A mid century living room looks perfect in so many settings; from a city apartment to a family home as it’s clean lines create a calm mood and uncluttered feel but can sometimes seem unobtainable due to the prices of the designer pieces. Let me share key items to include within it to create this 1960s look, importantly without costing a fortune.
Mid Century Furniture
Teak furniture from respected manufacturers such as G Plan, Nathan and McIntosh became popular in the early 1960s. They designed functional items such as sideboards giving them a contemporary feel with extra length (some were up to 7 foot), integrated handles and a medium gloss finish. Often based on Scandinavian designs desired for their craftsmanship as well as their simple style, families aspired to have matching sets throughout the room. Other woods were popular also: Ercol’s English elm and Danish rosewood became the wood of choice for higher end pieces.
Sideboards can be bought online for your mid century living room, unrestored from £50 from sites such as eBay however, they are more than likely going to need a lot of work to get the beautiful finish I would expect in a mid-century home. Expect to pay £250-£350 for brands such as G Plan.
For your books, vinyl and even your TV, choose a modular storage system such as Ladderax which was designed in 1964 and was a practical yet stylish unit that stood against walls. Designed by Robert Heal for Staples of Cricklewood, UK, it was loved for its versatility and that it was self-supporting with no wall fixings needed. The system consisted of teak shelves, cupboards, drawers and pull down cocktail units which could be positioned exactly as you wanted. Each section was bookmarked by a pair of black or white metal ladder type ends that gave the effect that each part was almost floating on the wall. Other companies designed their own more affordable versions such as Avalon. Ladderax were made until the 1980s.
For a contrast to all the brown wood, choose a white tulip based table and chairs. First designed by Finland’s Eero Saarinen in 1956, it was then copied by Maurice Burke for Arkana in the 1960s. It came with small stools and side tables to create a total cosmic look. There are modern copies out there but if you want the real thing expect to pay £600+ for a full set.
No mid century living room is complete without a beautiful stand-alone chair to relax in after a hard day’s work. Denmark’s Arne Jacobsen designed the egg chair in 1958 which influenced reclining chairs throughout the next two decades. With its swivel mechanism, winged back and gentle rocking action, this style was reproduced over again in vinyl or the later velveteen material well into the early 1980s.
Image by Jeremy Phillips for H is for Home, as featured in my book
Mid Century Soft furnishings
After you have invested in some key pieces of mid century living room furniture you may feel that the look needs to be slightly softened as so much of it is quite angular and masculine in design.
Add cushions made from vintage fabric in varying sizes and shapes. For ideas have a look at an earlier article of mine called How to use Retro Fabrics in your Home.
To get a smarter finish to your mid century living room, choose a real wood floor such as parquet. This way your vintage rugs will have better stand out. Wool rugs in autumnal muted tones will add texture and softness to your room; some people even hung them on the wall as a piece of art. The look originated from Sweden, who produced patterned long pile, hand knotted ryas (rya means rug) often to be used as bedding. The UK made their version with Scandinavian sounding names such as the Finlandia rya rug. Alongside teak or chrome they now look brilliant on stripped floorboards in a modern, vintage home.
Finish the look with a wooden Venetian blind such as these from Dunelm.
Mid Century Lighting
All mid-century rooms need stylish lighting to complete the look, but you need to be careful of originals by checking that they have been rewired properly. Ask before you buy!
Lighting during the 1960s was heavily influenced by all things cosmic. At a time when the Victorian reproduction look was booming, spaceship-like shades emerged with interwoven pieces made from gently folded plastic or metal. Furniture designers of the time also got on board with Guzzini’s pull down mushroom light and Panton’s astronaut helmet inspired lamp. For budgets that couldn’t stretch to these, the choice was a simple paper moon shade. Habitat introduced these in the 1960s, and quickly became one of their bestselling lines.
The defining lights of this era were both rocket shaped. The lava lamp was designed in 1963 but didn’t become popular until later in the decade. The hippy generation loved its psychedelic feel, but with its torpedo shape and flowing lava inside, it is reminiscent of outer space. Mathmos, who first designed them in 1963, still make them today.
The rocket lamp made from spun resin was a must have in the 1960s. Standing on three teak legs, the orange rocket is tall and eye catching….and lit up sends a warm glow around the room. Expect to pay £150+ for a fully working one.
On the walls
Two must have items for your walls are a starburst clock and a teak mirror.
The British clock maker Metamec led the way in the 1960s with their starburst and sunray wall hung clocks. These ranged from classic teak, to a glossy gold metal, whether your home was modern or traditional there would be a look for you. Many High Street retailers sell modern versions such as this one from Marks and Spencer but there is nothing better than an original. We have one in our living room that has hung there since the 1960s; we bought the house with it!
Add an extra WOW factor by grouping three starburst clocks on a feature wall. Make sure you set them for the same time so as not to confuse, alternatively set them for three different time zones.
Image by Simon Whitmore for FW Media for Style Your Modern Vintage Home
As well as the clock choose a teak mirror, perfect for above a fireplace. These were designed in a variety of shapes and are easily found online or at fairs and festivals.
Image by Simon Whitmore for FW Media for Style Your Modern Vintage Home
Mid Century Ceramic and Glass
Finish the look by carefully positioning mid-century glass and pottery on shelves and sideboards. There are so many styles to choose from, from art glass to West German large pots to Italian medicine bottles. Don’t be afraid to group multiple vases and bowls together to create maximum impact. Choose a central piece then surround contrasting shapes and colours either side in a symmetrical way. Select three key colours and alternate within the group.
Prices vary massively from cheaper Czech pieces to rarer and collectable items. If you want the real thing, be careful of modern versions which can look very like the originals and are often found in charity shops.
Where to Buy
Online: There are many shops to choose from, here are some that I recommend:
Fairs & Festivals: The Vintage Home Show , The Furniture Flea and Mid Century Modern all hold regular events in London, Leeds, Manchester and Bristol with some of the best traders in the UK who sell items suitable for all budgets as well as co-ordinating homewares. Look out for vintage festivals too, who have a large homewares arcade such as The Festival of Vintage.
For more advice on buying, have a look at my first article called How To Source Mid Century Furniture.