The Midcentury Modern Look: How to Design a Retro-Inspired Living Room

The retro inspired look is back and in a big way with a grown up, modern twist that ensures your home will look both unique and timeless.

fireplace-seating combo
Notice how your eye is immediately drawn to the orange chair in the corner. Photo courtesy of Ooh_Food

Capture the true essence of a time when life was simpler and impress your friends with the one-of-a-kind designs that are 50s, 60s and 70s inspired but with the artistic presence of the new age. Here are some tips to get you started. 

Start Small

Hesitant designers should start small by picking just one or two retro items and then mixing and matching them with modern pieces. This will create a diverse look and is great for those worried that “going retro” with their designs will translate into a room that looks dated.

Find a unique wall hanging, lamp, chandelier or couch (like a retro-inspired chair in a bold color like red or canary yellow) but remember that the mid-century look is all about simplicity and subtlety. Keep your spaces clean and uncluttered.

I love this cherry-red womb chair (the gray shag carpet and cool-tiled flooring helps ground the piece).

womb chair
The gray carpet and white walls help ensure the bright red chair doesn’t look too extreme. Photo courtesy of Ooh_Food


Use Wood Accents

Clean lines are a huge characteristic of the mid-century modern look. Choose sofas, tables and chairs with straight legs and armrests made from wood. A wooden, short-legged stool or end table can also help to draw the focus to the straight, sharp lines in your design.  

mid century modern living room
Photo courtesy of Ooh_Food
The painting over the fireplace is a perfect choice. The colors tie in the orange and green furniture nicely and the square and rectangular shapes in the painting lend the room a 70s vibe without being overkill.

Incorporate curvy lamps and low-to-the floor furniture

If you want an easy way to capture the mid-century modern look, look for a lamp with a curvy, brightly-colored body and a long, slender lampshade. Not sure whether or not a piece of furniture is mid-century or not? One easy way to tell is to see how low to the ground it is. The 60s was a decade where low-slung furniture took the spotlight.  
A mid-century modern lamp is typically curvy with a tall, slim lampshade. Photo courtesy of JesseJamesJake Vintage

Chose Art with Geometric Shapes

Find modern-looking art that features squares, circles or other geometric-looking shapes and patterns. Wallpaper and furniture from this time period also often featured these patterns as well. 

Go Green! (And Yellow and Orange)

Nothing says the 1970s like avocado green, bright orange and mustard yellow. In order to avoid a room looking too loud, however, be sure to mix in neutral-colored pieces as well (a brown carpet, for example, or white chairs).

Keep Your Walls White

Unless you know what you’re doing, it’s best to keep your walls white or cream-colored. This will help even out the extremes in color and prevent your room from looking too busy and chaotic.

What did I forget? Let me know in the comments below. 

Janette Mallory

One response to “The Midcentury Modern Look: How to Design a Retro-Inspired Living Room

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