Mid-century modern living room ideas – 10 expert ways to introduce this timeless trend

Mid-century modern living room design is back, but this time it's infused with clean Scandi style, pattern and a color palette that is cooler than ever

Mid-century modern living room ideas in a neutral scheme with bright pops of color.
(Image credit: Future / James Merrell)

With their classic looks and pared-back style, mid-century modern living room ideas are enduringly popular – and it is easy to see why this look is revered so highly, even now. 

Spanning the decade between the Thirties and the Seventies, these simple shapes were inspired by earlier design movements, including the Bauhaus school in Germany. Materials such as moulded plastics allowed designers to explore new textures, colors and forms.  

Mid-century modern style is characterised by clean straight lines and flowing organic curves. Simplicity in design and styling is key, along with a lack of ornamentation and a limited color palette. 

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. 

Mid-century modern living room ideas

These living room ideas will inspire you to get the mid-century modern living room look – in 10 simple ways.

1. Invest in wooden furniture

A mid-century modern living room with wooden furniture, orange chairs and large French windows.

(Image credit: Future / James Merrell)

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

A mid-century modern living room with herringbone flooring, wooden chair and Scandi influence.

(Image credit: Future / Alexander James)

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 that will give the illusion of space.

3. Base your scheme around symmetry 

A pale living room color scheme with blue sofa and symmetrical mid-century modern wooden chairs.

(Image credit: Future / Anna Stathaki)

Symmetry in interior design 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 

A Scandi style mid-century modern living room with green soft furnishings and statement lighting.

(Image credit: Future / Paul Raeside )

Scandinavian styles share 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. 

5. Decorate in a primary color palette

A pale pink living room with neutral wooden furniture and pops of primary colors.

(Image credit: Future / Emma Lee / Sally Denning)

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, 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 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

A mid-century modern living room with gray walls and flooring, a wooden coffee table and a gray sofa with yellow throw.

(Image credit: Future / Anna Stathaki)

Bring a classic mid-century look into the 21st century with modern materials and a soothing color scheme. 

Gray living room ideas 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

A wood panelled living room with grand piano, artwork and a gray armchair.

(Image credit: Future / Davide Lovatti)

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, 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

A brightly colored mid-century modern living room with abstract art and palm leaf print wallpaper.

(Image credit: Future / Damien Russell)

Bring out your fun side with this free-spirited living room trend that takes its inspiration from the abstract expressionist art of the Fifties and Sixties, with flamboyant wallpaper ideas, 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

A blue floral drape with black patterned floral rug and armchair.

(Image credit: Future / Polly Wreford)

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 above. The bigger – and blowsier – the better.

10. Mix and match styles and eras

A mid-century modern living room with rattan chair, orange drape and white walls.

(Image credit: Future / Paul Raeside )

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. 

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.

Jennifer is the Digital Editor at Homes & Gardens. Having worked in the interiors industry for a number of years, spanning many publications, she now hones her digital prowess on the 'best interiors website' in the world. Multi-skilled, Jennifer has worked in PR and marketing, and the occasional dabble in the social media, commercial and e-commerce space. 

Over the years, she has written about every area of the home, from compiling design houses from some of the best interior designers in the world to sourcing celebrity homes, reviewing appliances and even the odd news story or two.