Interior designers share their tips for pulling off the midcentury modern look.
When Mad Men debuted in 2007, the critically acclaimed TV show exuded the essence of midcentury modern style through its fashion and interior design. “There have always been a group of people, typically more designers and architects, who’ve been more interested in midcentury modern design than the average consumer,” says Jackie Jordan, director of color marketing for Sherwin-Williams. “But when you start to see things in the public eye like Mad Men, people notice the details of the furniture and accessories and seek them out.”
Indeed, the trend is going mainstream. Banana Republic has jumped on the growing interest in the genre with its Mad Men® line of clothing, while other retail chains continue to stock their shelves with 1950s- and ’60s-inspired furnishings, beddings and accessories. In fact, midcentury modern design is more accessible than ever, notes designer Robert Northington of Valparaiso, Ind. “There is so much product available at antique malls and resale shops,” he says. “You can create the look affordably, which is great in this economic climate.”
The era appeals to consumers because it’s a throwback to a period representative of a brighter future, says interior designer Darlene Molnar. “This time in history was about touches of luxury, but nothing over-the-top or in-your-face,” she says, “and that’s the way the market is going today. People are looking for the sultry interiors shown in Mad Men.”
One of Molnar’s clients specifically requested a “Mad Men” look for his small one-bedroom condo in Washington, D.C. The homeowner’s collection of antique telephones and radios served as the catalyst for the masculine design. In the bedroom, a black-and-white-striped wall operates as a backdrop for a black Barcelona chair and a walnut bed showcasing simple lines, tapered legs and neutral linens with colorful accents. “On Mad Men, you see very subtle backdrops with little pops of avocado green, burnt orange, cherry red, sage or copper,” Molnar notes.
Meanwhile, the open dining room/kitchen/living room showcases walls painted in a smoke gray that reflects hints of blue and green depending on the light. A “Bruno” chair by Mies Van Der Rohe reupholstered in an oversize plaid fabric, along with a tweed sofa modeled after the one in I Love Lucy, channels the midcentury modern vibe. Decanters filled with brandy, scotch and whiskey add a clever and appropriate color element.
For a small summer cottage on Lake Michigan, Northington joined forces with a client who was a midcentury modern aficionado. “That whole era was about entertaining,” Northington says.
As such, he incorporated the homeowner’s collection of 1950s-style bar sets and martini carts into a bar/kitchenette area outfitted with a Formica countertop in boomerang turquoise, linoleum flooring, stainless steel backsplash tile, and maple doors suspended from hooks to creatively cover up the existing cinderblock. Northington used Collonade Gray (SW 7641) and Pavestone (SW 7642) on the walls and continued the midcentury modern influence into the sleeping area and bathroom.
The key to pulling off a midcentury modern look is to carefully integrate elements from the period without making the space seem dated. “Don’t be afraid to take your inspiration from the past,” Northington advises. “The traditional colors and finishes can be easily updated.”
Get the Look: A Color Guide
Jackie Jordan suggests the following color palettes to execute the 1950s and ’60s vibe: