10 Elements of Mid-Century Modern Style

10 Elements Of Mid-Century Style

Over its eight-year run on the air, the AMC period drama, Mad Men, became a must-see show for anyone interested in the sleek look of mid-century modern design. The clean lines and retro styles of the show became a boon to the home furnishings market and helped to revitalize the style in the 21st century. The interiors in the show, which were conceived by designer, Dan Bishop, explored an array of popular styles of the late 1960s and early 1970s.

Looking like the rooms had been plucked right from the pages of vintage magazines, viewers got to see the French Provincial bedroom of Betty and Don Draper and their American Colonial Revival Kitchen. It was Don Draper’s workplace and penthouse, though, that seemed to resonate the most powerfully, bringing mid-century designs back to the masses and cementing itself as a symbol for mid-century modern design.

The décor, furniture, and even the rugs introduced in the 1950s and 1960s were sophisticated, clean, and inclusive. While Mad Men has helped increase interest in mid-century design, the style has remained a staple in interior design for decades. To better understand such a unique and influential style, let’s look at the fundamental elements of mid-century modern décor.

1. Interior Design Inspirations

Interior Design Inspirations

To start with, we need to remember that great interior design always draws bits and pieces from a variety of different influences. The style drew a great deal of inspiration from the hard economic times during and immediately after World War II. During this time, many people were living without excess, so furniture and decor were kept simple and unobtrusive. Eventually, prosperity returned to the country which allowed designers to draw from the past and create something new.

Today, most people find themselves living fast-paced lives full of technology that has created a longing for a simpler way of life. As a result, many people have sought connections to a nostalgic version of the past. Simple furniture and minimalistic design help calm the barrage of information constantly coming our way. This could help explain the current rise in popularity of mid-century design.

2. The Modern Color Palette

The Mid-Century Modern Color Palette

Choosing colors is the first step to planning the design of a space. The colors you select are going to define the tone of the room and lead to your furniture and décor selections. The mid-century color palette usually combines saturated accent colors with darker neutral tones. Despite the minimalistic designs in the mid-century era, bright, cold colors and patterns in textiles and fabrics would bring out the essence of a mid-century home. This was truly liberating to the interior décor of this time and worked to create new freedoms of expression and creativity to bring homes to life.

Always remember to follow the interior design color picking rule of thumb, the 60-30-10 rule. The room colors should be 60% dominant base color, mixed with 30% secondary color and 10% accent color. Try to avoid choosing more than 3 or 4 colors.

3. Furniture Design Options

Cordoba Rufted Chair & Ottoman 2PC Set w Stainless Steel Frame by Diamond Sofa

Mid-century furniture can be easily identified by clean, straight lines accented with curved, smooth angles. Designers were focused on removing the fancy upholstery and over-the-top ornamentation of their predecessors. The result of these efforts is a style defined by clean lines, bright colors, and modern materials.

The minimalist design of this era commonly relies on wood, fiberglass, metal, and modern polymers. Typically, the furniture will have one or two colors and little to no patterns.

4. Rugs and Décor

Hand Hooked Anderson from Heritage by NuLoom

Geometric patterns and abstract design are practically synonymous with mid-century modern design. Identifying patterns is essential when picking the right décor and rugs for your mid-century modern home. Inspired by the expressionist, post-expressionist, and abstract art movements that came before them, mid-century modern décor loves abstract, asymmetrical patterns. Period designs didn’t use rustic elements like aged metal or unfinished wood, but modern variations of the movement have added a slight contemporary bend.

Rugs with just one solid color are a common feature of mid-century modern design. Rugs also feature geometric patterns with shapes like triangles, circles, or straight lines. Many patterns that aren’t quite from the 1950s or 1960s work well with mid-century modern design. As long as the rug’s design and colors are clean, it will do well in a mid-century modern room.

5. Lighting

Brentwood Floor Lamp by Zuo Mod

Table lamps and floor lamps made in the mid-century modern style often have either geometric features, straight lines, or a simple, curved contour. The contrasts in these designs offer a bold position for lighting in a mid-century modern room. Most lamps are made from a variety of finished metals, but occasionally, they may have wood legs or feature accents of synthetic materials.

There are many iconic lighting designs, but one of the best-known ceiling lamp designs is The Sputnik which features exposed bulbs on straight rods that radiate out of the center. Much like its namesake, this light fixture helped to define the space age.

6. Mid-Century Walls


While sterile walls can help maintain a clean, minimalist appearance, mid-century modern design offers a variety of options to employ on the walls of your home. The geometric patterns of these design aren’t just confined to the furniture. Many iconic rooms feature unique patterns that stretch across the entirety of an otherwise blank space.

Mid-century designers also commonly featured wood in their design. This trend caught on across America, but it quickly fell out of style as manufacturers marketed cheap and flimsy wood paneling. If the idea of a complete wallpaper makeover sounds a little scary, you could stick to white or neutral walls and let the furniture or a few pieces of art take center stage.

7. Flat Planes

Flat Planes
edward stojakovic

The minimalism of mid-century design was completely pervasive throughout the mid-century modern home. This pursuit of simplicity extended not only to interiors but to the design of the homes themselves. True mid-century modern houses boast geometric lines and retro patterns throughout with bare elements such as exposed light bulbs, stripped lamps, and exposed industrial materials such as concrete, wood, and finished metal.

The rooms of mid-century modern homes are simple, open spaces and the furniture featured inside boast glass elements and unprocessed, fluffy textiles. Flat roofs are common but not required as many feature gable roofs.

8. Large Windows

Mid-Century Modern Large Windows

Expansive panes of glass and sliding glass doors are ideal in mid-century modern design. These designs allow natural light to flow into rooms from a range of angles and reduce the need for artificial lighting that can clutter a minimalistic design.

Light is incredibly important. Bright environments along with bright wood details are paramount. Mid-century modern design is supposed to be comfortable and casual but not luxurious. In addition to large windows, mid-century modern design often features bright colors such as white or yellow in sofas, kitchens, walls and floors.

9. Verticle Elements

Verticle Elements

The iconic split-level space was pioneered by mid-century modern design. A small step down in an otherwise open space helped to separate areas for different purposes while maintaining the clean designs that were so important to mid-century modern designers.

A mid-century modern space may have partial walls or even cabinets of varying heights to create variety in the space and helped people understand how the space was supposed to function. These slight variation helped people using the space make huge mental differentiations.

10. Integration With Nature

Integration with Nature

While the liberal use of windows helps to create light, they have another benefit, connection to the outdoor world. For decades, homes were used as a refuge from the elements, but designers sought to integrate their designs with nature. For an example of this principle you need to look no further than the most iconic example of modern architecture, Frank Lloyd Wright’s Fallingwater in Mill Run, Pennsylvania.

Mid-century modern rooms tend to have multiple outdoor views to encourage an appreciation of the area surrounding the home. They also often feature natural elements inside the home. Potted plants, floral designs, and prominent outdoor areas are all common in mid-century modern design.

If you’re going mid-century modern, which rugs will you choose to compliment your décor? Take a look at the selection at Plush Rugs today.

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