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A Blast from the Past: the Trendy Nostalgia of Midcentury Modern Decor

Some things just go together, you know?  Milk and cookies, peanut butter and chocolate, tea and scones. Also, the harmonious balance of midcentury modern decor: a trendy blend of traditional and contemporary aesthetics. In the lean economic conditions of the last few years, many people are seeing the appeal of the simplicity and practicality of design trends of the past. With just a few well-chosen pieces, you can transport your home back to the slick, fashionable era of the mid 20th century, and create a comfortable, nostalgic living space.

Simple Nostalgia

Narrow tables and low-slung couches--think simple! (By John Lum Architecture , inc AIA. Photograph by Sharon Risedorph)
Narrow tables and low-slung couches–think simple! (By John Lum Architecture, inc AIA. Photograph by Sharon Risedorph)

The term midcentury modern refers to a design movement of the mid twentieth century, from about 1940 to 1970. It includes architectural and graphic design along with interior. Influenced by the Great Depression and the post-war era of the forties and fifties, midcentury modern is characterized by the need for simplicity and a sensible allocation of resources. Clean, practical lines and geometric shapes are at the forefront. Still, despite the era of hardship that it grew out of, this style also displays optimism and the willingness to cast off the past and look toward the promise of the future. Bright colors are plentiful, as well as many modern materials.

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Wooden Sensibilities 

The unadorned utility of plywood chairs are classic midcentury modern. (By Modern Kitchen)
The unadorned utility of plywood chairs are classic midcentury modern. (By Modern Kitchen)

Despite its futuristic appearance, midcentury modern décor makes heavy use of one of the worlds most ancient building materials: wood. Charles and Ray Eames–responsible for a number of iconic midcentury modern pieces–designed the molded plywood chair, in hopes of making a chair that would be comfortable even without cushions. Nowadays reproductions of this design can be found everywhere from living rooms, to classrooms, to cafes. In fact, I am sitting in one as I type this. The molded plywood chair is a perfect example of the midcentury style, in that its value is in the simple, streamlined shape rather than any sort of ornamentation.

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A Well-Designed Era 

The Noguchi coffee table is trendy and iconic. (By Ogrydziak/Prillinger Architects)
The Noguchi coffee table is trendy and iconic. (By Ogrydziak/Prillinger Architects)

In addition to the plywood chair, a number of other popular and iconic furniture styles came out of this era. Some of them are incredibly innocuous to the American home, while others are more unusual. The Noguchi coffee table, with its heavy glass top and geometrical shape; the womb-style chair with its deep, comfortable contours; the creative, geometric coconut chair. All of these designs share a sleek modern simplicity, but also add a touch of vintage luxury to any room.

A Brighter Outlook 

The egg chair--versatile and funky. (By Alterstudio)
The egg chair–versatile and funky. (By Alterstudio)

For a design style that grew out of a particularly sobering time in history, midcentury modern displays a refreshingly optimistic tone to many of its iconic pieces. The colors are bright and many, the textures varied, and the shapes refreshingly unusual. Midcentury modern strikes a great balance between past and future, the retro flare sanding off the hard edges of more contemporary looks.

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Synthetic Harmony 

Molded Fiberglass and Industrial criss-cross legs are informal but fun. (By UP Interiors)
Molded Fiberglass and Industrial criss-cross legs are informal but fun. (By UP Interiors)

The midcentury modern aesthetic balances out the traditional feel of wood with cutting edge, futuristic materials like acrylic, plexiglass, and fiberglass. These materials all came onto the market around the same time, during an era when advances in atomic power and space travel had everyone looking towards the future. And these midcentury sensibilities are obvious in the decor style. Sleek, aerodynamic plastics acted as a nod to an imagined future – one that was certainly self-fulfilling, as many of these styles remain incredibly popular to this day.

Whether it is for nostalgia’s sake or a desire to streamline and simplify, midcentury modern décor is a great choice for anyone looking to pull together the past and the future.

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