Looking to make a stylish update to your living space? The key could actually be to turn the clock back 75 years…
The current popularity of mid-century modern-inspired interiors can’t really be described as a trend, given the enduring appeal of the look since it emerged more than 75 years ago. And yet, as Instagram will attest, looking backwards rather than forwards is currently all the rage among the style set, and with good reason. With the defining characteristics of mid-century style being the use of clean lines, geometric pattern, gentle curves and the juxtaposition of contrasting materials, underpinned by the belief that form follows function, it’s a period that gives a timeless, understated and fuss-free look that has allowed it to enjoy unparalleled longevity.
The period, which can be identified as lasting broadly from the mid 1930s until the mid 1960s, was very much influenced by the socio-economic and technological changes that occurred during that time. The rapid construction of post-war homes created an unprecedented demand for modern furnishings, while technological advances led to the development of new materials such as plastic and plywood, which in turn made new textures, effects and shapes available to manufacturers, with many classic pieces from the period still in production today. Husband and wife team Charles and Ray Eames were two such groundbreaking designers, whose iconic furniture remains much sought after and much copied.
Iconic as it is, adding a modernist touch to your home is relatively easy given the simplicity of the style and the fact that many modern brands, including West Elm and Crate & Barrel, continue to be influenced by the period. IKEA was founded in 1943 and so has an extensive back catalogue of original mid-century designs, some of which have been re-issued in recent years with very little in the way of modifications. The Strandmon wing back chair dates from 1951 and appeared in IKEA’s earliest catalogue, while the 1956 version of the Lovbacken side table sparked the idea of flat pack furniture. When the original designer couldn’t fit it in his car, he sawed the legs off and reattached them later! Similarly, the Rolf Benz 50 sofa is a contemporary reimagining of the 1964 Addiform classic design. All three items can be found overleaf.
Soft furnishings, such as curtains, cushions and rugs, can also be used to add a mid-century element to your existing scheme. Linear, geometric patterns are typical of the period, as are more organic flora and fauna inspired designs such as those of Finnish textile house Marimekko, which was founded in 1951 and which has a store in Dubai’s Box Park. British brand Scion has created a ‘retro-contemporary’ range of fabrics and wallpaper (images 1 and 2) which feature graphic shapes and modernist motifs, as well as the cheerfully nostalgic Pepino and Paikka ranges (image 3), all of which are available online from Style Library.
A wide variety of colours can work in a mid-century scheme ranging from the monochromatic through to saturated brights. Try applying the 60-30-10 rule, whereby 60 per cent of the room should be in a dominant base colour, 30 per cent in a secondary colour and ten per cent in an accent colour. The stark contrast of a black and white palette allows the strong, architectural form of modernist furniture to shine and can be prevented from feeling hard or cold with the warming addition of natural wood. The currently ubiquitous grey can be given a mid-century twist with splashes of tangerine, turquoise or chartreuse, while metallic accents will add a touch of Mad Men inspired glamour.
Lighting is key in any space and should be layered to provide general ambience. Try using task lighting to illuminate areas where specific work is carried out, and accent lighting to create small pools of light to highlight art, architectural features or a vignette of accessories. Choosing retro lighting, such as Spuntnik pendants or arching floor lamps, will keep you within the modernist theme.
In these ways, there are a wide variety of ways to achieve the look, from furnishing an authentically vintage space with original pieces from the period through to contemporary interpretations with subtle referencing to the classic lines, patterns and colours which, three quarters of a century later, show no sign of going out of style.