Creating a Minimal Mid-Century Modern Space, Part 1

If you have ever browsed the internet for pictures of mid-century modern home interiors, you might have noticed how clean and sleek things are, even if there are people in the photos doing stuff.  A strong aspect of MCM spaces was the minimalist attitude that went along with it.  You could have color, texture, and patterns, but without all the massive clutter that seemed to emerge with the more postmodern mindset.



Yes, the images above are displaying living spaces and are clean for a reason, but they fully encompass a minimalist attitude.  I'd like to discuss how you can create your own minimal MCM space.  I would love to give you some simple rules like paint your walls white or something like that, but that's absolutely NOT how this works.  We will start by going over space renovation: observing your space, getting down to brass tacks, and playing with themes.  The idea here is to plan and begin your most basic renovation like flooring and dealing with walls.  I also highly recommend looking through a few Atomic Ranch magazines (MCM) and Dwell magazines (neomodern and MCM).  Fair warning, I use my own space for my examples.

Observe Your Space
Look around the space you want to alter.  What sticks out about it?  What do you like?  What do you want to change?  What are the features of the room?  My apartment was built in 1971 when my grandpa had the offices/warehouses built - he just added two apartments above the offices.  He went with a MCM design for the apartments, so the kitchen/living room has an open floor plan.  When I moved into the apartment, it had dove grey carpet that was stained.  The walls are almost all paneled, with the exception of the bathroom, kitchen, and bedroom.  My parents (also my neighbors) had custom doors put in to the shared deck with extra tall dog doors.  When I first looked at my living room, I decided immediately that the carpet had to go and, since they're combined, the wallpaper in the kitchen had to go.  I hated these two things and I promptly removed them.  I love the original real-wood wall paneling and the plain front walnut cabinets.

You want to make your space something that you like.  Throughout most of my apartment, I spent a week ripping out carpet, hauling in boxes of wood laminate planks, and installing them.  My mom helped me with the flooring and with removing the kitchen wallpaper (1 day to get it down, 1 more day to make sure I got everything).  What do I like?  I like tiki motifs and 1950s MCM design.  I like that my kitchen counters have an original MCM white with gold vein laminate on them.  This is what I based my designs on.

Getting Down To Brass Tacks
If you're going to do a little renovating, have a plan.  You will have to get rid of whatever is there, but you need to have your new stuff ready to go.  I would not suggest ripping up your floor and having no idea what to put down.  That will only end in procrastination.  Before I ripped up my flooring, I had found a great deal on wood laminate planking at home depot.  It cost me less than $300 for all the flooring I needed.  I made sure my sub-floor was in good shape, then spent 3 nights laying down the new flooring and trim.

When I did my kitchen, I had my paint on hand before I took down the wallpaper.  I actually went with Pantone Macaw Green.  It's hard to find a picture of the color that does it justice.  It's really NOT avocado.  It just looks that way in the image.  It's more of a lively spring green and really pops when the light hits it!  It's very much a leafy sort of green.  It offsets the dark cabinets very nicely.

When it comes to redoing walls, I highly recommend looking at original MCM interiors.  You can play with textures, wood grain, stone, screens, tiles, or simply paint.  I don't favor wallpaper, but there are some really cool wallpapers out there in a MCM style.  My sister scoffed when I told her I was going to lay down wood laminate flooring.  She thought it was going to be a disaster because I have wood paneling and walnut cabinets.  It doesn't look bad though.  In fact, as it happened, it came out looking larger.

Playing With Themes
As I mentioned, I like tiki themes and I like 1950s MCM.  My kitchen has become a tiki-themed kitchen and my living room has picked up the 1950s MCM themes.  It's important to have a few items ready to go to help with your renovation.


When I decided to go with a tiki theme, it took no time to put my handful of tiki statues on the window sill.  I went online and ordered a few tiki masks which now hang above the cabinets - not many, just a few.  I also have a silly plastic shrunken head that hangs above my sink.  Being the artsy person I am, I was inspired by mid-century brutalist design and created a two-piece wall hanging of a brutalist lava flow.  A few months after all of this, I found a 30" tall carved wooden parrot perched on top of a branchy stump.  It's brightly colored and it sits near the brutalist lava flow.  A month and a half ago, I special ordered a tiki print fabric from spoonflower and went to my local fabric store for blackout material and fringe.  I made a quick valence for my kitchen window.  I also have a skull cookie jar that I use to hold dog treats.  I also love to have plants in the kitchen.  They get good light and I feel that it just seems real friendly.   I am always looking and adding to my tiki kitchen, but not in a tacky way.

My living room is in a 1950s MCM theme, but not entirely.  I'm using my grandma's 1941 RCA Victorola radio/record player cabinet as a very large tv stand.  It still fits in with everything, so that's totally okay with me.  When I got my flooring picked up, I decided around that time to order a cowhide for a rug.  My cowhide is white with splotches in brown brindle.  I saved up and bought a Hughes Chaise Sofa from Joybird in Vibe Aquatic (see swatch).  I love it.  The living room is still a work in progress.  I just ordered a new lampshade from Moon Shine Lamps. They sell retro custom lamp shades.

What you have to ask yourself is: what are the features of the theme?  How can I push the envelope with this theme?  Do you have specific colors in mind?

Take your time.  You don't have to get it all done in a day.  Check antique stores and yard sales and thrift stores.

I want to point out that your theme might be more subtle or simply based on colors.  Try not to limit yourself.  Let's say that you choose to go with white, pink, and black.  You paint your walls white and have an accent wall in pink.  Your chairs are black.  Now push it.  Maybe you find a black ceramic panther from the 1950s in an antique store.  Perhaps you decide that a sunburst style decorative clock should rest above your couch.  Maybe you install a room divider, a decorative metal panel, in painted pink.  Does it feel a little stale still?  You can always integrate plants, natural items (wood, stone, etc), and room centerpieces to make a room pop.

I want to discuss more of this, but I will do so in my next post.  That will be focused on Removing Clutter, which I really need to do.

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