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Photo courtesy of Michael Robinson

12 Considerations When Designing a Mid-Century Modern Living Room

Interiors that are retro-inspired (but not retro).
by Carolyn Hanson Mar 17, 2023

Mid-century modern design is having a moment—and we couldn’t be more excited about it. Bring on the colorful couches, lucite end tables, and high-pile rugs. However, as mid-century modern is not the most pervasive design style in the modern era, you wouldn’t be wrong to be confused about how to style it in your home. Luckily, Nest Casa has gathered a number of tips to help steer you in the right direction. 

1. Stay True to the Art

There’s a reason that the works of mid-century artists like Andy Warhol and Roy Liechtenstein persist in households to this day: it makes for incredible home décor. The Pop Art of the 1960s, in particular, holds a universality that makes it blend in easily with multiple decorative styles. However, you don’t need to limit yourself to Pop Art. Just try to decorate with historically accurate art to jazz up your space with art that matches the time period.

2. Source Authentically

With the recent popular focus on mid-century modern décor, plenty of mass furniture brands (from low- to high-end) have started producing their own takes on the theme. However, the craftsmanship of authentic mid-century modern living room furniture can’t be beat. Use sites like 1stdibs and Chairish to source authentic, pre-owned pieces. As an added bonus, you can be sure nobody else you know will have the same ones.

3. Fall in Love With Lucite

Lucite is an extremely high-quality form of acrylic resin that became popular in a decorative context around 1960, staying popular through the 1980s. Although you see it less today, that’s not because it makes for a bad furniture material. In fact, it’s a great one. Not only does its transparency allow light to shine in places it normally wouldn’t, but it’s sturdy enough that pieces from the 1960s and ’70s can still be in circulation today.

4. Look at Old Photos

Although it’s not strictly living room–based, Instagram account @the__60s__interior showcases photographs of mid-century modern interior design from back when it was cutting-edge. Old interior design books also have many great photographs that should inspire you in ways that modern interior design books cannot. Old editions of the magazine House Beautiful are another great place to look for inspo.  

5. Get Familiar With the Furniture

Hand-in-hand with sourcing authentically comes familiarizing yourself with who was designing the furniture in the 1940s–1970s. Read up on Charles and Ray Eames, Harry Bertoia, and George Nelson. Reproductions of many of their classic designs as well as designs from other mid-century modern design legends are available for purchase from various sources.

6. Embrace Shape

While hard edges and rectangles tend to be extremely common in contemporary design, it’s different when it comes to the mid-century modern era. Space-age curves and unusual geometry were par for the course. Take a page out of that book and bring some rounded edges into your interiors.

7. Mind Your Metals

Whether you’re a fan of sleek chrome or patinated brass, you’ll have to commit to the one metal that best fits your color palette and the particular vein of mid-century modern style that you’re pursuing. Chrome works well in airy, open spaces, while brass and similar metals tend to add warmth and coziness to a room. Choose one kind of metal and stick with it to streamline the look.

8. Work With Textures

While shag rugs may not be for everyone, knowing the best textures to use for your design style is incredibly important. Luckily, ​​mid-century modern décor is all about using different textures. Velvet, shag, sleek metals, and painted wood are just some of the finishes you can incorporate into your home. 

9. Focus on Entertaining

Long before T.V.s were the size they are now, they were small fixtures that only took up a small amount of space. Living rooms were made for entertaining guests and family time. Case in point: Sunken sofa pits were all the rage. Ensure that your space is built for face-to-face communication instead of media absorption. 

10. Know Your Niche

Not all mid-century modern décor is created equal. So, despite the fact that all of the furniture fall under that umbrella term, don’t lose sight of the fact that it actually has to look good together. Research the different styles within the blanket of mid-century modern (Scandanavian design doesn’t look the same as Hollywood Regency) and know how to match your couch to your coffee table. 

11. Give It Character

With the above said, having only one brand’s mid-century modern living room set and nothing else will leave guests feeling like there’s something missing. Add something unexpected to the scheme, as long as it doesn’t directly clash. You don’t want your living room to feel sterile; you want it to feel alive.

12. Bring Plants Into the Mix

Speaking of life, adding plants to your room will take it from feeling like a blast from the past to being a viable modern design. Although your décor is retro or retro-inspired, you want the place to look well-manicured and lived in, not dusty and old. Plus, plants make people happy! 

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