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Know your styles: mid-century modern living rooms

‘Midcentury modern’ refers to a period of design that spanned the early ’50s up until the end of the ’60s. This movement, which originated in the United States, had a profound effect on modern decor, architecture and graphic design.

Thanks to innovative designers such as Eero Saarinen, George Nelson and Milo Baughman, we can still see evidence of the midcentury movement in modern decor and design. However, just what are the hallmarks of mid-century modernism? How can you identify it? And are there ways to achieve it in your own home?

Our first tip would be to do a deep-dive, binge-watch of all seven seasons of Mad Men. But, if you don’t have time to indulge yourself in the TV show’s sumptuous set designs, check out these pointers below.

Laura Spring Carpet

Lehariya Red by Laura Spring. Available from www.floorstory.co.uk, £295

Geometric patterns

When it comes to patterns, bold geometric shapes are most closely associated with this decor type. Asymmetrical abstract patterns were the dominant choice for artworks, rugs, upholstery, and even wallpaper. Many of the titans of this period, such as Knoll, are still producing products in these recognisable styles, so it’s possible to snap up an authentic pattern without having to splash out on an antique rug.

Noguchi Coffee TableNoguchi coffee table. Image via Wikipedia: author: Expandinglight5 – used under CC License

Iconic furniture pieces

Without doubt, the most obvious way to spot midcentury decor is in furniture design. Items like the Noguchi coffee table have become icons of modern design; and even if you don’t know the names of them, there are pieces of furniture you will recognise. Some items of midcentury modern furniture now even exhibit in art galleries.

And it’s no surprise, considering how reminiscent in form some of the tables, chairs and sofas of this era are too abstract sculptures from the same time. Genuine pieces from the period can command incredibly high prices – but happily, there are many manufacturers producing high-quality reproductions of the original designs for substantially less. You could, of course, head to local markets, retro shops, car boot sales or search the internet to see if you can get lucky and snap up a genuine article for an absolute bargain.

Living room with grey and yellow sofa


The juxtaposition of colours and materials so commonly utilised by interior designers today harks back to the mid-century design movement. Designers from this era particularly loved taking natural materials, often American hardwoods, and mixing them up with glass and newly invented moulded plastics to create an iconic look. Midcentury modern decor doesn’t try to disguise plastic as another material; instead, its natural appearance is celebrated and seen as being both futuristic and chic.


Modern open-plan living can trace its roots back to the mid-century movement. Pre-war, architects favoured the traditional approach of building homes in a compartmentalised manner with many small rooms connected by hallways. Midcentury designers threw this concept out of the window, favouring instead large, open-plan spaces to create a sense of flow and cohesion. As such, a typical midcentury modernist living room will often be a shared space with the kitchen and dining area.

However, interest and focus were often added to space by features such as a raised platform around the fireplace, or even by installing a sunken conversation pit.


The stalwarts of the style took their influences from Scandinavian design and the German Bauhaus art movement. As such, midcentury decor is deeply intertwined with minimalist design. The movement favours uncluttered, sleek lines, and objects with minimal ornamentation, keeping true to the rule that ‘form follows function’. It is only the patterns found in textiles and artwork that break this, to add interest to a space.

When it comes to artworks, furniture and other objects contained within the living room, a midcentury modernist approach would be ‘quality over quantity’; keeping things to a minimum, but ensuring that everything included in the room was of the highest standard of production and design.

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