Timeless and stylish, mid-century modern living room ideas are enduringly popular. Characterized by clean lines, a pared-back palette and sinuous, biomorphic forms, the mid-century-modern look pairs well with many other styles and remains contemporary today.
Whether you're seeking to create a sleek, mid-century interior design or update your living room ideas with a few iconic mid-century pieces, we've rounded up some beautiful schemes and advice from the experts to get you inspired.
Mid-century modern living room ideas
Looking to create a mid-century modern living room? Spanning the decade between the Thirties and the Seventies, with roots in earlier design movements such as the Bauhaus, the midcentury-modern movement championed the principle of purity in design and sought to push the boundaries with innovative use of materials and technologies.
Advancements in manufacturing allowed furniture designers to experiment with new materials, such as injection moulded plastics, with resulted in sculptural, sleek pieces of furniture in new colors, textures and forms.
Although mid-century modern style was driven by advances in technology, it was also inspired by the natural world, and wood is the most widely used material for furniture.
1. Invest in wooden furniture
Despite the development of innovative new materials such as plastic, fibreglass and laminates, timber sustained popularity throughout the mid-20th century. Furniture designers favored durable hardwoods, such as teak, cherry, maple and beech.
Oozing warmth and character, and famed for its timeless beauty and durability, wood is still one of the most popular materials to use in an authentic mid-century modern living room.
For true mid-century appeal, opt for streamlined timber pieces with tapered legs.
2. Create the illusion of space – with slimline furniture
If there’s one thing that’s going to create the illusion of more space in a small living room, it’s investing in the right furniture – it can actually make a room feel wider in seconds.
Mid-century modern was the unfussy, utilitarian style that defined interior design for the post-war generation. Now its functional, fluid furniture with slimline legs has been adopted by the masses – especially those wanting small living room ideas (opens in new tab) that will give the illusion of space.
3. Base your scheme around symmetry
Symmetry in interior design (opens in new tab) is introduced to create balance and a feeling of calm – ideal for enhancing a space in a mid-century modern living room.
If the 1950s architecture of your home is strong and distinctive, a symmetrical layout will ensure that your scheme remains stylish yet cozy. Get the symmetry right and you can create harmony in every room in your house – and make small spaces feel bigger and tidier.
4. Adopt authentic Scandinavian design
Scandinavian decor shares many design elements with mid-century modern: pared-back, unfussy, uncluttered spaces and a winning combination of form and function create aesthetically pleasing, yet practical, interiors.
Like Scandinavian design, the main purpose of mid-century modern style is to improve daily life. Furniture is therefore not only about stylish elegance, but also about functionality – it should serve a purpose and stand the test of time.
With its streamlined furniture, subtle prints, and Scandi influences, 1950s style is the perfect choice for 21st century living. What's more, the timeless appeal of this style lends itself to more recent design styles and trends such as the Retro Revival trend, or Modern Organic trend, offering new looks enduring qualities and endearing charm.
5. Decorate in a primary color palette
Using primary colors in a mid-century modern living room can be done subtly and elegantly to create bright – but understated – space. The primary colors are red, yellow and blue. These colors are called primary colors because they cannot be created by combining any other colors.
As well as living room paint ideas (opens in new tab), another simple and effective way of introducing color into a mid-century modern living room is through accessories. It is a joyful way of adding to and altering the feel of a room, without committing to redecorating whole spaces.
Here, the warm neutrals used as the main structure for this living room color scheme (opens in new tab) are very much back in vogue. Earthy naturals, pale plaster pinks and natural weaves all set the scene elegantly, and provide an ideal backdrop for the addition of a few joyful primary colors.
6. Devise a contemporary take on the mid-century modern living room
Bring a classic mid-century look into the 21st century with modern materials and a soothing color scheme.
Gray living room ideas (opens in new tab) are hugely popular, and they can turn a retro scheme into the modern era with aplomb. Gray is the most wanted color after white, and the hue has secured its position as the modern neutral.
Use gray to create a harmonious look that will make a great impression in a 1950s living room. Whether it's pale or slightly darker, gray is a great all-rounder.
You can dress it up with a unfussy, functional furniture, concrete elements and houseplants to pay homage to a bygone era.
7. Bring warmth with wood panelling
Wood is a key material choice for a mid-century modern living room – and if you want to replicate a true Mad Men aesthetic, look no further than wall panelling.
When designing a living room (opens in new tab), fitting wall panelling horizontally will make a room feel wider or longer, making it a great trick for small spaces.
Plus, panelling for walls can be a work of art in itself – it needn't be solely architectural.
8. Go for a retro color scheme
Bring out your fun side with this free-spirited living room trend (opens in new tab) that takes its inspiration from the abstract expressionist art of the Fifties and Sixties, with flamboyant wallpaper ideas (opens in new tab), bold geometrics, cut-outs and playful blocks of color.
Unsure whether this look is right for you? Choose this scheme if you’re young at heart and into bold patterns and punchy colors, and take a more playful, irreverent approach when it comes to decor.
While not for everyone, abstracts have a timeless appeal and versatility that can add impact in a contemporary setting, or edge in a more traditional scheme.
9. Go bold with oversized florals
Mid-century modern living room ideas do not have to be devoid of color or pattern. Beautiful blooms are an exquisite and easy way to add life and color to your 1950s interiors.
The radical, stylised Starflower print, dating to 1967, has a kaleidoscopic quality undoubtedly influenced by the Op Art movement popular of the time.
However, if you are after a modern interpretation, look no further than a palette of clashing florals, like in the stunning living room picture (opens in new tab) above. The bigger – and blowsier – the better.
10. Mix and match styles and eras
With an emphasis on simple lines and purity of design, combined with the enduring beauty of wood, mid-century modern living room furniture has a timeless appeal, which sits well with other styles both old and new.
Here, we have married 50s utilitarianism with 70s retro extravagance for a truly inspiring clash of styles. Furniture with a striking geometric form will be bold enough to hold its own against fabrics in uplifting vivid shades.
This trend gives the traditional mid-century modern look a contemporary overhaul with a peppier color palette, lighter woods and practical, functional pieces designed for modern living.
11. Choose designer armchairs
If there's one piece that a mid-century modern living room should not be without it's arguably a designer armchair. From the slimline Wassily chair made from tubular steel, to the sumptuous Lounge chair designed by Charles and Ray Eames, designer armchairs have become iconic features of the midcentury interior and there's certainly plenty to choose from.
Characterised by sinuous lines and boasting beautiful sculptural silhouettes, these Boucle Jagger armchairs, inspired by a 1970s design, are perfect for bringing presence to this simple living room without dominating it.
'We chose these Boucle Jaggar armchairs from Pure White Lines (opens in new tab) upholstered in a classic duotone houndstooth to introduce visual interest and nuance to the space,' says Katie Lion, senior interior designer at Kitesgrove (opens in new tab). 'Houndstooth is a bold yet timeless pattern, and the fabric’s jagged geometry works well on the armchair’s curved mid-century design, helping to define the layered and distinctive character of the space.'
12. Showcase mid-century art against a neutral palette
If you love decorating with art from the mid-century era then opting for an all-white scheme for a living room will allow it to double as a beautiful gallery space, perfect for showing off your prized collections says interior designer Andrew Suvalsky (opens in new tab).
'Midcentury modern design, characterized by clean and architecturally sensual lines, allows you to easily incorporate elements from other periods. A neutral palette, a hallmark of this style, makes it possible to layer in different patterns, materials and finishes,' he explains.
'The residents of the Park Avenue apartment are avid art collectors who also inherited special pieces of artwork acquired from the 1950s to present. The renovation of the home and living room was intentionally designed to highlight the robust art collection.'
'The prior design was dark and muted, with colors that pulled away from the art rather than allowing its beauty to shine. The new design brings a mix of modern gallery meets vintage classic. The residents are always interested in adding new pieces to the collection and did not want a design style that would dedicate the future placement of new pieces.'
13. Keep furnishings minimal
The mid-century modern period is celebrated for its designer furnishings in a mix of streamlined and biomorphic shapes. If you're planning to furnish with these iconic pieces, be sure to give them the space they deserve by opting for a minimalist living room layout which really shows them off their form, as done here by interior designer Jamie Nesbitt-Weber (opens in new tab).
'I love the clean architectural lines of my brownstone living room in Cobble Hill, Brooklyn. The vintage Arne Norell Sirocco chairs from Sweden and George Nelson slat bench paired with the new modern Striad Lounge chair and Matter Made 3-legged stool give the room a mid-century vibe,' says interior designer Jamie Nesbitt-Weber.
'The bright primary colors in the art and accessories are a wonderful contrast against the white walls and black slate floor. The room is a timeless example of Midcentury and new modern design.'
14. Add a statement ceiling light
‘A light is a good way to throw surprise in a room, to merge modern with traditional,’ says Martin Waller, founder of Andrew Martin (opens in new tab). ‘Putting an industrial style lamp or a graphic mid-century form in a traditional stucco setting injects excitement, equally an Art Deco chandelier in a stark, modern plan.’
'Lighting is so important and an excellent way of playing with scale,' adds interior designer Kelly Wearstler (opens in new tab). 'Oversized chandeliers are a great place to begin, then I love sconces and lamps on a table uplighting a sculpture or piece of art.'
Don't be afraid to use bold color
While mid-century modern pieces look great in a white living room with a gallery feel, but sometimes these spaces can feel quite stark. To add personality and depth consider combining sleek mid-century design with bold accents of color, metallics and personal touches as Andrew Suvalsky has done in the design for his own living room at his home in Montclair, New Jersey.
'I did not want to create a time-capsule of the 1950s,' says Suvalsky, 'but rather to infuse my modern take on various elements from the 1950s to the 1970s.' For Suvalsky that meant adding layers of various patterns, materials, and finishes that tell a new narrative.
'The mission was to blend the clean lines of a 1950’s California style-home with a rich and dense decor but to also play with – even upend – preconceived notions of what a mid-century ought to be,' he notes.
'I incorporated patterns, colors and objects that tell a story and are meaningful to myself and my husband so that our home would be a seamless reflection of our lives. I wanted our house to be a unique emanation of our personalities, highlighting our love for music, art, travel and hosting.'
How do you style a mid-century modern living room?
To style a mid-century modern living room, invest in unfussy, utilitarian-style furniture. Opt for functional, fluid furniture and abstract prints based on natural shapes – rediscovered and reinterpreted for today’s modern interiors and lifestyles.
For ideas, look to icons like Florence Knoll and Arne Jacobson for inspiration – both of whom were prominent designers during the mid-century modern period. Their work still serves as design inspiration for some of the world’s top creatives.
What style goes well with mid-century modern?
Mid-century modern design goes well with many other styles, which makes it a popular design era among interior designers. 'Mid-century modern design, characterized by clean and architecturally sensual lines, allows you to easily incorporate elements from other periods,' says Andrew Suvalsky.
'I am a firm believer that in every era there is incredible design and I pull from lots of different periods – I love mixing deco, Bauhaus, mid-century; sticking to one era can be a bit one note,' adds interior designer Kelly Weastler.
'If you buy all your furniture new it’s going to start to look dated quickly, but if you take the time to curate and shop in a variety of places, you end up with a much more timeless room.'