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The Essential Guide to Midcentury Design

By Ted Ryan

The Essential Guide to Midcentury Design

Midcentury modern design is a style with staying power. Revolutionizing the design world in the middle of the 20th century and revived with new energy in the last decade with the help of Mad Men and a new generation descending on the midcentury mecca of Palm Springs, this sleek style isn’t letting up.

Learn the history of midcentury and how to use it in your home as we dive into the essential guide to midcentury modern design.

Sample Midcentury-Inspired Colors

Midcentury Modern Tile Sample Colors

Our Midcentury favorites include Ceramic color samples in Antique, Desert Bloom, Palm Tree, Naples Blue, Bryce Canyon, Tusk, Azul, and Lichen. Choose your favorites here.

What is Midcentury Design?

midcentury kitchen with white cabinets and mustard backsplash

Tile Shown: Mustard Seed 2x8 // Design & Image: High and Tight Design

Midcentury modern design was all about minimalism, clean lines, and simple forms while incorporating more color and pattern compared to its Modern predecessor. Functionality and utility are highly prized, and homes built during the period were connected to nature via large windows and minimal window treatments. There was minimal ornamentation in midcentury modern homes, something that has made them versatile templates for interior design through the decades.

Midcentury modern kitchen tile

Tile Shown: Tempest 2x8 // Design + Photo: Destination Eichler

Midcentury furniture designs feature curves, flares, tapers, sharp angles, and asymmetrical shapes. Poul Jensen’s Z chair, the Eames’ lounge chair, Arne Jacobsen’s egg chair, and the Isamu Noguchi coffee table are all classic examples of midcentury home decor.

midcentury living room with glass walls and blue brick fireplace

Tile Shown: Aleutian Standard Brick Tile // Design: Destination Eichler // Image: Christopher Dibble

When it comes to architecture, Richard Neutra’s Kaufman House, Pierre Koenig’s Stahl House, the Eame’s Houe, and John Lautner’s Sheats–Goldstein Residence and out of this world Chemosphere are legendary midcentury modern homes that redefined what a residential real estate could look like.

white midcentury kitchen with blue backsplash

Tile Shown: Azul Small Diamond Sheeted // Design: Destination Eichler // Image: John Shum, Destination Eichler

These buildings were open, airy, featured an abundance of glass, exposed beams, flat or low pitched roofs, and were thoughtful about flow inside and fitting in with their environment outside.

midcentury kitchen with island countertop induction burner

Tile Shown: Padma Custom Motif // Design: Destination Eichler // Image: Destination Eichler

The Los Angeles area remains a living museum of some of the most famous examples of midcentury architecture.

Since midcentury design spanned a few decades–approximately the 1940s-60s–popular color palettes evolved throughout this design trend. In the 1950s, bright colors like aqua, sunny yellow, lime, and pink were most common in midcentury interiors.

midcentury kitchen with wood cabinets and yellow backsplash

Tile Shown: Dafodil Hexite // Design: Method Homes // Image: Alex Farrell

In the 60s, richer earth tones like burnt orange, olive green, and mustard yellow were typical. The common colors found throughout the trend were neutrals: lots of wood veneers, chocolate brown, black, grey, and white.

walk in shower with green tile

Tile Shown: Palm Tree 2x4 Sheeted // Design: MODtage Design // Image: MODTAGE Design, Christopher Stark

History of Midcentury Design

eichler kitchen with wood paneling and counter seating

Tile Shown: Tempest 2x8 // Design & Image: Destination Eichler

Midcentury design didn’t just reinterpret the look and feel of home furnishings, it invented new ways of creating them as well.

In the post-war era following World War II, modern industrial manufacturing techniques, as well as materials–like steel, molded plywood, and plastics–cracked open new ways of producing goods. In turn, designers took this license to recreate what furniture could look like entirely.

white living room with floor to ceiling windows and modern furniture

Tile Shown: Lewis Range Standard Brick Tile // Design: Sarah Sherman Samuel, Emily Farnham Architecture for Mandy Moore // Image: Tessa Neustadt

Efficiency was key in modern design, with homes and objects created thoughtfully to function practically for as many people as possible for an accessible price. The first Eichler homes, for instance, 1,500 square foot 3 bed/1 bath designs, sold for just $10,000 in 1949, just over $120,000 by today's dollar value.

white midcentury kitchen with glass walls and wood accents

Tile Shown: Diamond Stitch in White Wash, Chartreuse, Dolomite, and Akoya // Design: Destination Eichler // Photos: John Shum

Micentury design is actually a sort of Venn diagram of several loosely connected design styles created from the 1940s through the mid-1960s that followed the early Modern design of the 1930s. Scandinavian design from this early Modern era, for instance, played an extremely influential role in the midcentury modern movement to follow.

grey midcentury kitchen with retro backsplash

Tile Shown: River Rock Neutral Motif // Install: Amie Neff - Capable Design

It wasn’t until 1984 when journalist Cara Greenberg published the book Mid-Century Modern: Furniture of the 1950s that these related movements coalesced under the shorthand midcentury modern.

office staircase with yellow tile wall and modern furniture

Tile Shown: Daffodil and Tuolumne Meadows 3x12 // Design: Studios Architecture // Image: Magda Biernat

Midcentury Kitchen Design

midcentury kitchen with wood beams and terrazzo counters

Tile Shown: Haystack 3x3 Sheeted // Design & Image: Claire Thomas

A midcentury kitchen features sleek lines and bold pops of color and pattern. A colorful tile backsplash, geometric or plaid window dressings, decorative laminate countertops, natural wood cabinets and futuristic lighting are all definitive features of a midcentury modern kitchen.

skylit midcentury kitchen with wood cabinets blue backsplash and orange oven

Tile Shown: Glacier Bay Hexite // Design: Lindsey Engler Interiors // Image: Kelly Ann Photography

During its evolution, the midcentury modern kitchen was filled with state-of-the-art conveniences that today would be considered retro and nostalgic. To recreate the midcentury modern style kitchen, companies like Smeg have recreated classic midcentury appliances to suit the style with today’s technology.

midcentury kitchen with wood accents and hand painted tile backsplash

Tile Shown: Tidewater 3x9 & Maze Custom Motif // Design: Ashley Christensen, TVL // Image: Jess Blackwell

Midcentury Bathroom Design

yellow polkadot tile bathroom with terrazzo floors and tub surround

Tile Shown: Fallow Custom Motif // Design & Image: Claire Thomas

Like kitchens, midcentury modern bathrooms benefit from clean lines and occasional bold pops of bright colors and patterns.

dark green tile and terrazzo bathroom with copper soaking tub

Tile Shown: Evergreen 2x6 // Design & Image: Claire Thomas

With its predilection for tile surfaces, the bathroom offers an abundance of ways to incorporate pattern and color into a design, as well as ways to draw lines throughout the layout with high contrast grout.

bathroom with light blue tile backsplash and wood vanity

Tile Shown: Glacier Bay 4x8 // Design & Image: Destination Eichler

Fixtures and cabinetry can also capture the style with wood accents, retro lighting, and hardware to accurately match the period.

brown bathroom backsplash with globe light fixtures

Tile Shown: Antique Hexite // Design: Jared Zimmerman & Shannon Badiee // Image: Aerial Canvas

Midcentury Living Room Design

midcentury living room with glass walls and brick fireplace

Tile Shown: Columbia Plateau Standard Brick Tile // Design & Image: Claire Thomas

A living room is where many interior designers can really let loose with midcentury style. There are so many furniture pieces that showcase the aesthetic and loads of retailers that cater to the style with either vintage or replica offerings.

living room with skylights and light blue brick fireplace

Tile Shown: San Gabriel Standard Brick Tile // Design: Atelier Ma // Image: Margaret Austin

For permanent installs, a fireplace is the quintessential focal point in a midcentury modern home. Bold central column fireplaces clad in colored brick or decorative tile, as well as classic prefabricated Malm fireplaces, bring unbeatable ambiance.

cabin living room with malm fireplace and tile hearth

Tile Shown: Harvest Custom Motif // Design: Claire Thomas // Image: Stephanie Todaro Photography

Add wood panel walls, wood floors, earth-tone or patterned carpet, and floor-to-ceiling windows to let in natural light and you’ve got a living room fit for the pages of Architectural Digest.

kitchen dry bar with midcentury accents

Tile Shown: Jade Ogee Drop // Design: Jared Zimmerman & Shannon Badiee // Image: Aerial Canvas

Styles come and go but it’s clear, judging by the retailers that cater to it, the designers who embrace it, and the culture that surrounds it, midcentury design isn’t going anywhere. Whether you’re starting with a simple accent chair or are diving headfirst into a midcentury restoration, there's a good chance you'll be hooked on this sleek style.

Want the perfect tile to match this style? Our design consultants can help bring your midcentury vision to life with our free design services. Reach out to be connected with your personal consultant today!

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