Mid-Century Forever

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Image caption: Designer Kevin Gray restored this 1960’s home and filled it with Mid-Century elements such as the Warren Platner coffee table, Milou Bauman sofa and a pair of vintage, hand-blown Murano glass lamps.

We may be well underway into the 21st century, but our taste in furniture continues to harken back to the middle of the 20th. That’s because Americans are still in love with mid-century modern (MCM) design — a style prevalent over 50 years ago and which made a comeback over the last decade.

Known for its clean and sleek lines, smooth angles, utilitarian forms, minimal ornamentation, light upholstery, contoured surfaces, splayed or conical legs and mixing of materials like woods (especially black walnut, teak wood, and cherry), metals and medium density fiberboard, MCM furnishings returned to the mainstream around 2008, says Ben Copeland from Copeland Furniture in Bradford, Vermont.

MCM’s minimalism “is unconsciously therapeutic for typical 21st century consumers who can often suffer from information overload,” he says. “They desire an interior environment that’s clean and uncluttered by excessive ornamentation or graphic detail.”

Kevin Gray, designer/owner of Miami-based KGD Interiors, notes that, by the 1950s, MCM replaced Victorian era-inspired custom furniture that was fussy, bulky, heavy and expensive.

“Mid-century modern furniture could be mass produced, so it was accessible to the everyday buyer. Its advantages include providing a lighter, airier feel to a room or the entire home as well as a lower price point,” says Gray. “It’s popular today for its comfort and lightness in look and versatility — it works in new and old homes alike.”

“MCM’s streamlined look also allows people to move more freely throughout their living spaces,” says Vanessa Antonelli, Manalapan, New Jersey-based interior designer.

“Consider that open floor plans are back, so it’s only fitting that the furniture that first inspired homes without walls would also be back. Mid-century design feels less imposing, too, which makes it particularly popular with millennials, who are big on practicality.”

MCM furniture has cons as well as its pros, however.

“The simpler designs allow these pieces to be flat packed, shipped and moved around easier. And they blend in well with other design styles. But, while beautiful to look at, they sometimes lack comfort. Couches are firmer with stiffer fabrics, and the sizes of storage pieces sometimes don’t offer a lot of room,” says Antonelli.

For these reasons, experts advise choosing MCM pieces and sets carefully. You may want to select more comfortable non-MCM sofas, loveseats and chairs for social areas like the living room, but then “mix the room with mid-century style end tables, coffee tables and lighting to embrace the look in a functional way,” says Antonelli, who adds that MCM works great in dining rooms, bedrooms, offices and children’s rooms, too. “If you’re not enthusiastic about committing completely to the style, it can easily be worked in in small doses and look great.”

Copeland, on the other hand, believes you can get the most bang for your buck by investing in main statement pieces, “like complete dining sets, bedroom sets and seating sets,” he says.

Boris Goncearenco with New York Furniture Outlets in San Diego, recommends buying better quality MCM furniture from reputable brands like Soflex, VIG and ESF.

“End tables, buffets, dressers, entertainment centers, TV stands and armchairs should be made of real wood and stand on thin, widely spaced legs,” says Goncearenco. “Plum, burgundy, sky-blue, gold and avocado are appropriate colors for mid-century modern pieces. They harmonize well with interiors washed in natural colors like white, gray, brown, dark green, beige or sandy, which set an excellent background for bright décor and textiles with active patterns.”

As for MCM’s current shelf life as an in-vogue design style, don’t expect it to be replaced anytime soon.

“As a rule, furniture design trends change every five to 10 years. But I wouldn’t expect the next trend to appear until for another four to eight years,” says Goncearenco.

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