retro appliances or retro-themed items as decor referencing the 1950s and 1960s.


See some Midmod spaces using these elements here, here, here & here.

Mid-Century Modern icons and their iconic works

This is by no means an exhaustive list because there are many of them. Nevertheless, these are enough to give you an idea on what characteristics to look for when creating you Midmod project. Click the links for images – they’re not affiliate links.




Charles and Ray Eames

Warren Platner 

Eero Saarinen

Harry Bertoia

  • Diamond Chair
  • Bird Chair

Florence Knoll

George Nelson

Norman Cherner

Isamu Noguchi




We find that not all Scandinavian pieces work well in Mid-Century Modern spaces, and here are what we think do. Anyhow, these are just our recommendations, and not exactly rules. 


Hans Wegner

Alvar Aalto

Finn Juhl

Arne Jacobsen

Poul Henningsen 




Achilles and Pier Giacomo Castiglione

Marco Zanuso




Jorge Ferrari Hardoy of Argentina

Pierre JeanneretSwiss architect


Greta Grossman 

There they are. Don’t forget that owing to the style’s modernist influence, you can include Bauhaus pieces, too. And you can find a short list here.

Tips on decorating in Mid-Century Modern Style

Mid-Century Modern spaces

Outdoor seating area photo by Sonnie Hiles on Unsplash,

Sofa with pillow vignette photo by byryo Getty Images Pro via Canva Pro

Coconut Chairs set up hoto by Thomas Litangen on Unsplash

Eames Lounge Chair vignette photo by Floreser on Unsplash 

Living room photo by Phebe Tan on Unsplash 

Restaurant photo by DAPA Images via Canva Pro

Some of these may seem redundant as they’re already mentioned in the characteristics and elements section. But we’re rounding up here some general guidelines to keep in mind when decorating in Midmod.



  • Keep an open layout if your space permits.
  • Like exposed beams but you don’t have them? Construct faux ones.
  • No outdoor area? Bring the outdoors in by including natural stones, and lots of plants.
  • Keep windows bare. If you prefer privacy, use sheer or patterned curtains.
  • With so many items to choose from, observe contrast when choosing elements. Example: Mix an upholstered sofa with sculptural accent chair. Use coffee table or side table with organic or biomorphic shape with seating pieces with rectilinear shape.
  • For lighting, there’s metal-shaded pieces, branching chandeliers, arching lamp, space-themed pieces.
  • Patterns can include: geometric. floral, organic, or psychedelic.
  • Color schemes can range from neutral, earthy, or bright, depending on the vibe you’re going for.
  • To keep your neutral-schemed space from looking more like Scandi than Midmod, subtly include Boho & Pop Art elements, like psychedelic patterns. Adding retro appliance will do the trick, too.
  • Practice restraint when adding elements. Using too much can make your space look dated, unless that’s your goal.

In Conclusion

With the kind of popularity the style has been enjoying, it seems like Mid-Century Modern is here to stay, and some have even gone to say that it’s now a classic.


And if you’ve chosen to do make a space in Midmod, there are so much to consider, and we hope this post has somehow given your project a direction to take.




For more reading, check out:


If you need more Midmod inspirations, head on to our Pinterest board where we’ve curated plenty of spaces done in this style.


Haven’t taken our quiz? See if Midmod is for you.

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