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Mid Century Modern Chairs Meet A Scandinavian Modern Decor

Mid century modern furniture is usually paired either with a very retro style or an incredibly modern one; by and large, there isn’t much middle ground between dark-wood-and-gem-tones and stark-lines-and-cool-colors. But lately mid century modern style chairs have found their way into a distinctly different, Nordic-inspired decor: Scandinavian modern design. This style is all about simple, stark, sun-soaked spaces. This might seem like a big departure from the norm, but mid century modern chairs are right at home in this style, which combines the warmth of a mid century modern decor with the striking elegance of a more modern space.

The white on wood of a classic Eames Eiffel chair beautifully matches the white on wood of a Scandinavian modern decor (by Increation Interiors Ltd)
The white on wood of a classic Eames Eiffel chair beautifully matches the white on wood of a Scandinavian modern decor (by Increation Interiors Ltd)

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White is the base color for a Scandinavian modern design, but unlike other modern styles, it isn’t a cold, glossy white. Instead, it’s a white that’s specifically intended to make spaces feel wide, open, warm, and clean, particularly by emphasizing natural light. You won’t find much texture or color on the walls, so the warmth of these very white rooms is created primarily with lots and lots of natural, light-finished wood, especially on the floor and, to a lesser extent, the furniture. The classic Eames Eiffel chair, with its simple, curved white seat and elegant wood legs is perfectly at home in this style, adding a bright, clean, slightly sculptural touch to a very simple space.

Mid century modern chairs help maintain the simple elegance of a Scandinavian modern design, allowing a few bold, colorful accents to shine (by Design Platform, photo by David Lauer)
Mid century modern chairs help maintain the simple elegance of a Scandinavian modern design, allowing a few bold, colorful accents to shine (by Design Platform, photo by David Lauer)

Even beyond the white walls and light wood floors, Scandinavian modern design tends to be pretty light on color. Rather than a broad color scheme or even coordinating elements, this style prefers small, brightly colored accents that act as punctuation against all that white, like a single throw pillow or a simple yet colorful lighting fixture. Once again, a basic white-and-wood mid century modern chair helps establish this very neutral, natural color scheme, so the colorful focal point can be something small and specific.

The simple, curvy wood arms and legs of mid century modern chairs stand out beautifully in a minimalist white on white room (via Houzz)
The simple, curvy wood arms and legs of mid century modern chairs stand out beautifully in a minimalist white on white room (via Houzz)

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That said, in a sufficiently white room, the wood portions of a mid century modern chair are all the accent the room needs. This breathtakingly white bedroom is so stark and simple that the elegant, shapely arms of the matching accent chairs are intensely eye-catching. Since the arms and legs of mid century modern chairs are rarely simple, square, or ordinary, they make a natural pair for a very minimalist space, and add a softer, more organic element that makes all that white feel much more inviting.

A Scandinavian modern space that favors wood is the perfect backdrop for all-wood chairs like these elbow chairs (by Christine Tuttle Interior Design)
A Scandinavian modern space that favors wood is the perfect backdrop for all-wood chairs like these elbow chairs (by Christine Tuttle Interior Design)

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Of course, not all Scandinavian modern spaces are quite so bare. By increasing the amount of wood used and intermixing all that white with a little bit of gray or very light beige, you get a space that’s still simple, but that’s much warmer and has a strong natural vibe – especially when paired with floor-to-ceiling windows. Here, a few mid century modern elbow chairs serve less to add color to the space and more to give it shape. With the exception of their subtly curved backs, almost everything in this kitchen is very straight and square, and that, combined with the elegantly tapered legs, helps mellow out the modern feel of the space and lets the natural element shine.

Black leather mid century modern chairs add a more assertively modern element to an otherwise very natural, neutral Scandinavian style (by KUBE architecture, photo by Greg Powers)
Black leather mid century modern chairs add a more assertively modern element to an otherwise very natural, neutral Scandinavian style (by KUBE architecture, photo by Greg Powers)

On the other end of the spectrum, leather-and-metal mid century modern chairs, like this iconic Wassily chair, can give this same simple, open, natural style a very chic modern appeal. While many mid century modern chairs are very sleek, curvy, and ergonomic in design, others are strikingly unusual (this one in particular is made of a series of leather straps pulled tight on a tubular metal frame). That, combined with the use of black leather and metal rather than white plastic or wood give the room a very different vibe, and stand out in contrast to the warm neutral backdrop.

Subtle curves, natural wood, and simple finishes all add personality to a simple space (by John Lum Architecture, Inc. AIA)
Subtle curves, natural wood, and simple finishes all add personality to a simple space (by John Lum Architecture, Inc. AIA)

Scandinavian modernism is nothing if not an extremely simple, minimalist style. But mid century modern chairs are a good mate for this type of design because they’re deceptively simple themselves: the perfectly ergonomic shapes seem effortless, the lines clean, and the materials subtle and unobtrusive. But those same “simple” designs are widely considered prizes of 20th century design, and are immensely aesthetically pleasing. Though they’re made from simple materials, they’re ones that really shine when set against a subtle backdrop, and their gently curved and tapered lines add shape and elegance that’s largely absent from a more contemporary take on “modern” design.

But what do you think of this slightly unusual combo? Do you like the way mid century modern chairs pair with a Scandinavian minimalism, or do you prefer them on a more traditional backdrop? Let me know in the comments!