What is Mid-century design?

Mid-century bookcase and chair

What is Mid-century design all about? And why did it start in the first place?

Firmly rooted in post-World War II America, Mid-century modern has persevered through many trend changes.

As the name suggested, it emerged in the middle of the 20th century. Generally, this design era is said to have been popular between 1945 and 1969. However, it didn’t actually receive its name until the mid-80s, when design writer Cara Greenberg first coined the term.

A Mid-century style sofa in deep blue
Soho three-seater sofa in Manhattan Kingfisher fabric, £1299, SCS.

The roots of Mid-century modern style

As mentioned, this design movement came up after the end of World War II. The central thought was to unite beautiful design and mass production.

You might think that this sounds similar to what Bauhaus style is all about, and you wouldn’t be wrong. While the Bauhaus and its progression were interrupted by the Nazis, Mid-century modern is a reflection on its basic design principles.

Wall art
Balance wall art, £65, Aureous.

Homes at the time were more linear and simple, which reflects in Mid-century’s clean, unfussy lines and pared-back look. Inspiration and influence not only came from the big names of the Bauhaus, but also from Scandinavian and Brazilian interior designers, which further strengthened the distinct look.

But there were crossovers, too, of course. One of the key names in Mid-century design is Pierre Jeanneret. He was a Swiss architect, but most famously worked with his cousin Charles-Édouard Jeanneret – better known as Le Corbusier, one of the key figures of the Bauhaus movement.

Isamu Noguchi-inspired coffee table
Century coffee table in glass and walnut, from £299, Cult Furniture.

Mid-century design principles

Together, the Jeanneret cousins designed what is often hailed as one of the key projects related to Mid-century style: Chandigarh. This planned city in the north of India is known for its brutalist concrete buildings. But inside, they were furnished with furniture designed by Pierre Jeanneret.

The designs were simple, because they stemmed from a simple thought: the people in the city needed somewhere to sit. So he created what’s now commonly known as the Chandigarh chair – an incredibly popular antique.

Mid-century style bed and bench
Heather bed and bench, £1950, Joline London.

Jeanneret’s chairs were made by local artisans and craftspeople, using teak and cane. Not only were they local materials that could withstand the climate, they were also, essentially, left over from laying the city’s groundworks.

This thinking is very typical of Mid-century design. Simplicity rules, which is why you’ll generally not find fancy embellishments.

Instead, the focus lies on the materials used. Dark wood is important. Teak was the most popular choice of timber, with rosewood and oak the runner ups.

Decorative elements, if at all, often appear in the form of metallic accents – think handles, or maybe metal caps at the end of chair legs.

A grey hallway
Chelsea tinted glass globe wall light with Smoke Grey shade and brass wall holder, £109, Industville.

Mid-century modern as rebellion

Of course, there’s a reason for the absence of embellishments. This style is a direct antithesis to the more elaborate, often richly decorated styles of the decades before. It represented modernity and the future – and a little bit of rebellion, too.

Instead of only using some rooms for special occasions, Mid-century modern placed importance on using and interacting with your things every day.

Oatmeal-coloured bed in pink Mid-century bedroom
Caro bed in Oatmeal fabric, £329.99, Furniture and Choice.

However, that doesn’t mean the absence of colour. In fact, you’ll find that a lot of Mid-century modern schemes tend to use an accent colour – and it’s often bright.

Dark green and blue are popular, but there’s plenty of room for bright shades of pink, mint, or mustard yellow. Ochre and orange are also classic colours associated with this style, just like monochrome looks. You have the opportunity to make it your own… as long as it’s fuss free, of course.

How do I bring it into my home?

Furniture features sleek lines, but also organic shapes. You’ll find a lot of rounded, curvy designs that look inviting rather than utilitarian, but are still very much designed with function and practicality in mind. Contrary to this, geometric, almost angular pieces were just as popular.

A grey Mid-century style dining chair
Baxter dining chair in grey velvet, £299 each, Atkin and Thyme.

Strike a balance in your own home, but don’t shy away from odd shapes that aren’t entirely symmetrical. ‘Modern’ is the key here, so don’t turn your home into a museum (unless you really want to, of course). Instead, combine pieces from the 50s – whether originals or replicas – with contemporary design choices.

Ribbed or fluted finishes are very popular, especially on headboards and sideboards, if you want some form of embellishment.

Mid-century modern is all about materials, so look beyond wood, too. Glass, metal, and vinyl are great choices and integrating them will help you create a scheme that looks authentic.

Whatever you do, though, there is only one rule: let the wooden furniture shine. It was made to be used – so invite your guests (and yourself) to do so by putting pieces front and centre.

What does Bauhaus style mean? Click here to find out

Featured image: Mid-century bookcase, £6500, Wood Works Brighton.

About Post Author

You Might Also Like


Want to get involved?

[email protected]

Sign up to our newsletter

Want the latest in your inbox?