Aug 5, 2022
When it comes to enduring design styles, none seem as powerful—or as pervasive—as midcentury modern. Originally emerging in the 1940s (where it was then popularized by the likes of George Nelson, Eero Saarinen , Gio Ponti, Hans Wegner, and Charles Eames ), midcentury modern design has grown to span decades, countries, and decor categories, becoming the most influential style of design in recent memory. And it works particularly well in kitchens.
While modern designers continue to iterate on the aesthetic, some hallmarks of the look—think: clean lines, simple shapes, and an emphasis on form—consistently prevail. The key to nailing the MCM vibe without feeling like you're in a time warp? Mixing iconic midcentury forms and finishes with a modern ethos for a look that's both timeless and very now. Case in point: These 12 midcentury modern-inspired kitchens that effortlessly prove they're one for the ages.
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1 Play Up Paneling
All-over wood paneling is often one of the first things to indicate a midcentury modern abode—and one of the first things to go when the homeowners inevitably decide to renovate. However, if you're looking to preserve the history of your home, all that natural goodness should absolutely stay. Take it from Kate Arends , who chose to embrace, not decimate, the white oak paneling in her midcentury modern rambler in Minnesota . She made the standout feature sing by accenting it with tumbled marble flooring (another MCM staple), calacatta viola marble countertops, and mauve cabinets swathed in Farrow & Ball's Sulking Room Pink .
2 Skip Upper Cabinets
Stephen Kent Johnson
Often, midcentury modern kitchens would go light on upper cabinets—or forgo them altogether—in favor of a more visually streamlined look. This kitchen, designed by the duo behind Studio Shamshiri , relied on California walnut counters (inspired by the surrounding Los Angeles hillside) and concrete countertops for a simple-yet-stunning look. A pair of vintage Hans-Agne Jakobsson pendants above the island add the perfect nod to MCM history.
3 Have Fun With Furniture
Often thought of as the Golden Era of furniture design, the midcentury modern design movement gifted us with many of the familiar profiles and silhouettes we love today. Nod to some of the greats by incorporating a standout set of island stools, like the trio from Patricia Urquiola for Moroso seen here in a kitchen designed by Kureck Jones . When paired with other MCM mainstays (like stacked tile from Fireclay and simple wood cabinetry), they make for a scene that is at once retro and revolutionary.
4 Keep the Palette Tight
Warm wood tones (a hallmark of MCM style) marry seamlessly with an iridescence stone backsplash and moody black countertops. This midcentury-inspired kitchen, designed by Elena Frampton, originally ran in House Beautiful in 2014—though you'd never know it, thanks to its timeless appeal.
5 Opt for a Stacked Backsplash
Emphasize the geometric flair commonly seen in midcentury modern design by opting to install your backsplash tile in a stacked motif, rather than the classic offset layout. This Los Angeles kitchen, designed by Jaqui Seerman , takes a hint from a popular midcentury color combination, pairing a pale pink tile backsplash from Waterworks with palm green cabinetry ( Calke Green by Farrow & Ball ) and the home's original midcentury wood paneling.
6 Incorporate Primary Hues
A concise whole-home palette of primary hues colors this midcentury modern-inspired abode overlooks the Puget Sound outside of Seattle. Designed by Ore Studios , the slab-front walnut and laminate cabinets allow for the occasional pop of color (peep that cherry red!) and boast open shelves for highlighting the homeowner's midcentury stoneware collection.
7 Work in Open Shelving
Wing Ho of Canary Grey
During the heyday of MCM design, open or floating shelving was looked to as a way to separate an area of the home while maintaining open flow for increased entertaining and socializing. In this well-preserved midcentury rambler ranch , designer Victoria Sass of Prospect Refuge Studio leaned into the home's MCM roots with walnut perimeter cabinetry, vintage accessories, and an of-the-era floating shelf above the island.
8 Try Out Terrazzo
Emerging towards the tail end of the MCM movement, terrazzo finishes quickly picked up steam as a popular choice for countertops, floors, and more. These days, the unique material (often made from cement mixed with colorful chips of marble, quartz, granite, and glass) offers up endless opportunities for customization, like the bespoke blend developed by designer Penelope August for this Manhattan kitchen. Soft lilac cabinets ( Calluna by Farrow & Ball ) and a sunny yellow stove finish the room off with funky appeal.
9 Embrace the Galley Layout
Midcentury modern homes were not known for their square footage, often resulting in petite kitchens that had to utilize every square inch. Instead of renovating to create a more open floorplan, embrace the snug shape and incorporate breezy finishes that keep things feeling light. In this midcentury Palm Springs home, designed by Formarch Architecture , original concrete walls are accented by terrazzo flooring and warm wood cabinetry.
10 Squeeze in a Pop of Orange
It's not often you'd see us advocating for a c0lor this bold in the kitchen, but this juicy hue is a midcentury classic. Shades of orange and rust were all the rage during MCM's heyday and used as a way to inject lively flair into furniture, decor, and even wallpaper. Looking for a subtle yet surprising way to work in the color? Take a hint from this kitchen designed by Patrick Sutton and coat the interior of otherwise classic wood cabinetry with a standout shade like Electric Orange by Benjamin Moore .
11 Mix in Metallics
Metallic design accents came to play in a big way with midcentury modern decor, and they're a great way to add the glamour of a bygone era to your kitchen. In this Los Angeles home designed by Joy Cho and Cleo Murnane , the surrounding neighborhood architecture informed the space's midcentury modern flair, including the brass inlaid backsplash from Tabarka and glitzy Mitzi lighting .
12 Think Long and Lean
Linear profiles were everywhere during the peak of midcentury modern design, from the clean lines of some of our favorite furniture pieces (like the iconic Florence Knoll sofa) to the rooflines of classic MCM residential architecture. Bring that same ethos into your kitchen with cabinetry and lighting that incorporates that linear effect, like in this Hamptons home designed by Amy Lau . In it, bleached walnut cabinetry and snowy countertops ( Caesarstone's Blizzard quartz ) pair with an expansive custom light fixture from Bone Simple Design —in very saturated, very MCM blue, of course.
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