Retro and timeless: How to style a mid-century modern living room

Clean lines and classic silhouettes - discover how less is more when styling a mid-century modern living room.

Timeless, functional, stylish - mid-century modern’s enduring popularity lies in its less is more philosophy. A mid-century modern living room is characterised by clean lines, wooden finishes, sleek silhouettes and organic shapes, making it a go-to décor style for anyone who wants to be simple and stylish.

With its roots in the 1950s and 60s, mid-century modern living rooms combine style and practicality. From the colour palette, furniture to lighting, you can introduce mid-century modern design into all parts of your living room and the rest of your home.

Whether you’re looking to completely revamp your living room or just want to add in some mid-century accents, learn more about mid-century modern’s background and get inspired by these 15 mid-century modern ideas. After you’re done reading our styling tips, browse our range of velvet sofas to get started on decorating your mid-century modern living room.

What is mid-century modern design?

Inspired by the Modernist and Bauhaus movements, mid-century modern design has its roots in post-World War II America which marked a time of technological advances and growing prosperity. As people moved into smaller homes in cities, there came a demand for simple and functional furniture that also reflected the modernity of the times.

With new materials being developed during this period, designers such as Arne Jacobson, and Charles and Ray Eames were able to innovate and experiment with new textures, colours, and shapes when it came to furniture. The current mid-century modern design focuses on clean lines, slim silhouettes and organic shapes with an uncluttered aesthetic. Thanks to its pared-back style it makes it easier to mix and layer with other interior styles.

What are the main features of mid-century modern style?

The basic features of mid-century modern design are:

  • Clean functional design with minimal embellishments
  • Sleek lines inspired by organic and geometric shapes
  • Use of warm and neutral tones
  • Incorporating a range of finishes such as wood, metal and stone

This style's simplicity means that you can commit fully to a mid-century modern home without it being over the top - but it's also very easy to fit into your existing space, while still bringing its own distinctive aesthetic.

1. Decorate with lots of wood

Mid-century modern living room with dark wood wall panelling
Valencia L-Shape Sofa

Wood takes centre stage in mid-century modern design whether it’s furniture, flooring or on the walls. As a natural material, its timeless and functional qualities made it a popular pick for designers of the mid-century era. The type of wood you choose will set the mood of your mid-century modern living room. Light wood like oak or maple brings a light and breezy vibe to your ambience while dark wood adds warmth and a hint of drama.

2. Choose a neutral palette

Mid-century modern living room in a soft neutral palette
Loren 2 Seater Sofa, Loren Armchair

Since mid-century modern design places importance on choosing furniture made from natural materials, pick a neutral palette to complement this. White walls are the obvious choice for the backdrop but you can also pick off-white tones like cream or hues with a beige or brown undertone. A neutral backdrop allows the stylish lines and curves to stand out bringing its own character to the room. Aside from neutrals, you can also go for other earth tones like deep greens or blues for a chic contrast. Top off the look with indoor plants for a nice burst of greenery.

3. Streamline with slim silhouettes

Mid-century modern living room with clean lines and slim silhouettes
Baltimore 2 Seater Sofa

With homes getting smaller, it’s only natural to want to create an illusion of space. Choosing mid-century style furniture with unfussy silhouettes and clean, uncluttered lines will help make your space look bigger. For example, a sofa with a mid-century modern aesthetic has a slim profile with sleek, tapered legs to make the room feel more spacious. Your coffee or side table should also adopt these design features for a streamlined aesthetic.

4. Make a statement with primary colours

Mid-century modern living room with blue walls and a grey sofa
Harlow L-Shape Sofa

Primary colours of blue, red and yellow were popular during the mid-century era and often used to add bold touches to the room. Inject a retro vibe with primary colours on the walls to break up the neutrals or pick a sofa in blue or red if you’re feeling adventurous. However, if you only want to inject small pops of colour do it through accessories. Whether through pillows, artwork or a rug, these colourful bursts bring cheer and save you time having to transform the whole space.

5. Combine mid-century modern with scandi interiors

Mid-century modern living room with blue walls and a grey sofa
Furniture And Choice neutral and cream sofas

Both mid-century modern design and Scandinavian interiors value functionality without scrimping on style so it makes perfect sense to combine these two décor styles. Scandi interiors are characterised by clean lines, muted colours, and simplicity while mid-century also favours a less is more philosophy. Keep it light and breezy with a neutral colour palette, lots of natural lighting and cosy accessories. Throw in mid-century modern’s love of organic shapes through accessories like vases and glassware.

If you want to find out more about Scandinavian design and interiors check out our guide.

6. Pick glamorous and cosy textures

Glamorous mid-century modern living room with a velvet sofa
Baltimore 2 Seater Sofa

Texture is one way to channel the luxe side of mid-century modern design and create a cosy mid-century modern living room. Pick a velvet sofa with a contemporary silhouette and tapered legs to accentuate the mid-century aesthetic. A velvet sofa in a deep jewel tone adds richness to the room while still keeping it understated. Aside from velvet, you can also opt for plush fabric or leather to make a luxe statement.

7. Mix mid-century with boho style

Mid-century modern living room with boho accents
Harlow 3 Seater Sofa

Since we’re on the topic of retro design, why not mix mid-century modern with boho style? The key is to not over do it. Balance the simplicity of mid-century modern style with boho’s love of prints, patterns and textures. Start with mid-century modern elements like wall panelling, clean lines and geometric shapes. Then layer with boho’s fun, free-spirited style through accessories like colourful cushions, rattan lighting and a shaggy rug.

Want to know more about boho’s laid back, eclectic style? Read our guide for our styling tips.

8. Add depth with wall panelling

Mid-century modern living room with wall panelling on one section of the wall
Loren 3 Seater Sofa

Architecture plays a big role in shaping mid-century modern design into what it is today. One way that architecture and interior come together is through wall panelling which adds depth to a space. Choose wooden wall panels for a retro feel in a mid-century living room. The tip here is to only decorate with panels on one section of the wall. As we mentioned earlier, it’s really up to you what type of wood you choose - for example, go for dark wood panels for warmth.

9. Colour block for a retro touch

Mid-century modern living room with retro colour palette and artwork
Baltimore 3 Seater Sofa

Just because it’s a living room with a mid-century style doesn’t mean you have to stick to a neutral palette. Go all out with an eclectic colour palette or introduce bold geometric patterns for a playful touch.

Try colour blocking pink and green for a lively contrast as it helps bring a bit of nature into the home. Choose a light pink for a soft and fun backdrop while a deep green is the grounding base. Besides the colour palette, incorporate different textures such as velvet, wall panelling and wood to complete the look.

10. Accessorise with geometric shapes

Mid-century inspired accessories like geometric shapes
Furniture And Choice

Accessories are the easiest way to introduce mid-century modern style into your home. Side table lamps and vases are popular choices being both functional and stylish. It’s best to choose accessories in the form of geometric shapes for a mid-century statement. For table lamps, choose reflective finishes such as chrome or brass. Meanwhile, a glass vase in warm vintage shades such as brown and sepia, or a smoked finish, also instantly gives off a mid-century feel.

11. Introduce modular furniture and built-in storage

Mid-century modern living room with built-in TV unit
Baltimore Sofa Set

As functional design plays a key role in mid-century décor, built-in storage is one of the ways to maintain a modern and uncluttered space. For example, incorporating a built-in TV unit into a mid-century modern lounge creates a stylish focal point while also letting you keep your accessories or books.

If you can’t install built-ins into your mid-century lounge choose modular furniture and storage. Modular furniture are pieces that can be easily moved around to suit the shifting needs of your home and have multiple uses. Modular shelving is one smart solution while a sectional sofa is another example of combining functional design and style.

12. Make a statement with lighting

Mid-century modern living room with retro pendant lighting
Hampton 3 Seater Sofa

Highlight the retro side of mid-century modern style with statement lighting. Jazz things up with a retro chandelier or an Art Deco-inspired starburst pendant light to break up the clean lines of the room. Besides chandeliers or pendant lights, curved floor lamps are another way to showcase mid-century modern style. When it comes to lighting, the bigger the better so choose an oversized floor lamp to emphasise the sculptural side of this trend. For more Art Deco inspiration read our guide to find out more.

13. Transform a reading nook with mid-century décor

Mid-century modern reading corner
Baltimore Armchair

Besides the focal points of your living room, you can also dress up a corner with mid-century décor. For example, turn your reading nook into a space where you can imagine Don Draper from Mad Men lounging with a book. Choose a contemporary armchair with sleek metal legs to emphasise the key design features of this style. Make your space cosy with an oversized floor lamp and dress up your nearby shelves with curved vases and abstract artwork.

14. Be bold with artwork

Mid-century modern living room with geometric and abstract artwork
Loren Armchair

As much as mid-century décor is about subtlety, it’s totally fine to be bold with artwork. Channel the characteristics of this period by decorating with a contrast of geometric shapes, gentle curves, and pops of colour. It’s up to you if your artwork complements the colour scheme or you can use it as a stylish contrast for colour blocking. If you want to create a gallery wall, the tip is to choose a common theme for your artwork to unify your space.

15. Update mid-century with contemporary accents

Mid-century modern living room with contemporary accents
Baltimore Corner Sofa

Even though mid-century modern has lots of retro features, that doesn’t mean you can’t give it a contemporary update. Channel the monochrome trend where it’s all about simple neutrals and minimalist touches. Instead of plain white go for warmer off-white tones like cream, beige or taupe on the walls. Ground the room with a contemporary grey sofa with slim and raised legs - it’s up to you whether you prefer a light or darker grey. Use textures like cotton, velvet and boucle for this look for that cosy feel. Set the mood with soft lighting and accent with raw finishes and curves such as a clay vase or stoneware.

We hope you enjoyed reading our mid-century modern living room ideas. Looking for more living room décor tips? Check out our green living rooms ideas for more inspiration.

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