By Nicole L. Warren
Simple. Functional. Chic. Furniture made during the mid-century era (the late 1940s to the early 1960s), was designed with these ideals in mind. Objects were beautiful, often being described as sculptural. At the same time, the furniture was livable, with enough of a cozy factor that chairs could still be inviting to sit in. Create your own open, welcoming dining space with furniture and decor inspired by mid-century design.
Buying vintage furniture can be pricey (one chair could cost $1,200+), and involves some investigating to find all the pieces you need to complete your look. There’s hope if you can't locate or afford vintage gems like those from Eames, Miller, Saarinen, and Noguchi, who designed the most sought-after items. Fortunately, you can buy modern reissues and reinterpretations of mid-century furniture. Dubbed mid-century modern, this design style surfaced as a trendy yet classic alternative. Whether you want to fully commit to revamping your entire dining room, or just want to incorporate a few pieces, here are some answers to common questions to help guide your selections.
How do I know if it's mid-century modern?
If you've seen the TV show “Mad Men,” then you can visualize exactly how a mid-century modern dining room might look. If you're like me and haven’t watched “Mad Men,” these key characteristics will clue you in.
This style will never be called ornate, opulent or intricate. Its hallmarks are clean lines, smooth textures, and minimalistic design.
Tables and chairs have curved lines and angles, rather than sharp, straight lines and edges. Furniture shapes include squares, rectangles, and triangles, with rounded corners. You'll also see objects that resemble the shapes of jelly beans and boomerangs. Legs of the furniture are thin, rounded, and slightly tapered.
Teak was the wood of choice. Modern updates use natural and laminate material that mimic teak’s golden brown, and you’ll also find pieces in walnut, oak, and maple. Solid wood tables reign, with glass table tops being another popular option. Chairs can be wooden, or have plastic, resin or upholstered seats, with wooden or metal legs.
- Subtle Colors
If a chair has upholstery, it’s a basic solid color, void of bold prints or bright colors. Shades of olive green, mustard yellow, walnut brown and tangerine orange were traditionally used. If you find chairs upholstered with colorful patterns, they're most likely a modern interpretation of the mid-century style. Plush fabrics like velvet or suede aren't used. Instead, seats and backs are covered with leather or vinyl, linen, wool, and tweed.
What pieces should I get to complete the look?
Depending on the amount of space you have in your dining room, you can eventually incorporate additional pieces. But start with a quality table and then move on to chairs and lighting.
The dining room table is considered one of the most important items of furniture in a home. This is where families eat together, children do their homework, and guests are entertained. If you're going to financially indulge on any piece, make it the table. Think about how many people you need seating for and the function of your dining room. Is it only used for special occasions? Daily? Will there be lots of spills and dings because the kids do their homework and crafts on it?
Chairs will help define the tone of your dining room. Basic plastic chairs with metal legs can give a more casual vibe, while upholstered wooden chairs appear more formal. Consider the size of your table to determine what style of chair will work best.
- Ceiling Lighting
Gone are typical chandeliers, full of sparkle, or reminiscent of candelabras. Instead look for pendulum styles, featuring one light bulb. Multi-bulb options are formed like sprays or bursts of light, with golden tones of metal frequently used for the fixtures. Shades are geometric, with circles dominating in most designs. If this is the only lighting in the room, make sure the wattage is high enough for your needs.
- Bonus Addition
Credenzas. If budget and space allow, credenzas can enhance the look, and they’re perfect for storing dinnerware and table linens. For extra light and flair in the room, table lamps can be showcased on top.
What type of accessories should I buy?
In contrast to the subdued hues and lack of prints found in mid-century furniture, the decor offers a blast of color.
If you don’t have a credenza, shelves or another spot to place table lamps, floor lamps are a wonderful choice. Look for lamps that have shades and bases with bold colors to coordinate with curtains, wall decor or rugs.
- Clocks & Mirrors
Clocks and mirrors share similar designs and mimic the shapes of the ceiling lighting. If you include them in your room, try to avoid using the same shape or style for both. If your mirror is a circular burst, pair it with a square clock.
Hang brightly colored, abstract art that incorporates geometric shapes. Can't seem to find art that complements your look? Make your own! Cover blank canvases with fabric or wrapping paper in the graphic patterns that were popular. Take a look at this tutorial, Simple Canvas Decor Ideas You Can Make In A Day.
Can I mix and match styles, so I can keep some of the furniture I already have?
Since mid-century modern is understated, it coordinates well with other styles of furniture. Create an eclectic look by combining furniture with different colors, textures, and shapes.
- Marble or iron-legged tables can be paired with new resin chairs with metal or wooden legs. You could even keep your farmhouse bench and pair it with two new chairs.
- Keep two of your existing chairs and pair them with two new ones.
- Partner your existing upholstered arm chairs with an oblong mid-century table.
- Keep your current dining set and just change your lighting and wall decor. Swap your crystal chandelier for pendant lighting, and situate your dining set on top of a geometric patterned rug. Keep the walls minimal, adding a mirror or a couple of graphic art prints.
Where can I buy mid-century modern furniture?
These are a few of the many retailers that sell furniture in the mid-century modern style.
- World Market
- Room and Board
- West Elm
- Crate and Barrel
Images used with permission, courtesy of Nicole L. Warren, www.shutterstock.com, and www.dreamstime.com