Mid-century modern – it’s almost all we hear about on home makeover shows and it’s mentioned everywhere online. But what exactly is mid-century modern design? And how can you style your own space this way?

Here, our design team explains in simple terms what mid-century modern design is, and how you can get this look in your home, without employing a designer.


What is mid-century modern design?


Mid-century modern design is a movement which stems, as its name suggests, from the mid-twentieth century. It arose in the mid to late 1950’s, at a time when furniture, decor and other items first became mass-produced.

Because of its unique look and far-reaching appeal, this design style continues to be popular today.

Generally speaking, one aspect of mid-century modern design that sets it apart from other design styles, is its playful use of colour.

This is because mass-produced furniture made it possible for homeowners to buy furniture in a range of vibrant colours that were previously not available.

The other typical characteristic of mid-century modern design is its fusion of indoor and outdoor living. The style encourages the boundaries between the indoors and outdoors to dissolve, resulting in a decidedly earthy look.


Colour in mid-century modern design


Typical mid-century modern design entails a combination of natural hues with pops of colour. The natural hues can be black, white, cream, grey or wood tones, and should dominate the space.

Set against this neutral background are splashes of vibrant colours. The vibrant colours frequently draw their inspiration from nature, like sage or olive green, mustard yellow, burnt orange or robin’s egg blue.

The use of vibrant colours inspired by nature is another means of creating that sought-after connection between the indoors and outdoors.

How to get the look

Use a predominantly neutral colour palette for your space, such as white, black, grey, brown, taupe, cream or variations of these. Use these neutral shades on your walls and floors. At least some of your furniture pieces should also be neutral.

Then incorporate splashes of the more vibrant colours in your chosen colour palette. Remember, these colours should ideally have some reference to nature or the outdoors.

Bring these colours in with smaller décor pieces in your space. You can do this by adding vibrant artwork, vases or other accessories to your space. Alternatively, turn to the textiles in your space, and add pops of colour with your rug, curtains or scatter cushions.

If you are unsure how to create a colour palette for your space, then follow our simple designer tips to show you precisely how to put your own colour scheme together.

Neutral grey mid-century modern kitchen and dining room with teal bar-stools

Mid-century modern furniture


Straight lines mixed with sleek curves

Mid-century modern furniture is the ultimate combination of sleek lines and interesting curves. The typical mid-century modern space would predominantly have furniture that has straight, simple lines to create an uncluttered look. But there will also be a few items of furniture that have interesting curves, without being bulky. It is this contrast between slim and sleek, versus shaped and curved, that gives mid-century modern design its unique look.

Man-made and natural materials

Mid-century modern design involves a fusion of man-made and natural materials. The essence of the design is in the contrast between the two types of materials. Natural materials include wood and stone. Man-made materials include glass, metal and concrete.

How to get the look

To get a mid-century modern look, style your space with predominantly sleek furniture that has straight lines. Then create a contrast by incorporating a few pieces, such as armchairs or side-tables, that have graceful curves or interesting shapes.

Mid-century modern design focuses on functionality, not form. That means that your furniture must be comfortable and practical, with no unnecessary adornment or decoration.

Be sure to have a healthy mix of wooden and man-made furniture. For example, in your living room, pair a wood-framed sofa with a glass-topped coffee table and metal floor-lamp.

In mid-century modern design, you can get away with pairing almost any pieces, as long as they relate to each other.

Create whimsical combinations that speak to each other. Pair the old and the new. Stage modern and vintage pieces together but remember to incorporate predominantly clean lines in your space to maintain that feel of simple, comfortable living.

You can source great mid-century furniture from stockists such as Re-trend or Modernist.

If you are styling your living room, check out our top designer tips for buying living room furniture.

Blue sofa and geometric coffee table

Pattern and texture


Mid-century modern interior design also makes use of subtle texture and pattern.

Texture creates that raw indoors/outdoors vibe. Pattern can either be used to convey the man-made aspect of style, or it can emphasise nature.

Think simple, geometric patterns in vibrant colours, to convey that man-made ideology; or picture simple, repetitive motifs of animals or plants. Almost any pattern can work in this style, but if you’re looking for quintesseintial mid-century pattern and print ideas, check out Pinterest.

How to get the look

Bring the outdoors into your space by adding textured textiles, such as throws, sofa coverings and scatter cushions.

Be sure to incorporate pattern in your overall design. Think simple, repetetive geometric or organic motiffs, in small doses. You can have vibrant coloured patterns, but keep the pattern minimal, like adding patterned scatter cushions, curtains or a rug. The pattern should not dominate your space but should create that contrast against the neutral background that is so typical in this style.

Alternatively, create a feature wall by using bold geometric or organic-patterned wallpaper. This will serve as the focal point of your neutral space.

Modern grey sofa with yellow patterned scatter cushions and curtains

Decor and accessories


The overall feel of mid-century modern design is uncluttered and sleek. Therefore, décor is kept to a minimum, with the shapes of furniture and bigger pieces dominating what is essentially a blank canvas.

Functionality is of utmost importance in this style, so these is minimal, but impactful, decoration.

Accessories are often geometric or have eye-catching finishes, such as a gold geometric centre-piece or marble statue.

How to get the look

Accessorise your space with a few interesting statement accessories in a bold shape or finish. But keep your accessories to a minimum so that your space feels simple and uncluttered.

For inspiration on mid-century decor and accessories, check out out Bobby Berk or Etsy.

White and gold mid-century modern living room with decor and accessories

Window treatments


Because mid-century modern design seeks to merge the indoors and outdoors, window treatments are often kept minimal.

Blinds and curtains will often be sheer and simple. These will be drawn during the day to allow as much natural light to fill the space as possible.

How to get the look

For your window treatments, use sheer or natural-material blinds, like bamboo. If you prefer curtains, use sheer, simple drapes that allow a great deal of natural light into your space. Stay away from any adornments, like tie-backs or curtain pelmets – light and airy is the look you are going for.

Mid-century modern tan sofa with white curtains in background

Plants in mid-century modern decor


Because mid-century modern design dissolves the boundaries between the outdoors and indoors, there is a definite sense of bringing the outdoors in. This style almost always includes styling with one or two indoor plants or flowers in a vase.

Another way that the style gives credence to outdoor living, is to incoporate patterned textiles in a repetetive plant motiff.

How to get the look

Incorporate indoor potted plants in your space to create a feeling of inviting the outdoors in. Or style your space with a few bunches of flowers in a pretty straight or geometric-shaped vase.

If you are not a fan of indoor fauna, add a sense of the great outdoors by brining in a nature-inspired pattern or artwork.

Modern reading nook with salmon armchairs and wooden console table

Lighting in mid-century modernism


Pendant lights are very popular in mid-dentury modern interior design. Flush-mount ceiling lights are so out. From large hanging chandeliers for ambient light, to smaller pendants for task-lighting – pendants are all the rage.

Pendant lights are also often combined with floor-lamps and table-lamps, creating several little lighting zones within one space.

The contrast between sleek, defined lines, and smooth, graceful curves, is echoed in the lighting of a mid-century modern space.

How to get the look

To give your space a mi-century modern look, avoid flush-moun ceiling lights and opt for eye-catching pendant lights to provide plenty of ambient lighting. Incorporate floor-lamps and table-lamps in the same space, tp provide task-lighting and to create distinct lighting zones.

When selecting your light fittings, focus on the aesthetics of the light fixture. The contrast between sleek, defined lines and smooth, graceful curves that is so typical of mid-century modern design, must also be evident in your lighting.

Opt for arced floor-lamps or geometric, industrial-style pendants. And, of course, you can get creative with the materials, confidently mixing together hard metals, cool glass or raw, outdoorsy woven textures.

There are loads of online sources of inspiration for mid-century lighting ideas. One of my favourites that is worth looking at is the Spruce.

Modern living room in a navy blue, white and brown colour palettte with a black pendant light fixture


Because of its appeal in simplicity and functionality, mid-century modernism remains a popular design style long after its inception. Decorating your space in this chic style will ensure that your space is both comfortable and trendy. If you want to incorporate elements of this fabulous style in your space, follow our simple design hacks to be well on your way to a getting this sought-after designer look.

If you are need help professionally re-designing your space, get in touch with us.

Founder and interior designer of Home in a Box, Taryn De Nysschen

Written by Taryn De Nysschen

Taryn practised as an attorney for 12 years before pursuing her love for interior design. She is the lead interior designer and founder of Home in a Box.

Home in a Box specialises in virtual interior design concepts in South Africa, and is passionate about re-decorating homes conveniently, simply and affordably.