5 Ways to Make Your Mid-Century Modern Furniture Feel Cool Again

published Nov 15, 2018
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(Image credit: Lula Poggi)

Are you kind of over mid-century modern design? Do you roll your eyes whenever you spot a knock-off Eames dining chair or faux Saarinen tulip table? Do you look at your MCM couch with a tinge of disdain, wishing you could redesign your space?

It’s okay, you’re not alone.

If I’m being totally honest, I too am tired of the MCM madness. Don’t get me wrong, I love the aesthetic; however, the style is becoming too ubiquitous that it no longer feels special. For a while, I thought the best solution to MCM-induced fatigue was maximalist everything: Curvy furniture, bright hues, funky patterns. Turns out, hitting the refresh button on your space doesn’t have to be that extreme.

I recently wrote a story about my MCM fatigue for Apartment Therapy, and asked interior designer Janice Barta about her take on the trend. For Barta, it wasn’t the products themselves that were overplayed, but the way we all chose to style them.

“With any specific genre of decor, it can be easy for one to get tired of a look over time,” she says. “That is why integrating more eclectic pieces is so important. It creates a look that is ultimately more customized and personal. The focus becomes less on the MCM pieces but a room as a whole. It doesn’t just pertain to MCM but any design era or genre. The more you mix, the more unique it becomes.”

While it’s nice to know we don’t need to spend all our time and money revamping our space, the question remains, how do we make our MCM pieces feel cool again? To find out, I reached out to Barta again for her advice:

1. Pattern Play

With pared-back details and solid, muted color palettes all the rage, you rarely see patterns associated with MCM design. But who’s to say it has to be that way?

“Add custom fabric or pillows to your mid-century upholstery,” Barta says. “I’m tired of the solid orange, green, teal and, yellow upholstery most people find these pieces refurbished in. Upholstering your piece in a modern or current fabric—or even adding custom throw pillows—can create a more customized look.”

Kick things up a notch by adding some stripes, plaids, or dots to the mix.

2. Refined Lines

Believe it or not, not every sleek, pared-down piece of furniture is MCM. To add some depth to your space, pair your mid-century with other modern pieces.

“In my living room I designed a custom sofa, which has modern lines but isn’t mid-century,” Barta says. “The mid-century Danish lounge chair and Lane side table in this space pairs nicely with my vintage and new pieces and really speaks to that layered curated look.”

Unsure about the difference between MCM and other modern design? Here’s a quick refresher to help.

3. Mix and Match

Sure, matching furniture will make your space look orderly, but it’s that same uniformity that will also make it look dull. Revitalize the room by mixing different fabrics, textures, and finishes.

“When I walk into a mid-century shop I am often bored by the same faded walnut color,” Barta admits. “Spice up your piece with a rich deep chestnut brown, a chic ebony, or lacquered color.”

That being said, you shouldn’t throw caution to the wind and create a mosh-posh of furniture and accessories.

“Some of the more modern pieces (like Bauhaus-style furniture) can look sterile next to the more warm Danish or Scandinavian MCM pieces,” she says.

As with any style or room, it’s all about using your well-curated eye. Decorating your home is all about what you like, so use your own discretion when sprucing up your space.

4. Personal Space

Speaking of your well-curated eye, it’s important to add small, personal touches to every room. Your home is your sanctuary—not page 15 of an IKEA catalog—so you want to fill it with items that bring you joy.

“Mix it up and personalize it with art, vintage, and antique accessories, and don’t be afraid to include new pieces as well,” Barta says. “If you fill a room with all the same line of furniture, it looks much more staged and generic. Let your spaces have some personality, use some restraint, and it will be fab!”

To make your space feel more personal and unique, Barta recommends supporting local artists and emerging designers.

5. The New Classics

Chances are, most design enthusiasts can spot iconic MCM designs from a mile away. Breuer’s Wassily chair, Flos’ Arco Lamp, Florence Knoll’s sleek sofa… must we go on?

If you really, really love MCM design and aren’t willing to part with your seriously sleek interior, try integrating some more obscure pieces to the mix.

“People tend to go straight for the ‘go-to’s’ or most popular pieces they know,” Barta says. “I can promise you a modern or mid-century inspired room can still be successful without a sputnik lamp or Eames’ shell chair!”

Browse your local vintage shop (or some antique websites) for pieces that bring the innovation back to your home.

“Then I work around those pieces rather than feeling pressured to complete a space all at once,” she says.