The word timeless gets thrown around a lot these days. Whether it’s ascribed to fashion, design, or decor, there is endless chatter about which trends are here to stay and which ones will leave you wishing you hadn’t bought in. It’s been more than five decades since the peak of midcentury modern, but it’s clear the minimalist-yet-vintage vibe is here to stay. Whether it’s the sleek lines or free-form shapes, the timeless aesthetic of yesteryear is still holding strong in homes across the globe.
To give a primer on the term, midcentury modern is a broad, catch-all word that covers a lot of ground. It’s mostly used to describe architecture, furniture, and graphic design that was created during the mid-20th century. Some major signifiers of the decor are organic curves, geometric angles, and an undercurrent of stylish functionality.
The midcentury look briefly fell out of fashion in the 1980s but quickly bounced back in style, with its popularity rising with each passing year. A fresh-faced Drake freestyled about a midcentury Eames couch back in 2009, and the lasting appeal of the design still continues to woo today’s style savvy crowd. So, if you’re looking to make the leap from IKEA to Eames, here are some tips to get you started.
Start With the Basics
Every room needs a couple of pieces of standout furniture. For the living room, a good place to start is with a nice-looking midcentury credenza. Between the wood finish, beveled edges, and angular shape, it oozes 1950s modernism. Plus, they’re usually fitted with plenty of drawers and shelves to store unsightly clutter. Think of one as a sophisticated version of that IKEA cabinet that every millennial seems to own.
If a credenza isn’t your thing, then look to build the room around a handsome couch, bold chairs or an eye-catching table. For a coffee table, you can’t go wrong with something drop shaped or with hairpin legs. When it comes to chairs, anything in the vein of an iconic Herman Miller or Knoll style is a great place to start. The Molded Side Chair is one of Eames’ most popular styles and has been produced in just about every color you can imagine, while a Cesca Chair can give the room a warmer and more retro look.
Picking the right couch can be tricky. Just avoid the infamous “Peggy” couch and look for something with subtle midcentury flair, like angled legs or a simple silhouette. For the bedroom, keep it simple with a slanted bed frame (like this one from Floyd) or McCobb style highboy dresser. If you want something a little less understated, then a brutalist floor mirror might be more your style.
Whatever furniture you decide on, it’s important to harmonize shapes, fabrics and finishes. Too much of a single thing will make your place look one-dimensional and woefully tacky. Aim to mix a few materials (wood, metal, leather, fiberglass, etc.) in a room and pair organic shapes with sharply framed pieces – just be sure to make things look cohesive.
Buying Authentic vs. Replicas
There isn’t a perfect answer to the authentic vs. replica debate. Plenty of midcentury purists will advise to never buy non-name brands, but there is nothing wrong with snagging some quality reproductions, as going all-authentic-everything will quickly empty your bank account. Ideally, you should save up some cash (maybe sit out a couple of Supreme drops) so you can splurge on a few authentic pieces.
A good rule of thumb for deciding when to go authentic is evaluating frequency of use and placement within the room. If you’re planning on having an Eames chair as the focal point of the space, then spring for the real deal. However, if you’re just going to tuck a side table away in the corner, you probably don’t need to pay for an original. That said, it’s important to avoid the generically named and overtly cheap remakes that pop up on the internet.
The replica decor industry is a slippery slope and vastly different from its fashion counterpart. Protecting the intellectual property of furniture is much tougher than that of clothing, as furniture is technically considered a "functional item.” That means companies can legally reproduce similar-looking styles, just as long as they don’t infringe on the branded origin of the design.
When it comes to replicas, if the price on something looks too good to be true, then it probably is. Plenty of online retailers are hawking versions of the famous Molded Shell Chair for as low as $50 (the original version sells for $350) but you get what you pay for. It may be tempting to go with the bargain but you’ll soon find out that a cheap copy doesn’t last nearly as long as its well-made counterpart. You can also score an authentic piece below its sticker price by checking Craigslist or your local flea market. There is a booming market for secondhand midcentury furniture and going with an older original will be a better investment than buying a brand new (cheap) replica.
The Details Are Everything
Even a hero piece of midcentury furniture needs a supporting cast. Once you’ve set the focal points of the room, don’t forget to fill out the empty space. Ceramics and vases are a good place to start. Vases from the era tend to feature bubble-like shapes and eye-catching colors so use them sparingly. If you don’t want to go fully vintage, newer companies like The Granite and Muuto are producing equally stunning pieces. For those who prefer indoor plants, there is nothing more midcentury than a wooden leg planter or an original glazed pot from the beloved Gainey Ceramics.
Adding standalone lighting, a small side table, or a magazine rack, are all surefire ways to amplify the midcentury tone of any room, too. For floor lamps, look for styles with tripod legs or overarching stands. A magazine rack might seem like a needless purchase in the digital age, but it’s a quintessential midcentury item and a stylish shortcut (which can also make you seem well-read). Lastly, an accent table with a wire base or colorful finish can be a practical and snazzy way to finish out a room.
Don’t Overdo the Midcentury Vibes
It may be tempting to go floor to ceiling with midcentury modern decor but be sure to show some restraint. Unless you want your place to look like the set of Mad Men, it’s important to show restraint by not overdoing the old-school vibe. The vintage shapes can add up quickly, so be sure to break up the retro monotony by mixing in a contemporary touch.
Tapping into complementing aesthetics like Scandinavian design (minimalism and functionality) or industrial design (utilitarian and stark) seem to mesh well with the midcentury vibe. Just stay away from anything that feels too rustic or overly cosmopolitan. Modern retailers like IKEA (specifically their PS Collection) and CB2 tend to pair nicely with the traditional midcentury look.
Mostly importantly, don’t lose your sense of self by drowning your apartment in midcentury modern decor. If you stumble across a random piece of furniture you like or want to display some funky sculpture your friend made, then go for it. You still want your place to feel personal and like home, just with better-looking furniture.
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