Mid-century modern design best describes architecture, furniture and graphic design from the middle of the twentieth century (1933-1965). It has been described by HGTV experts as the “largest modernist movement since the Industrial Revolution and post-World War I”. The phrase was coined by author Cara Greenberg in 1983 while writing her book “Metropolitan Home” that featured 1950’s furniture. She made up the phrase and it stuck! The trend started on the west coast and migrated itself across the country, but it remains a very prevalent design element in the west.
What is mid-century modern?
It is typically described as simple, sleek furniture with straight lines that create depth and length with interesting, subtle curvatures and pops of colorful decor. Mid-century modern brings in elements of the outdoors as well as natural light through large windows to create the feeling of a much larger outdoor space. The uses of interior walls that don’t reach the ceiling are also a prominent design element to help create that illusion of a large, unending space. Mid-century modern includes sculptural, biomorphic shapes and the use of industrial materials such as steel, brass, pane glass, fiberglass, resin and concrete.
- Flat Planes: geometric lines kept consistent all throughout the office to create a cohesive feel.
- Large Windows: creating the illusion of a large outdoor environment in an indoor space.
- Changes in Elevation: small steps going up and down to create a split level; partial walls and cabinets to create depth and space.
- Integration with Nature: multiple outdoor views and access points, appreciation of healthy living, marrying the indoor and outdoor spaces to create warm environments.
- Non-traditional Lighting: sleek, small light fixtures and bold, unique chandeliers.
- 60-30-10 Rule: when it comes to colors; 60% dominant base color, 30% secondary color and 10% accent colors.
Design Team Interview:
- Where do you see Mid-century design showing up the most in office spaces?
Matthew Rosenquist: Throughout the last couple of years, the workplace has begun to make a shift into a more relaxed environment. Inspired by residential styles, like mid-century modern décor, furniture layouts, open concepts, clean lines, and subtle organic forms, the workplace trends are leaning towards this more comfortable, stylish, and less “corporate” environment. Furniture manufacturers have picked up on these trends and developed products that suit these types of environments. Teknion – Upstage is a good example of these shifts. Upstage offers open concepts, division of space through furniture or functional storage pieces (not panels), neutral and vibrant finish offerings, and subtle design details like the supporting wood Y-leg, all gearing toward a Mid-Century Modern inspired design.
Jamie Fink: Mid-century design seems to be a contrary approach to millennial-driven design in the workplace. Unlike the bright, sometimes overly youthful look and feel of millennial office spaces, mid-century design hails from an era that is described as modestly classy and elegant. It is showing up in offices that are both looking to modernize their look and feel while also holding on to timeless elements.
- What kinds of offices is mid-century modern showing up in more frequently?
Matthew: Most of these trends are being embraced by the younger generation of the work force. This design style, aesthetically pleasing furniture, collaborative break out spaces, comfortable and flexible work environments are all things that are luring the new generation. In turn, previous generations of the workforce are beginning to accept this style of work environment because of its appeal to the younger generations they hire.
Jamie: I believe that mid-century design is embraced both by those who recall it’s prominence from their childhoods and is equally gravitated towards by younger designers who simply admire it’s aesthetic.
- What makes mid-century modern design unique?
Matthew: Mid-Century modern is unique in a way that it mixes clean lines with organic form, it is a balance of minimalist and contrast, and has a interesting way of exemplifying the natural world through a modern eye.
Jamie: Uncomplicated lines, a timeless color palette and a look and feel that is easily integrated into most design settings.
- What is your favorite type of product from this design era?
Matthew: No favorites come to mind, but I love the craftsmanship and sophistication of the wood furniture from this era.
Jamie: It’s a love or hate feeling when it comes to the Eames Lounge chair and ottoman… I happen to fall in the love category.
If you want to read more about mid-century modern decor and furniture: