Mad-Men Style: How To Add Mid-century Modernism To Your Home


Provocative. Pragmatic. Poetic. Mid-century style introduces inspired retro accents to your home. James Treble teaches us how to master that Mad Men look and avoid a confused vintage excess.

It’s the end of WWII. There’s a frisson in the air – a sense of optimistic elation after years of crippling depression. Fashion is sassy. Cigarettes are cheap. And the zeitgeist is charged with change. Into this smoke-laden air, mid-century modernism was born. With its signature organic forms, this statement style revolutionised furniture design.

Fast-forward 70+ years and this definitive look is still in vogue. From Mad Men’s mod furnishings to Alexa Chung’s eyeliner + the 50s glam of sirens like Dita Von Teese + Christina Hendricks, its retro influence is everywhere.

Images sourced L to R:, and

Pairing clean-lined simplicity + seductive curves, this look is more than a little addictive. Add into the mix bold graphic patterns, and what’s not to love?

But getting the balance right can be challenging. Too much retro can get rough on the eye. We chatted to James Treble about the art of time travel and how to wed your unique contemporary style with chic vintage accents.

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What it is

Mid-century modernism spanned from the 40s to the 70s when technological advances saw the introduction of new materials and mass production.

It rejected the opulence and formality of Victorian style in favour of everyday affordable design. The lines were softened to reflect natural shapes, making the silhouettes less formal.

JT: “Technology in finishes combined with a post-WWII vibrancy to create striking + intriguing designs in furniture + accessories that hadn’t been seen before.”

Zanui Emil Petrol Sofa, Zanui Phoenix Coffee Table, LS Collections Metro Table Lamp, and Emma’s Design Jaden 3-Piece Vase Set, available online at Zanui

What it’s not

JT: “The term ‘modern’ was coined for their futuristic element – many of these designs are still considered ahead of their time over 60 years later.

It’s not to be confused with modern-looking furniture, which can be current and reflect any time. The term ‘retro’ can be used now for things which are from the eighties or seventies and these are not ‘modern’.” (Quite.)


Rug Republic Orlando Shag Rug. Images sourced L to R: and

The philosophy

Designers like Charles and Ray Eames believed that good design could enhance an individual’s life. (Here! Here!) This democratic drive underpinned the movement and hinged on the marriage of form with function. Mass-productions then allowed them to cater to the masses.

The designer hard at work. 😉 Zanui Georg Curry High Back Armchair, Zanui Emil Petrol 3 Seater Sofa, + Zanui Phoenix Side Table, available online at Zanui.

The palette

Muted blues, yellows, teals, purples and oranges work well for this look. They collude with the timber tones in your coffee + side tables + any wood detail in your sofa (legs/base). Think natural, earthy tones. Pair together contrasting hues for striking visual juxtaposition.

JT: “Here the colours of the lounge, arm chair and cushions work in opposition. The deep-cherry-cum-blood-red of this rug is also divine. I love the aqua and toned-off yellow hues of mid-century modernism. And the greened-off yellows – like the many tones in olives.”

Images sourced L to R: and

What to watch out for

This look calls for clean lines and an uncluttered space in order for the graphic patterns and the colours to work.

JT: “I think common mistakes are adding too many layers, which makes the look too busy. Rather than a mass collection of vases together, select just one significant one. Many mid-century modernist pieces are artistic statements in themselves.”

A statement coloured lounge can really liven up your space. However colours can date and your tastes can change so rather than not use colour think carefully before you lock it in.


Signature mod pieces

An expansive + inviting lounge is central to this look. Likewise the shag rug with its rich texture was also a big hit during this period.

JT: “Also search out ceramic detailing, as shown in the table lamp. It perfectly off-sets the softer finishes.”

An earthy rustic palette that pairs together reds, oranges and browns can also work well within this aesthetic. Images sourced L to R: and

Contemporise your look

To achieve a current take on this look, try selecting furniture that has modernist lines, then introduce some updated accessories.

JT: “I love the tapered legs of the tables particularly for their brass detail – they are a modern take on this classic retro look. Your home should reflect who you are, and not be an historical movie set.”

We totally agree. And being somewhat schizophrenic in nature,  we feel totally justified in changing-up the look of our home again and again. 😉

Kay is a feature, blog and copywriter. She collects empty jam jars, academic degrees and tawdry dreams in the hopes of turning them into something useful someday. Her work has been published in ACP magazines, ABC fiction, Overland, Brittle Star, Seizure, trade publications and online forums. Her creative writing has won several awards.