Mid-Century Modern was one of the most popular design styles of the 1940s through into the 1960s. Synonymous with postwar prosperity and innovation, and known for its fine craftsmanship and quality, Mid-Century Modern designs were a monument to the West’s hard-earned peace, democracy, and the hope for a brighter tomorrow. Here is some background on Mid-Century Modern design history and principles.
After fading out of fashion during the 1960s and ‘70s, the Mid-Century Modern design style has surged back into vogue over the past fifteen years or so, this time as a retro-chic home decor aesthetic. Today, the trend doesn’t show any signs of slowing down. That’s probably because the Mid-Century Modern style has a certain timeless quality to it, owing to its simplicity of design and its emphasis on function over form. This fits very nicely into our modern taste for bright, clean, open spaces.
So it’s no wonder that people are filling their homes with Mid-Century Modern fashions. But there’s a problem.
Authentic Mid-Century Modern Antiques Are Better Than New Reproductions
In recent decades, consumers have begun to treat all products as disposable, even big and durable products like furniture. Due to consumer demand for ever-lower prices and the outsourcing of labor overseas, most of today’s furniture and appliances are vastly inferior in quality and craftsmanship.
This leads to a problem for people who want to redecorate their homes in the Mid-Century Modern style: Modern reproductions of Mid-Century Modern decor tend to be low in quality, yet they still command a modern price tag. In other words: Buying new is often a huge waste of money. Given that the original Mid-Century Modern fashions of 70 years ago were famous for their quality, the shoddiness and flimsiness of modern reproductions are unacceptable to many people.
To anyone who insists on having the real thing, that means scouring yard sales and antique shops for authentic articles from the actual Mid-Century Modern period. Fortunately, these objects are not yet rare. They still exist in millions of homes across the country. Many of them will need a little love and reconditioning, but they’re still going to last longer than their modern counterparts.
- Tip: Learn how to find the best yard sale items when you visit a yard, garage, or estate sale.
With that in mind, here is our list of 10 antique items you should have in your Mid-Century Modern home. We’ve arranged these 10 items into three specific “projects” to help you focus your redecoration.
Project 1: A Home Library
In the middle of the 20th century, home libraries were a statement of good taste and sophistication. These were usually found in a home’s den, study, or even right in the living room to be on display during parties and social dinners.
Mid-Century period home libraries featured high-quality hardwood bookcases (or sometimes built-in shelving) and usually included at least one stylish coffee table with a pair of armchairs. A desk was also frequently present.
- Coffee Table: We like something simple and crisp, like a round marble coffee table, which will beautifully complement a book or two.
- Armchairs: Here we are referring to traditional chairs, not modern upholstered recliners. Mid-Century Modern armchairs came in many styles, but if you do get a round coffee table we like the synergy of round-backed armchairs.
- Bookcases: Use heavy, tall bookcases that go well up toward the ceiling (at least 72 inches) and are made of sturdy hardwood.
To supplement these core articles, consider items like end tables, an ottoman, a wall mirror, and a desk. You can find more home library decor ideas here.
Project 2: A Retro Kitchen
Nowhere in your home will you get a bigger blast of Mid-Century Modern vibes than in the kitchen, where you can replace your small appliances with period-appropriate antiques. Believe it or not, some of these appliances were so well-built that they work just as well or sometimes even better than today’s counterparts.
When you visit yard sales, keep your eyes peeled for items like these:
- Toaster: An authentic Mid-Century Modern toaster will instantly catch the eye and serve as a focal point for redesigning the entire counter.
- Tea Kettles: Similar to a toaster, tea kettles tend to sit out in plain view, making them a great choice to establish your Mid-Century Modern vibe in the kitchen.
- Coffeemaker: This is one time when you might want to buy a modern reproduction. The old percolators were not great, and if you want espresso you’ll be hard-pressed to find an authentic residential espresso maker from that period. On the other hand, you can buy an authentic coffeemaker and simply use it as a decoration, keeping your practical coffeemaker in a less visible place.
Some people go all-out and purchase Mid-Century Modern large appliances as well, like ovens. Find other stylish kitchen decor ideas here.
Project 3: Mid-Century Modern Lighting
Mid-Century Modern lighting fixtures were a focal point for fashion statements, punctuating the clean simplicity of the overall decor with an explosion of sheer caprice! You can find some absolutely amazing Mid-Century Modern lighting fixtures at yard sales and antique shops.
- Ceiling Light: Back in the Mid-Century period, a big, eye-popping ceiling light in a main social room like the living room was often a real fashion statement, featuring a zany and playful appearance.
- Floor Lamp: Mid-Century Modern floor lamps tended to be a lot like Mid-Century Modern houses: clean, functional, sturdy, and bold. We suggest setting up one of these in the corner of a large room to establish something cozy like a reading nook.
- Dining Room Chandelier: In the Mid-Century period, meals were still the social high point of the day, and a dining room chandelier would feature the elegance and refinement you might expect to go along with a big, festive dinner with friends and family.
- Wall Lights: Wall lights were commonly used in Mid-Century homes to fill a room with light so that there wouldn’t be any dark corners. Antique wall lighting can be the perfect complement to just about any room in your home.
You can find some great home lighting inspirations here.
We hope this list of 10 antiques was helpful! Happy redecorating!