Mid-Century Modern 101

Well, it looks like the Mid-Century Modern craze is here to stay. 

Mid-Century Modern. That term is slung around a lot and I'm realizing that most people aren't exactly clear what it means. I can't say I'm an expert but we are about to embark on a big Mid Century project. So, I thought it was an appropriate time to share what I know and educate ourselves at the same time.

What is Mid Century Modern?

"Midcentury modern" itself is a difficult term to define. It broadly describes architecture, furniture, and graphic design from the middle of the 20th century  (roughly 1933 to 1965). 

Why is MCM is popular?


A simple reason for the continued popularity of MCM is just that, well, people like it. The New York Times dug a little deeper in an article called "Why won't Mid-Century Modern Die?", asking designers what, exactly, is so great about mid-century modern furniture. Responses varied:
- It's good for small spaces.
- It's easy to find and available at every price point.
- The shapes are classic.
- It goes with everything.

Thanks to the popularity of "Mad Men" and affordability of IKEA, mid-century modern is starting to look less like a style and more like the style.

Check out this quote from Jim Brett, President of West Elm: “America is urbanizing again. The purpose this furniture served a long time ago is still a purpose it serves today: It’s intuitive to smaller spaces. I don’t know if there’s another time period with such a prolific amount of beautifully functional designs.”

Name dropping


FLW was an American architect, interior designer, writer and educator who designed more than 1,000 structures. He believed in designing structures that were in harmony with humanity and its environment, a philosophy he called 'Organic Architecture'.

He literally designed the home around its environment. This is best shown with Fallingwater (1935), which has been called "the best all-time work of American architecture". 


Joseph Eichler is best known for his iconic Mid Century homes but he was actually a developer, not an architect. One of his aims was to construct inclusive and diverse planned communities ideally featuring integrated parks and community centers. He wanted to bring modern design to the masses.

Apparently he was inspired when his family lived in a Frank Lloyd Wright-designed home in Hillsborough, CA. He tried to produce similar designs and so hired Robert Anshen, a Wright disciple, to design the initial Eichlers

One of Eichler's signature concepts was to "bring the outside in", which he achieved with skylights, floor-to-ceiling windows looking out on protected and private outdoor rooms, atriums, gardens, and pools. He built over 11,000 homes in nine Northern California communities and three Southern California communities. 



Charles and Ray were not brothers but rather a husband and wife couple. They are best known for their contributions to architecture, furniture design, industrial design and manufacturing, and the photography.

Their Molded Plywood Chair was named "Chair of the Century". They had ideas about making a better world where things were designed to fulfill the needs of ordinary people and bring greater simplicity and pleasure to our lives. The Eameses pursued new ideas and forms with a sense of “serious fun.” 

The Eames Lounge Chair is an icon of American design. Today, these pieces not only live in museums, but continue to offer comfort and style to interiors everywhere.



Sometimes best known to the masses for his Tulip Chair and Womb chair, Eero Saarinen was also an accomplished architect and sculptor. One of his most phenomenal designs is the St. Louis Gateway Arch.


George Nelson

George Nelson was an American indusrial designer and one of the founders of American Modernism. While Director of Design for the Herman Miller furniture company, Nelson and his design studio, George Nelson Associates, Inc., designed much of the 20th century's most iconic modernist furniture.

The ever-coveted Platform Bench

The ever-coveted Platform Bench

Nelson, a designer, teacher, writer, and editor, never hesitated to say exactly what he believed to be true. Here's a statement he made in a 1947 issue of Fortune magazine:
"The only simple statement that can be made about the furniture industry is that it is the second largest producer of consumer goods in the United States. The rest of the story is confusion, contradictions, more than a trace of catalepsy, and some exciting potentials...."

Nelson's designs—including the Coconut Chair, Marshmallow Sofa, Platform Bench, and a slew of chests, tables, and work desks—are as popular today as they were when they were first introduced. Proving that good design is always in style.



Isamu Noguchi was an American artist and landscape architect whose artistic career spanned six decades, from the 1920s onward. Known for his sculpture and public works, Noguchi also designed stage sets for various Martha Graham productions, and several mass-produced lamps and furniture pieces, some of which are still manufactured and sold.

Designed by Isamu Noguchi for Herman Miller®

Designed by Isamu Noguchi for Herman Miller®



Herman Miller is a major American manufacturer of office furniture, equipment and home furnishings. It is one of the first companies to produce modern furniture and, under the guidance of Design Director George Nelson, is likely the most prolific and influential producer of furniture of the modernist style. Among classic Herman Miller products are the Equa chair, Aeron chairNoguchi tableMarshmallow sofa, and the Eames Lounge Chair. Herman Miller is credited with the invention of the office cubicle in 1968. Herman Miller cultivated the talents of a large number of modernist designers, producing a significant number of pieces that are now considered icons of industrial design.

In July 2014, Herman Miller announced it had reached an agreement to purchase the contemporary retailer Design Within Reach (DWR) for $154 million, in a bid to establish itself as a “premier lifestyle brand”.


Elements of Style


Wood is MUST in Mid-Century Modern design. Don't be afraid to use wood panels on both the walls and the ceiling to create a cozy, nostalgic vibe. Once you have this earthy backdrop, you can add layers of decor in bright colors to give the room a distinct identity.


Mid-Century Modern style is all about adding a few timeless pieces to the modern living room, bedroom or dining space.

Geometric Patterns and Wallpaper

Bold geometric patterns and intricate designs are an big part of the MCM style, and you can use them in drapes, rugs and crazy wallpaper. Remember, though, that these bold patterns must complement the clean look of the room and should add contrast to the space.

Pair bright colors with a neutral palette

Here's what  Thrive Furniture  says are MCM colors

Here's what Thrive Furniture says are MCM colors


Give the space a little warm and earthiness with some natural textures.



Get a bit out of your comfort zone with a fabulous wall mirror or light fixture.



I'll leave you with an article by FastCo called "Why Mid Century Modern is the Pumpkin Spiced Latte of Interior Design". Interesting reading.

Well, it looks like the Mid-Century Modern craze is here to stay. 

Mid-Century Modern. That term is slung around a lot and I'm realizing that most people aren't exactly clear what it means. I can't say I'm an expert but we are about to embark on a big Mid Century project. So, I thought it was an appropriate time to share what I know and educate ourselves at the same time.