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Add mid-century modern flair to your home

From the Resene decorating blog

Some interior design styles stand the test of time. They go beyond short-lived trends to become part of a timeless design library; there for us to adapt to suit our contemporary needs and design aesthetic.

Mid-century modern design is one of those design styles that has had a life well beyond its own era to become a movement that is increasingly popular today.

And for home interior decorators, the good news is, this blend of retro and minimalism, is a simple and very practical style to implement yourself. Here are a few easy ways to adopt some mid-century flair into your home.

A mid-century inspired living area - muted colour palette

Clean lines, a simple, muted colour palette and elegant design touches bring this mid-century modern inspired living area right up to date.

The geometric design on the back wall is painted in Resene Robin Egg Blue, Resene Half Robin Egg Blue, Resene Quarter Robin Egg Blue and Resene Smoky Green. The left side wall is painted in Quarter Robin Egg Blue while the floor is in Resene Half Robin Egg Blue. On the table the vases are Resene Smoky Green (left) and Resene Quarter Robin Egg Blue. Sofa, half circles cushion, coffee table, floor lamp and Eames bird from Nood, pendant lamp, candleholders and tapers from Good Form, striped circle cushions and rug from Freedom, wishbone chair from Mood Store. Project by Laura Lynn Johnston, image by Bryce Carleton.

A chic dining area - painted geometric rug

A painted rug in geometric shapes with a natural colour theme, carve out a chic dining area from a larger space.

The main floor colour is painted in Resene Mondo with round shape in Resene Brown Pod, Resene Lichen, Resene Brown Sugar and Resene Dusty Road. Wall painted in Resene Half Akaroa, DIY artwork in Resene Quarter Akaroa with shapes in Resene Mondo, Resene Brown Sugar, Resene Half Akaroa, Resene Half Nomad, Resene Lichen, Resene Dusty Road and Resene Brown Pod and vases are Resene Mondo and Resene Lichen. Table from Nood, wishbone Chairs from Mood Store, rug from Freedom, plates, mugs and cutlery from Briscoes. Project by Laura Lynn Johnston, image by Bryce Carleton.

What is mid-century modern design?

Mid-century modern typically refers to the period of the 20th century stretching from the 1940s to the end of the 1960s. It is characterised by simple forms and clean lines that often incorporate organic curves. As well as furniture and interiors, this era of design also influences other design disciplines including architecture, graphic design and fashion.

When it comes to interiors, other key traits include a strong focus on wood finishes, but in balance with other man-made materials that were available to designers of the mid-20th century including vinyl, nylons, glass and plywood.

The origins of the style are thought to have come from the post-war desire for life to be uncluttered, minimalist and functional, rather than overly ornate. If that makes it all sound a bit dour, don’t worry. There is plenty of scope within a mid-century design theme to play.

The flair within the style comes from mixing shapes, patterns and colours to make what is actually a very timeless, and versatile style to experiment with; one that can be easily adapted to your home and modern life. That’s part of the reason it’s still so popular after almost 80 years.

A sophisticated living room with layered shades of blue

Layered shades of blue build a monochrome backdrop for the simple, sophisticated shapes of the furniture in this living room.

The rear wall and shelf are painted in Resene Midnight Express, while the floor is Resene True Blue. Coffee tabletop and console table painted in Resene Midnight Express, vases, bowls and dishes are painted in (from darkest to lightest) Resene Blackjack, Resene Midnight Express, Resene True Blue, Resene Kashmir Blue, Resene Smokescreen, Resene Breathless and Resene Bianca. Velvet sofa, rug and blue cushion from Nood, striped circle cushions from Freedom, gold dish and gold edged tray from H&M Home. Project by Laura Lynn Johnston, image by Bryce Carleton.

An opulent sitting area

Interesting, organic shapes and golden hues add opulence to this sitting area which blends design ideas from mid-century modernism and art deco to create a look that’s unique and contemporary.

Floor painted in Resene Pendragon with Resene Hairy Heath and the rear wall is Resene Gold Coast. Console table is Resene Noir while the nesting tables are Resene Hairy Heath (large), Resene Pendragon (medium) and Resene Gold Coast (small) with legs in Resene Noir. The vase on the rear table is Resene Hairy Heath. Chair and ottoman from Soren Liv, rust cushion from Adairs, candelabra by Stoff Copenhagen and candles from Good Form, artwork by Helen Bankers, pendant lamps from Monmouth Glass Studio, candleholder from Wooden Horse Homewares. Project by Melle van Sambeek, image by Bryce Carleton.

Getting started

Having a bit of a declutter before you go all-in on your mid-century modern interior is a good idea. The style tends toward the minimalist, with a warm earthy spin, so keeping surfaces clear of bric-a-brac helps complete the look. Though remember, you still want it to feel like your house rather than a 1960s museum, so keep the things you love and look at them through the lens of what works in your space.

The flipside of this, is that second-hand stores are often good places to find mid-century style furniture, light fittings, clocks, mirrors and other objects that are ripe for the upcycling into your modern space. Finding a great table or chair can be the piece that kickstarts your mid-century vision.

The place to find some design inspiration is through movies and TV shows. Try Mad Men and The Marvellous Mrs Maisel, for a highly stylised, slick glimpse at the design movements. Other examples from the mid-century era include the Brady Bunch and movies like Dr No and North By Northwest.

If you’re new to mid-century modern style, it could be a good idea to experiment with your vision in a small space like a standalone toilet, to see if you like the result. As an example, try a bold graphic wallpaper on one feature wall, such as Resene Anaglypta Wallpaper Collection RD819 painted in an earthy shade such as Resene Friar Greystone. Paint the rest of the walls in a tonal neutral like Resene Cougar or Resene Quarter Truffle, then add a wooden slimline cabinet and a sleek feature light fitting in brass, glass and wood.

Scandinavian style furniture

Scandinavians take great pride in their furniture. Hero pieces feature clean lines and natural materials, often with a mid-century modern twist.

Resene Wallpaper Collection IUM205, available from Resene ColorShops, features a tonal design that looks sensational with Scandinavian style furnishings. Try it with flooring painted in Resene Double Merino, skirting boards in Resene Rice Cake and ceiling in Resene Half Merino.

A living room with tones inspired by the desert

Inspired by the tones of the desert, this living room is warm and vibrant.

Resene Sunbaked is a Mojave Desert terracotta, versatile and timeless. Team with gentle apricots, blackened blues and warm red browns, such as Resene Soulful or Resene Cedar.

Choose your colours

A mid-century modern colour scheme is pretty broad. Bring in rich, natural tones such as olive greens like Resene Fiji Green, mustard golds like Resene Hacienda and earthy browns like Resene Antique Brass. There’s also room for bolder, brighter shades such as burgundy-toned reds like Resene Hot Chile, teal blues like Resene Cello and dusty oranges like Resene Tuscany.

For strict adherence to the mid-century modern style keep colours muted rather than too pop art bright, or too watercolour pastel. That said, highlight notes of light pinks, blues and yellows will add a fresh note that makes the rest of your colour palette sing. Try soft, dusky Resene Pot Pourri pink with Resene Warmed Brown, Resene Duck Egg Blue with Resene Rustic Red or Resene Off Yellow with amber Resene Meteor as some examples of this fresh effect.

Monochrome, or black and white, colour palettes can also work for a slightly crisper, more industrial mid-century feel. They work particularly well if you want to showcase a dramatic piece of furniture, upholstered in bold gold, teal or burgundy.

Wood finishes do also play a huge role in mid-century modern, and traditionally that would be in darker finishes like Resene Colorwood Dark Oak or Resene Colorwood English Walnut wood stain.

There’s no need to get too caught up in the ‘right’ colours for a mid-century modern look. The style is more about interesting use of organic shapes with simple lines, and a mix of wood with other more manmade materials like barstools with plastic or vinyl seats and wooden legs, or a metal framed table, with a wood top. Your colour choices will work for the look if they’re colours you like that really show those off those other features.


Wallpaper was probably just about at the peak of its popularity during the 1950s and 60s and it has made a huge revival again in the past 10 years. It can be an easy way to immediately add some of those graphic patterns, earthy colours and interesting textures that are key to mid-century modern design; in some cases it can do all three of those at once.

Use a dramatic pattern like Resene Bold Wallpaper Collection E395805 with its teal blues and geometric shapes, or opt for the hypnotic curves of Resene Universe Wallpaper Collection 51213.

Use it on one feature wall, or commit to the whole room. You can play with Resene wallpaper in other ways too, so you’re incorporating the pattern and texture in smaller ways. Try wallpapering the back sections of a bookshelf, or the fronts of drawers or cupboards.

Finishing touches

Resene Soulful

Resene Friar Greystone

Resene Sunbaked

Resene Noir

December 31, 2021

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