Photograph courtesy of Pook and Pook, Inc.
Among newlyweds and other young folks nesting in their new homes, Mid-Century Modern is back. They throw around the term with abandon when referencing the style that has suddenly become a hip and trendy classic.
Despite its popularity, the term can encompass everything from plain old contemporary to high-tech, so you have to know what to look for. The description was first used in 1953 and connotes a style popular from the mid-1940s to about 1970. It’s characterized by clean lines, organic and streamlined forms, and a lack of embellishment.
The simple one-story homes built for the throngs of returning World War II soldiers began as cookie-cutter, mass-produced neighborhoods around 1947. These houses were much cheaper to build than the more ornate and gracious Victorians, Georgians and Colonial Revivals from earlier years—and many could be thrown up quickly.
Soon, forward-thinking architects sought to evolve standard tract homes into prettier, glassier, classier mid-century homes, replete with architectural wow factors and individuality. Well-known architects like Marcel Breuer and Charles DuBois upped the ante with longer horizontal lines and flat roofs.
This modernist style really took hold as new materials and building techniques allowed architects to break with the forms and methods of the past. Decades on, the clean lines, open floor plans and expansive windows—with the intention of bringing the outside in—continue to hold an appeal. “The homes were able to deliver so much in less space,” says Michael Dreyfus of Golden Gate Sotheby’s International Realty. “You can get three and four bedrooms in a very small footprint.”
Such efficiency was popular with buyers— and only a new style of furniture would look appropriate in these spare and simple interiors. The dust ruffles, chair skirts and antimacassars of earlier decades had no place here. Some architects of such modern houses even designed the organic, functional furniture—or used pieces from all the new design studios popping up that specialized in the look. “The mid 20 century was a design renaissance for furniture, interiors and architecture. The sleek, distinctive style of chic simplicity is beloved and has seen a major revival” in recent years, according to Elle Décor.
Krystal Reinhard, owner of West Chester, Pa.’s Old Soul Décor is seeing the uptick, too. “It’s been very popular for a while,” says Reinhard, who’s also an artist and designer. Reinhard’s store, gallery and showroom features eclectic design, vintage and antique home decor, artworks, rugs, lighting, jewelry, and more. She first saw its resurgence a decade ago when interior design clients asked for the “real thing”—expensive high-end pieces from the likes of Marcel Breuer, Ray and Charles Eames, Herman Miller and Eero Saarinen. “You’d spend a ton of money to buy the real pieces online,” says Reinhard, noting the “high-quality rosewood and walnut” used in their construction.
These days, thanks to its wild popularity among the younger, less affluent crowd, “the market is saturated, with West Elm, CB2 and Crate and Barrel” making knockoffs from pressed wood and fiberboard, Reinhard says. Such pieces are affordable, but when they break or wear out, there’s no refinishing and reupholstering them, like you can with the finer pieces. Another big aspect of Mid-Century Modern’s appeal is its versatility in the smaller apartments younger generations are living in. Millennials are also into upcycling and searching out furniture from vintage stores and online outlets.
Reinhard builds her inventory from estate sales and vintage and antiques dealers. Lately she’s been adding chairs, settees, trunks and other pieces re-covered in cowhide, grain sacks and linen. “I love to mix old with new,” she says. “I want people to be able to use pieces they already have, and then pick out something new that can change a room.”
Natural colored woods take prominence in mid-century living spaces. As with the large windows, the idea is to bring nature indoors. This is often achieved with a wood planked ceiling or wall. Or add a few pieces of furniture in natural wood—even couch arms can do the trick. Once you get the organic furniture shapes down, accessories can achieve a lot. Here’s how:
• Add a quintessential sputnik light fixture.
• Utilize orange and brown. A bold orange wall can help highlight the wood. Paired with brown, the two tones create a warm and inviting atmosphere reminiscent of the mid 20th century.
• For a mid-century chic look, try chartreuse and gray. This cool, fresh duo is an easy way to incorporate accents. Start with painted gray walls then add pops of color like a chartreuse couch. Wary of spending big bucks on such a bold sofa? Use the color in pillows and drapes.
• Try teal, brown and white. Add sophistication and glamor with a wood-paneled wall behind a white couch with teal pillows.