What Is Mid-Century Modern? (Infographic)

Mid-century modern may be the most popular interior design style right now. Even contemporary furniture and decor is heavily influenced by the MCM aesthetic.

Whether you want your place to have an obvious retro feel, or you just want to incorporate touches of mid-century modern style, this infographic will help you nail the look.

Mid-Century Modern Infographic

They say trends repeat themselves. Everything comes back again. The adage is remarkably correct when we talk about mid-century modern design and architecture.

Mid-century modern is one of the biggest movements in architecture, interior design and decor. A trip to Palm Springs will certainly convince you of it. It began right around 1933 and finished strong in 1965. By the 1950s, as Perry Como topped the charts, it had its name.

Entire subdivisions were being erected with MCM designed homes. The suburbs were packed with MCM show homes. Block parties began, and fathers everywhere started barbecuing. It was like a scene right out of Edward Scissorhands.

Designers and architects around the world began featuring the clean lines and simple spaces in their work. And just as quick as it went out of style, it has come back with a vengeance.

Today, the mid-century modern design has undergone a resurgence. Possibly the most popular design style in America right now, mid-century modern design is just about everywhere you look.

From chain furniture stores to boutique design stores. From the top architects in New York to niche designers re-vamping Palm Springs. The secret is certainly out: Mid-century modern is back, and it’s likely here to stay.


table | Sean Dix chairs | modern shell chairs

Lately, it’s been noted by many of the leading designers that even the most modern elements used in sterile show homes are influenced by the MCM aesthetic.

With contemporary countertops, stainless steel appliances and boldly futuristic furniture, the people behind these designs are using MCM techniques to escape the sterile cookie-cutter pads and fuse warmth and personality into them with visible wood beams, exposed brick, and rustic but elegant appointments to create charming and warm spaces in a home that could otherwise be mistaken for a hospital operating room.

Far too often are men associating mid-century modern with an Austin Powers style flare and flamboyance. Certainly, traditional MCM aesthetics would inspire thoughts of retro homes in The Spy Who Shagged Me or an episode of Get Smart.

However, today these retro-inspired design pieces are cleverly understated and blend far more harmoniously with a more contemporary elegance.

Chances are your home already has some MCM elements, or you’ve admired some pieces at various furniture stores or perhaps on Pinterest boards. Integrating warmth with some bolder furniture can remain minimalistic by altering a bright leather in red or orange for a more sophisticated chocolate or espresso brown, or even a textured black.

This is one area where those who want a retro chair or sofa can actually save money. Scour estate sales, Craigslist ads and even vintage stores for inexpensive pieces with the overall design that can be upgraded and modernized with a simple reupholstering to give it a modern feel.

Even vintage Chesterfields can be found at a far lower price than a new tuft sofa from the store. So long as its frame is sturdy, being refreshed with a new fabric or leather is often all it takes to go from drab to fab.


nightstand lamp

Since trends tend to go out of style as fast as they come in, we never recommend focusing too much on a trend.

The reason for this is if the mid-century modern trend fizzles away, you can be left having to go through the process of re-designing your home, again and again, simply to keep up with the newest trend.

Instead of focusing on mid-century modern design, consider keeping the design of your home simple and using MCM pieces and decor. This way, you’re not going to be stuck having to tear down a teardrop shaped burnt orange countertop or re-paint a gaudy mustard-yellow wall.

The most successful designers don’t encourage their clients to focus on a specific movement. Instead, they incorporate these movements into the overall design that is based on the homeowner’s personality and lifestyle.

Unless you’re trying to develop a showpiece or are staging a movie set or museum, the small touches often have the biggest impact. A rustic wood, oversized planter with a tropical plant. A clean metal floor lamp in red, orange or yellow. An egg or diamond chair made from luxurious black calfskin and teak wood.


modern lounge chair

These are the small touches that can change a room and give it mid-century modern character. You don’t necessarily need every piece of furniture to fit into the mold, but if you want to stay trendy and give your home some heart, mid-century modern is one movement worthy of your consideration.

While some pieces of furniture or decor are decidedly mid-century modern, many are just influenced by this style to varying degrees. For example, many contemporary sofas have splayed legs or tufted backs. Does that make them mid-century modern sofas? Not necessarily.

But the good news is, you don’t really have to define what each piece is, unless you’re trying to re-create a specific vintage look (say, for a movie set or museum).

Chances are you probably just want to understand what MCM is and how to incorporate it into your own living space. We hope this graphic helps you do just that!

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