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4 Common Features of Mid–Century Modern Furniture

When it comes to interior design influences and furniture styles, there are a lot of options to choose from when classifying a home. There’s modern and minimalist, industrial and eclectic, Victorian and vintage, rustic, regency, coastal and French country, traditional, transitional and so on.

One of the most elegant, enduring and attainable interior styles, however, is mid century modern. Emerging in the middle of the 20th century – roughly covering the 1930s to the 1960s – it’s an aesthetic that has gained popularity again over recent years. Its key characteristics include a focus on no–fuss form and functionality, clean lines and curves and warm, welcoming tones.

Mid century furniture is sturdy and reliable with a timeless appeal, and pieces in a mid century style look good anywhere from the dining room and lounge, to the bedroom or office.

Read on to learn all about what you’d need to add a touch of mid century modern to your home…

1. Form Follows Function

The saying “form follows function” was first coined by American architect Louis H. Sullivan (dubbed the "father of skyscrapers") in his 1896 essay The Tall Office Building Artistically Considered. Although pretty self–explanatory, the term refers to a principle of design prominent in the late 19th, early 20th century, that suggested that the shape of an object or building should be determined by its intended function. 

It’s also a concept that is sometimes used to describe mid century furniture. All about practical features and versatility, they are items that are built to last – in indoor and outdoor settings – and to be both useful and comfortable for everyday living.

Think of shelving and entertainment units. Their main purpose is optimising storage space, and it’s something to display photos, art and knick–knacks on without cluttering up other surfaces that are in constant use. However, they have been generously designed too, to compliment a mid century modern style home and be an attractive item to look at.

The same logic applies to the humble bench seat, which can be used as either seating for a dining table, as a shelf in the hallway or as a place to sit / stack clothes in the bedroom.

Dining table and chairs mid century furniture

2. Simple Shapes

Although some styles demand the furniture and homewares in a space to be showy, mid century furniture is about being homely and not too ornate or intricate.

The designs are mostly no–fuss and no–frills, instead juxtaposing sleek, simple and sloping lines with organic, geometric shapes, gentle curves and rounded edges. With an emphasis on ergonomics and efficiency as much as beauty, they are pieces you won’t be afraid to put to rigorous, everyday use.

Take our retro–inspired dining chairs and stools, for example. Many come in the same Scandinavian style silhouette of a strong wooden frame, four splayed legs, curved, jelly bean shaped back support and a smooth vinyl seat. With comfort and consistency maximised by craftsmanship, they are the epitome of mid century modern and it’s a look that can be right at home in any home.

3. Organic Materials

Another defining feature of mid century furniture is the materials that are used to make it, and the most common is wood. Raw but resilient, and requiring minimal maintenance, wood is a great option for making all sorts of styles of furniture, especially the mid century kind.

New timbers were often what people used to go for, but recycled and reclaimed woods are quite sought after now for a piece with history and a more lived–in, characterful look, as well as the sustainability benefits.

Really all types of wood are suitable for mid century style consoles, chairs, tables, sideboards, bed frames, side tables, shelving units and more. Some of the most popular varieties include teak, oak, ash, elm, rosewood and beech, and run the gamut of smooth to textured, depending on preference. Our personal favourites are the patterned likes of messmate, stringy bark and mixed species hardwoods. 

Other contrasting or complementary material accents and additions include stainless steel, pewter and brass.

4. Natural Colours

As mentioned above, earthy shades and tones are most associated with mid century furniture. And with wood as the core material, its natural stains and finishes bring it to life and up–to–date for a more modern decor home.

Neutral, muted and monochromatic colours may sound bland, but used in furniture, furnishings and homeware items, they have the ability to change and surprise in different rooms and under different lighting.

The key natural colour foundations are black, brown, beige, taupe, grey, cream, white and off–white. Just one or two of these is enough to create a whole colour palette and provide a lot of rich and warm walnut, willow and mahogany hues. Other slightly less subtle tints that work well can be dark red, burnt orange and ochre, olive green and mustard yellow.

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