Mid-Century Modern: Adapting an Old Style to a New Lifestyle


July 29, 2020


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John McClain is an accomplished interior designer, speaker, writer, and on-air contributor who has turned his lifetime passion for interior design into an opportunity to do the same for others.

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Modern Style Furniture Sofa

Mid-century furniture continues to be a popular style choice among our clients. In the midst of quarantining at home, however, comfort is becoming the biggest deciding factor for client upholstery pieces. So where does this leave the traditional mid-century design (which just doesn’t provide that plush, deep comfortable feeling)?

Let us explain the magic of adapting a transitional mid-century style into your home to achieve a more current lifestyle.

Crash Course: Mid-Century Traditional

Mid-century describes a type of interior decor distinguished by a classic understated look popular from the mid-1930s to mid-1960s. The style emphasizes clean lines and shapes that are organic (think peg legs) — reminiscent of the curves existing in nature. Furniture is usually low to the ground with sofas hitting at the thigh, and popular textures include natural wood finishes and metallics. Wall color palettes are bright, consisting of warm and earthy tones brought to life by funky art and accessories with dramatic pops of color. The combination of orange and brown was a particularly popular color scheme in its heyday.

Mid-Century Modern: A Transitional & Comfortable Twist

Being glued to our homes in the first half of 2020 opened our eyes to the need for comfort in a more remote lifestyle — because let’s face it; we need our Netflix binge after wrapping up the last task for the day. A transitional take combines the traditional mid-century elements we love while avoiding the outdated details. Gone are the days of beauty is pain. Today comfort is in!

“Mid-century furniture will slowly be replaced by other clean-lined but deeper and softer sitting upholstery pieces,” predicts founder and principal designer John McClain. “There will be a return to the nostalgia of the past, wherein some traditional designs might even creep back into the scene. I picture someone on a Sunday afternoon, legs folded beside them reading a book in a super-comfy seat.”

Modern Style Sitting Area with Minimal Design Sofa for Elegant Look

John further shares, “We recently had a client whose only request on her new sectional was that the corner spot was uber-comfy because that’s where she would be sitting. We passed the test with her and the doggie!” The John McClain Design team customized the furniture by increasing comfort and adding modern accents. 

The arm width was extended and the height of the sofa was adjusted to reach optimal comfort levels. Rather than elongating the legs to add height — which would have ruined the classic peg leg design famous to mid-century style, we implemented a wooden plinth base and matched wood surround. Leather piping was added to wrap around the back of the sofa from the front of one arm to the other for another modern touch. Fun Fact: This is called a “tuxedo” detail.

Artistic pillows were also added to create a dramatic flare. The color palette is representative of mid-century traditional but modernized with the use of muted tones. Remember: The walls are your palette and the accessories are your paint! 

Sleek aesthetic sitting area with minimal design chair and table

Tips for Transitioning to Mid-Century Modern: 

  • Depth & color is key – Although a minimalistic look is characteristic of this design, depth and color can be created through artistic pieces and accessories
  • It’s all about scale – Cater to the size of the room, and scale up if you have a large empty space to fill
  • Implement modern shapes & textures – Remember organic shapes and modern materials like plywood, plastic, glass (clear and colorful) and metal are key to this style
  • Trade out draperies for solar shades – Solar shades provide a clean look while keeping the sun and harmful UV rays out without blocking your view
  • Use a clean color palette – Modernize the typical warm color palette by muting the color scheme

Till next time…
Happy Designs!


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John McClain is an accomplished interior designer, speaker, writer, and on-air contributor who has turned his lifetime passion for interior design into an opportunity to do the same for others.

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