Define The Style: Mid-century Modern Design

by Drew Henry

Welcome to Mid-century Modern Design 101!  

Whether you are binge-watching Mad Men (finally) or relaxing poolside in sunny Palm Springs, California, you’ll probably see some mid-century modern designs. While the style was pioneered in the last century, the open-concept plans, large windows, and geometric patterns of the Modernist movement still resonate today. But, what is mid-century modern design, and how can you add mid-century modern style to your home? Don’t worry! The LiLi Team defines the style and answers all your questions. Sit down because it’s time for Mid-century Modern Design 101. Class is now in session! 

What is Mid-century Modern Style?  

Mid-century modern style, often abbreviated as mid-mod or MCM, is a term that describes the design movement in interior, product, graphic design, architecture, and urban development from roughly 1933 to 1965. The phrase "mid-century modern" itself originates from the book "Mid-Century Modern: Furniture of the 1950s" (Random House) by Cara Greenberg.
This distinctive and influential style is characterized by clean lines and minimal ornamentation contrasted with a sense of functionality and simplicity. The elements of mid-century modern design merge seamlessly to create spaces that are as stylish as they are comfortable.
Geometry plays a crucial role in mid-century modern interior design style; designers during this period were fond of using geometric shapes to create their distinctive looks. Simple forms were used alongside natural shapes - achieving an equilibrium between organic and geometric forms became a crucial characteristic of this period's aesthetics.
Another critical factor in defining what is mid-century modern design is the use of materials. This period witnessed an explosion in the use of new materials in construction and furnishing such as plastic, plywood, stainless steel, vinyl, glass, aluminum and lucite along with traditional materials like wood; architects used these materials to their full potential while creating functional designs.
For instance, bold colors often combined with striking patterns became notable examples within this genre further enhancing its appeal. Moreover, the openness to experimentations during this period led to diversification within the style which helped it adapt over time thus becoming one of the enduring styles in history.The ability to evolve yet maintain its core characteristics has ensured that mid century modern home interior design remains popular even today.
As we delve deeper into understanding what defines mid-century modern interior design characteristics, it becomes apparent how much emphasis was placed on functionality.The furniture was often multifunctional – serving more than one purpose.Sophisticated yet simple furnishings made space feel uncluttered while maintaining visually stimulating aesthetics.This remains a hallmark of mid-century modern interior design. Speaking of the mid-century modern interior design history, it's crucial to mention that this movement was born out of the post-World War II landscape.
Whether it's balancing different materials, colors, textures or shapes; this balance is what makes interior design mid century modern truly timeless. It symbolizes not only an era but also an ideology - one that values functionality as much as aesthetics.

Where to Find Mid-Century Style Inspiration

Mid-century modern architects brought new technological breakthroughs to American suburbs. Post and beam construction, steel, and stronger glass allowed designers to create open concept homes for the first time and frame views with amazing floor-to-ceiling and clerestory windows. Check out these pioneering designers to find mid-century style inspiration. 

Frank Lloyd Wright Homes in the Great Plains 

In the broad expanse of the Great Plains, amidst the vast open landscapes, one can find a multitude of distinctive architectural marvels that exemplify mid-century modern design. One such beacon of this era's aesthetic is found in the masterpieces created by renowned architect Frank Lloyd Wright.
Defined by his unique interpretation of what is now referred to as "organic architecture," Wright's designs harmoniously integrate with their surroundings; an inherent characteristic of mid-century modern interior design. Wright's residential oeuvre in the Great Plains often encapsulates the essential elements of mid-century modern design.
His houses, swathed in natural materials and characterized by expansive horizontal lines, mirror the flatness and boundless horizons inherent to this geographical area. The Robie House in Chicago, for instance, is a quintessential example of mid-century modern home interior design where geometric forms and open spaces are balanced with warm color palettes and natural elements like wood and stone.
From these examples alone it becomes evident that Frank Lloyd Wright was ahead of his time; paving way for future architects to develop a new vocabulary around residential architecture - one that focuses on the symbiotic relationship between man-made structures and natural surroundings. His designs not only capture the spirit of mid century modern design style but also provide us with seminal mid century modern design examples that continue to inspire and influence designers worldwide to this day.

Mies van der Rohe Homes in Chicago 

Mies van der Rohe is considered one of the original creators of the mid-century modern style. He embraced minimalist designs the style is known for, even originating the phrase “less is more.”

Van der Rohe's vision flourished during the heartland's post-war economic boom, when his iconic designs became synonymous with innovation and technological progress. His structures were characterized by sleek lines, expansive glass windows and open floor plans - characteristics typical to mid-century modern interior design.
These homes encapsulate what is mid century modern design, as they showcase aspects like structural honesty and organic simplicity. These timeless edifices stand as quintessential examples of mid-century modern home interior design even today.
Van der Rohe was known for his diligent attention to detail which can be observed in every nook and corner of these houses. The flat roofs juxtaposed with high ceilings lend an air of spaciousness while the bare structural elements offer an unadorned aesthetic appeal.
A closer look at these homes offers invaluable insights into the interior design elements that characterized this era: clean lines, minimalist color schemes, intuitive floor plans that ensured efficient space utilization - all hallmarks of mid century modern interior design style. The integration between indoor and outdoor spaces using large glass windows was another key feature – a visual treat endearing them to lovers of nature as well.
Their timeless appeal is borne out of their simplicity and functionality. These iconic dwellings, with their sleek lines, open spaces, and uncluttered aesthetics serve as impeccable examples of mid-century modern design – a testament to a period that forever changed the face of architecture and interior design.

Joseph Eichler Homes in Los Angeles 

Joseph Eichler was a post-war real estate developer who brought mid-century modern style to the Los Angeles suburbs. Eichler's designs were visionary manifestations stripped of unnecessary ornamentation yet radiating an unparalleled appeal. The interior design mid century modern style he championed included elements such as open floor plans, sliding glass doors, integrated heating systems - all unseen before his era.

In contrast to dominant architectural trends, which at the time often concealed their structural elements behind facades or within walls, Eichler's designs celebrated these features. Exposed beams running along ceilings not only demonstrated honesty in construction but also gave birth to aesthetically pleasing geometric patterns - an element of mid-century modern design recognizable even today.
The interiors were invitingly simplistic yet rich in their spatial quality. As an advocate for affordable housing with class-apart aesthetics, Eichler introduced materials such as mahogany paneling and Philippine lauan wood walls inside homes - both environmentally efficient choices and tasteful additions to the interior palette.
This use of organic materials embodied what is essentially characteristic about mid century modern interior design – its ability to invite nature indoors in innovative ways. Joseph Eichler's architectural prowess injected fresh perspectives into contemporary American homes during the 1950s-60s time period known as Mid-Century Modern.
His bold and unpretentious designs effectively demonstrate the mid-century modern design style that continues to inspire and influence interior designers globally. Now regarded as “California Modern,” his designs feature A-frame roofs, geometric lines, skylights, and large sliding doors to spacious patios. 

Donald Wexler Homes in Palm Springs 

Palm Springs, California, has the largest concentration of mid-century modern homes in the world, in part to Donald WexlerBuilt between 1961 and 1962, these homes utilized factory-produced parts to create an efficient and cost-effective building system. The incorporation of expansive glass walls elegantly blurred the distinction between indoor living spaces and the desert landscape outside – a hallmark of what is mid century modern design.

The residences showcased a striking balance between industrial materials and natural elements - a testament to Wexler's mastery over elements of mid century modern design. The prolific architect also put his mark on another iconoclastic feature - clerestory windows.

While this architectural concept had been around for centuries, it achieved renewed prominence under Wexler's deft touch in this era defining mid-century modern design style. By utilizing these high windows that let sunlight filter gently into rooms without compromising privacy or wall space for furniture-placement – an aspect central to interior design mid century modern approach – he created bright yet intimate spaces embraced by homeowners even today.

Another signature feature found across Wexley’s oeuvre is his use of “butterfly roofs” — roofs that dip towards the middle before sloping upwards at opposite ends; shaping silhouettes reminiscent of butterfly wings about to take flight- an example illustrating why he remains revered among enthusiasts seeking out prime mid-century modern designs examples. Thus Donald Wexler's iconic homes encapsulate not only key tenets behind what is mid-century modern interior design but also the spirit of an era that valued simplicity, functionality, and harmonious integration with natural surroundings.
His work stands as a testament to the enduring appeal of mid-century modern design style and its influence over contemporary architectural practices. Wexley’s designs remind us that effective design can indeed be timeless, making a profound statement about how we inhabit space and engage with our environment - encapsulating the true essence of mid century modern home interior design.

Charles and Ray Eames Furnishings 

Charles and Ray Eames set the standard of mid-century furnishings, one signature piece - the Eames Lounge Chair - is renowned as a paragon of comfort and elegance in mid century modern interior design. Comprising molded plywood and leather, it epitomizes the duo's innovative use of new materials and technologies. Unveiled in 1956, this timeless masterpiece was conceived with an aspiration: to provide the warm receptive look of a well-used first baseman’s mitt.

Another exceptional illustration is their molded plastic armchair with wire base (also known as the "Eiffel" chair). Launched in 1948 as their entry to New York Museum of Modern Art’s International Competition for Low-Cost Furniture Design, this chair embodies the pragmatic beauty inherent in mid century modern home interior design.
Its sculptural form riffs on traditional chairs while employing novel materials – fiberglass-reinforced plastic – creating an enduring classic that feels contemporary even today. Accentuating another hallmark of what is mid century modern interior design—functionality—the Eameses also designed modular storage units which could be customized according to individual needs.
These multi-purpose pieces incorporate shelves, desks or cubbyholes within sleek wooden frames juxtaposed with black metal cross-supports; a visual expression of structure that embodies mid-century modern interior design characteristics. In short, Charles and Ray Eames' contributions have indelibly shaped the evolution of mid-century modern interior design history.
They've left us with not only striking furniture but also insights into the underlying principles that define what is mid-century modern design: honesty in materials use; reverence for technology; harmony between form and function; and an unpretentious, playful spirit. From their creations, one can extract a multitude of mid century modern design examples that continue to inspire designers worldwide.

9 Ways to Add Mid-century Modern Style to Your Home

Now that you know more about mid-century modern design, it’s time to recreate the look for yourself. Here are 9 ways to add mid-century modern style to your home. 

1. Bring the Outside In  

Mid-century modern design connects to nature, so bring the outside in! If you are building or renovating, add floor-to-ceiling windows, clerestory windows, sliding glass doors, and outdoor living spaces to your design. Ready for a LiLi Pro Tip? Carry the same tile from your interior rooms to exterior patios to establish an unbroken sense of flow. LiLi Cement Tiles are durable and easy to maintain. Simply seal them, and your tiles will look gorgeous inside and out!

2. Take a Dip in the Pool 

Rumor has it that Marilyn Monroe was discovered by a Hollywood agent while lounging poolside in Palm Springs! Bring the California Modern vibe home no matter where you live with a shimmering pool. LiLi Glaze Tiles are safe for pool installation and come in a range of blues, perfect for that classic California look. 

3. Paint the Walls Crisp White 

Mid-century modern style is minimalist and streamlined. So, keep a crisp white color palette inside and out for a bright and airy feel. Save your vibrant colors for fun accents like furnishings, cabinets, and doors. 

4. But Add a Pop of Color to the Front Door

In Palm Springs, everyone has a bright, colorful door. Take some style advice from the “Mid-century Modern Capital of the World” and add a bold pop of color to your front door. Pink, yellow, teal, and orange are great options to add some curb appeal and really make an entrance. 

5. Add Decorative Wood Beams

Many mid-century modern homes were designed with post and beam construction, allowing for beautiful exposed beams that extend from the interior to the exterior roofline. If your home wasn’t built this way, don’t worry. You can add decorative beams to recreate the look and add some mid-century charm. 

6. Furnish With Mid-Century Pieces 

While we can’t all afford a $5,000 Eames Chair, there are many other ways to furnish your home with mid-century pieces. Consider going thrifting or antiquing at local stores and estate sales. You may be surprised what original mid-century furnishings you can restore with a bit of polish! If convenience is more your style, many stores like West Elm and Wayfair sell mid-century recreations with that new couch smell. 

7. Decorate With Geometric Designs 

Instead of frilly embellishments, mid-century style utilizes bold geometric designs with simple lines that make a significant impact. Our Valentina tile embraces a fun geometric pattern with classic mid-century colors, making it perfect for your Modernist-styled kitchen or bath. 

8. Keep Things Streamlined 

Use minimalism to create the maximum impact! The mid-century modern style keeps things streamlined but bold. Our Laila tile is the perfect example of how an uncomplicated pattern can deliver a daring look. 

9. Try Out Terrazzo 

Terrazzo was a commonly used material in mid-century modern homes that features shining flecks of embedded aggregate. Our Confetti tile is a modern take on retro terrazzo, offering five color variations. Let’s get the 50s house party started!   

Create Your Own Mid-century Modern Design Plan

While the mid-century style embraces the past, it still feels modern and relevant to how we live today. After all, who doesn’t love an open-concept floor plan with large windows and plenty of natural light? With the help of our design tips, you are now ready to renovate your mid-century diamond in the rough or build a brand new gem harking back to the classic style! 


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