A lesson in mid-century modern design for the contemporary era - Lifestyle AU
A lesson in mid-century modern design for the contemporary era

A lesson in mid-century modern design for the contemporary era

Simultaneously topical and timeless, here's everything you need to know about emulating the trend that never really went out of style

Words by Tanisha Angel

While interior design trends are cyclical by nature, there are certain decor styles that will always be welcome in any home. Since its inception in the mid-1900s, mid-century modern design has enjoyed a lengthy tenure in the spotlight, with its popularity bolstered by shows like Mad Men that showcase the timeless nature of the style. Placing functionality at the forefront and prioritising clean lines, organic forms, and geometric shapes, it’s no wonder that mid-century modern design remains an integral part of the design conversation to this day.

Pettit+Sevitt MKII by Ironbark Architecture | Photography by Andy MacPherson

Although many mid-century modern design characteristics are shared by both minimalist and contemporary design styles, mid-century modern is in a class of its own. To help clear up the confusion and bust some common myths about mid-century modern design, we turned to Sam McLaren, director at Soda Objects, for his expertise. Specialising in furniture, objects, and art from the 20th century to now, Soda Objects provides a thoughtfully curated selection of some of the best names in mid-century modern design, with restored and new pieces alike.

Whether you’re in the process of redesigning your home or simply looking to incorporate some mid-century touches into your interiors, here’s everything you need to know about mid-century modern design.

Soda Objects Studio | Photography by Emmaline Zanelli

What is mid-century modern design?

‘Mid-century modern design’ is an overarching term that encompasses the architecture, industrial design, art, and graphic design from the middle of the 20th century (approximately 1933-1965). Sitting in the middle of the broader modernist movement, mid-century modern design was born from a surge of post-WWII creativity. Characterised by clean lines, functional forms, organic shapes, and a connection to nature, mid-century modern design was largely influenced by the introduction of new technologies and materials as well as the migration to more urban areas with smaller living spaces.

Notable examples of mid-century modern design that remain in use today include the Eames lounge chair and ottoman, which have been in production since their creation in 1956, as well as the use of expansive floor-to-ceiling windows designed to let nature in.

Galloway & Hobbs featuring Tappeti Rugs + Carpets | Photography by Kasey Funnell Photography

Clean lines and organic silhouettes

Dominated by clean lines, practicality, and organic silhouettes, acquiring the right furniture is essential to nail mid-century modern design. Mid-century modern-inspired furniture can be identified by looking for key attributes such as peg legs and low profiles, while authentic vintage pieces typically bear manufacturing tags from the US, Denmark, Yugoslavia, Japan, or Italy.

Both wood and timber veneer are popular materials for pieces such as credenzas, bar stools, and dining tables, while cotton or velvet work well for pared-back sofas with clean lines. Look for pieces that juxtapose sleek silhouettes with plush, organic shapes; think rounded velvet chairs with skinny peg legs or the signature Eames lounger chair. Also, when incorporating wooden furniture into your home design, ensure the shades of wood complement each other by sticking to natural finishes such as walnut and dark blonde wood.

While wood is often the go-to material when thinking about mid-century modern furniture, materials used during the mid-1900s actually ran the gamut. An emphasis on newly developed materials meant that plywood, fibreglass, aluminium, plastic, acrylic, and formica were often used. Think streamlined tables with colourful formica finishes and hard plastic shell chairs in vibrant hues.

Reupholstered Vintage Framac Chair by Soda Objects

Learning to spot mid-century modern furniture

For those after authentic pieces, Sam recommends honing your knowledge of crucial mid-century modern furniture attributes. He suggests using hashtags and search terms such as “Modernist Movement, De Stijl, Bauhaus, Le Corbusier, Walter Gropius, Charlotte Perriand, Gae Aulenti, Jean Prouve, Gerrit Rietveld, Rennie Mackintosh, Joe Colombo, and Vico Magistretti.”

“What you will find is a plethora of images and information about the impact architecture had on furniture design, the use of steel tubes, specific timbers, early manufacturing techniques, the use of plastics and glass, how shapes and angles were used and where they originated, and how the art of the time was used to complement interior spaces and its influence on design aspects,” Sam tells ArchiPro. “Identifying 20th-century modern design comes as a result of being familiar with the roots of design practice and how architecture, art and furnishing all grew together to result in what we have today.”

Soda Objects | Photography by Sam McLaren

New mid-century modern furniture

For those looking for original mid-century pieces, vintage isn’t the only option. “A common misconception about mid-century modern design, particularly of European make, is the production status of the major contributors who designed and produced throughout the 20th Century,” Sam tells us. “The term ‘mid-century modern’ simply means that the design originated from a vague middle ground and as a result of the Modernist movement, however many of these brands are still alive and well – producing interiors to original spec, along with updated options that follow the current trends.”

Opting for furniture from iconic mid-century brands that are still in production is the ideal way to strike the right balance between authentic style and durability. “These big brands such as Cassina, Saporiti, Tecno, Knoll, Artek, Thonet, Kartell, and Cappellini are what make up a large portion of our inventory,” Sam says. “As they are still in production, [they] commonly come into our possession in near new condition or go through our restoration process to ensure longevity.”

Bona Vista by Studio Prineas | Photography by Chris Warnes

Pretty in pink (or green, blue, and red)

“Another common misconception is that mid-century modern comes with a stiff colour palette of mission browns, oiled teak, oranges, block yellows, faded greens and discoloured plastics,” says Sam. “This couldn’t be further from the truth.”

In actuality, the mid-century modern colour palette continually changed with the times, ranging from bright primary colours and creamy pastels like mint green and soft pink in the 1950s to earthier hues like rust orange and burnt sage in the 1960s. The wide span of mid-century modern colours means the style works in a plethora of different shades, allowing you to customise your colour palette to your taste. For safe options, stick to muted colours and pastels, while more adventurous designers can introduce a pop of colour through feature walls or statement furniture with hues like mustard yellow, denim blue, or olive.

Balaclava Residence by AV-ID | Photography by Peter Marko

Function above all

Although it’s now admired for its aesthetic appeal, one of the key hallmarks of the mid-century modern style at the time was the prioritisation of function over form. Eschewing ornate, decorative items in favour of practical pieces, the beauty of mid-century modern furniture lies in its functionality. Case in point: the distinctly unostentatious Eames lounge chair and ottoman, which provide a place to kick back and relax with a drink in hand. For those living in smaller spaces, dual-purpose furniture is also a practical option. Think a coffee table with internal storage or open shelving units.

Underwood II Residence by Darren James Interiors | Photography by John Downs

…but don’t forget to have fun

While the mid-century modern design style places practicality and functionality at its centre, it’s by no means devoid of fun. Accessories such as cushions, curtains, strategic lighting, and decorative objects play a large role in mid-century modern design. Architectural light fixtures that are more akin to a contemporary work of art than a source of light are popular, as are pieces with a metallic finish. Other key pieces include bar carts in timber or metal, sculptural ceramic vases, shaded table lamps, and graphic wall hangings.

To learn more about the Soda Objects range, visit their ArchiPro profile here.

Words by Tanisha Angel

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