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The Eternal Elegance of Mid-Century Modern

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Function and form

Easily identifiable by its clean lines accented with smooth, curvaceous angles, mid-century modern design is so effortlessly stylish, it has remained a solid staple in the world of interior design for decades. For many of us, when we think of this era, we picture Don Draper reclining on a cognac-brown leather sofa with an on-the-job whiskey and smouldering Lucky Strike.

But beyond the Mad Man revival of the style in the early 2000s, mid-century modern is, in fact, one of the most iconic design styles in history and not likely to take a backseat any time soon. Classic, elegant and understated with minimal fuss, key to the style is pairing function and form while often exploring geometric patterns and contrasting materials, such as timber and velvet.

Beaumont dining table paired with Max velvet chairs

Introduce elements

To get the mid-century modern look in your home, you don’t need to replicate the set of Mad Men or an Alfred Hitchcock movie. The space has to be comfortable, practical and appealing to your 21st-century lifestyle and requirements — so pair the old and new to work for you. Select key anchoring pieces that reflect the style, such as an upholstered bed like the Brooklyn, a Beaumont dining table paired with velvet chairs and the Carson sofa — the diagonal peg legs and tufted backrest really echo the era.

simple style rules to decorate like a designer

Carson sofa in vintage grey

From Bauhaus to Boomer

The mid-century modern style took off in post-WWII America in the late 1940s (hence the name ‘mid-century’), fuelled by the economic upturn of winning the war. As soldiers came home and society began to thrive, this newfound wealth meant a spread to the suburbs into bigger houses. This snowballed into a greater demand for architecture and furniture and a huge baby boom (hello, Baby Boomers!). Significantly, there was also cultural and design revolution.

Pre-WWII, Bauhaus had been a huge design movement in Germany, famous for pairing beauty and function and allowing for mass production, yet it was cut short when WWII began. The tragedy of war uprooted many of Germany’s architects and designers from their homeland, who relocated to the United States, bringing with them the Bauhaus style. This injected an enormous burst of creativity and cultural sophistication into America, the likes of which it hadn’t experience before.

The immigration influx also brought even greater suburban sprawl and demand for housing. As society moved swiftly away from the stuffy, uptight traditional furnishings and décor of the early 20th century to a more optimistic and inventive future, a clear design trend began to emerge that felt wonderfully futuristic and liberating.

Hooray for Hollywood

In sync with this societal revolution, the Hollywood movie industry was also booming. Top architects and designers were enlisted to create luxury homes in Los Angeles and Palm Springs — the playground of the movie industry starlets of the era. The likes of Frank Sinatra, Elvis Presley and Marilyn Monroe once had swanky digs in Palm Springs, which remain as architectural gems (and tourist attractions!) showcasing mid-century design.

Palm Springs (near Los Angeles) is filled with mid-century modern architecture commissioned by movie stars in the 1950s and ’60s

Material world

Embracing a less formal and more organic aesthetic than the mainstream design of the past, the mid-century modern home was defined by the use of timber, leather and stone to suggest a greater integration with nature. Open floorplans, walls of windows and indoor plants also became essentials, as architects sought to bring the outdoors in.

Additionally, war-time technologies allowed for greater inventiveness in the world of architecture, industrial design, urban development and graphic design. In furniture and homewares production, a deliberate use of plastics was engaged. This new manufacturing material could be crafted to be form-fitting, functional and uber stylish.

Plastic fantastic

In 1948, the Museum of Modern Art announced the International Competition for Low-Cost Furniture Design, which turned out to be an important milestone in the history of plastics in design. In fact, the Eames’ La Chaise (1948) become an icon. Plastic, fibreglass and vinyl furniture and homewares began to be designed, manufactured and enjoyed for their own qualities, inventiveness and practicality, rather than in imitation of wood. La Chaise (pictured top) was the beginning of a new era of furniture design, igniting new ideas in both plastic and upholstered form.

Nelson armchair and Hendrix bookshelf

Back to the future

An offshoot of the mainstream mid-century modern style is its pop-cultural counterpart. Influenced by the nuclear age and budding space program, television programs such as The Jetsons, Flash Gordon and Lost in Space started to emerge. These sci-fi worlds embraced space travel, snazzy jumpsuits, and the stylish curves and diagonal angles of the classic mid-century movement, creating a stunning aesthetic in their own right.

Take me to the moon

You can easily add a relaxed playfulness to your mid-century interior with a hanging egg chair, colourful artwork or a curvaceous sofa.

Juno sofa and Best Friend print

A little luxe

More money in this boom period meant more luxurious influences. Designers began contrasting natural materials against glamorous glints, like accents of metal, velvet and glass. Upholstered bedheads, skinny diagonal peg legs capped with brass on sofas and armchairs, tall arcing floor lamps and dramatic statement chandeliers that hang like jewels are trademark of the era. An exploration of graphic symbols and geometric patterns further displayed the design revolution occurring, which spring boarded off the Bauhaus design movement.

Glamorous glints

Accessorise with some striking homewares, like an Elisa mirror, Vintage Floral print and some indoor plants that were popular at the time (or that you simply love). A traditional rug, like the Aditya Vintage Floral, adds a little Hollywood glam, while the Geo Shaded Diamond rug flaunts a bold geometric pattern. And don’t forget to roll in a cocktail cart stocked with spirits and you’ll be all ready for some lavish Mad Men style entertaining.

Get the mid-century modern look

We have a huge range of mid-century furniture and homewares in-store. Or browse below to shop some of our top picks. And don’t miss our guide to creating a contemporary coastal haven to make every day feel like a vacation.

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