The best of mid-century modern design will never go out of style. When post-World War ll designers introduced a new aesthetic that emphasized simplicity, clean lines, and function over form while leaving behind a lot of fussy ornamentation, it was shockingly different.
Now the era blends more seamlessly with much of contemporary design because we've hung on to many of the principles—welcoming nature indoors, for instance, and designing furniture that harmonizes with the human form.
The Allure of Mid-Century Design
This era, which spans the 1950s, 60s, and 70s, has been very popular for the last few years. For those of a certain age, the appeal is nostalgic; many boomers grew up with sleek furniture on tapered legs, lots of wood and tile, and swirly patterns on their walls (not to mention those avocado appliances). Others are charmed by the emphasis on quirky shapes, unexpected pops of color, and the practical use of space.
Any room in the house can benefit from mid-century modern decor, whether you use vintage pieces or new furniture and fittings influenced by the style. A good room to try your hand at some mid-century influences is the bathroom—start in a smaller space and see how you like the vibes.
Modernity's Muse: The Bathroom Sanctuary
The role of the bathroom in the modern home has morphed quite a bit from the days of the outhouse, thankfully! As the twentieth century progressed and moved into ours, bathrooms have claimed more space, more comfort, more luxury, and more sophisticated design. What was only a room for the wealthy 100 years ago is an absolute necessity in any home today.
Whether you're working with a small powder room or a spa-like bathroom retreat, mid-century modern bathroom ideas can freshen and elevate your space. For minimal changes, consider era wallpapers in abstract or geometrical prints, wooden stools, sculptures or frames, or rattan decor or storage containers. If you're starting from scratch, the possibilities range from repurposed vintage wood furniture to geometric tiles to floating sinks.
Distinctive Elements of a Mid-Century Modern Bathroom
So what exactly is a mid-century modern bathroom? Let's break it down into its elements:
Colors: Neutral Palettes with Bursts of Bold
Mid-century design makes more bold use of color than current minimalism, but think in terms of pops of color against a neutral palette rather than a riot of color. Neutrals and wood tones often dominate, with color featured in elements like geometric tiles in a bright color combined with white, or a terrazzo floor and backsplash. There's room for your color preferences within this era. Strong bright colors characterized the 50s, with more muted shades becoming popular later on, such as teal, burnt orange, mustard yellow, and olive green.
Clean Lines and Geometric Forms: The Heart of Design
Lines may be straight or curving, but mid-century shapes aren't cluttered. Seating tends to be low and sleek. Storage tends to make great use of space—often stacking, folding or nesting items, if not actually built-in. Ornaments often stand alone rather than little things being grouped together. Keep simplicity in mind in your choice of sinks, toilets, tubs, and fixtures, and minimize accessories.
Mix and Mingle: Natural Woods and Modern Materials
Another characteristic of the style is the combined use of natural materials like wood and metal with plastics and other modern materials. You might have a marble sink top over a wooden vanity, with sleek brass or chrome fixtures and an orange plastic pendant light.
A vanity mirror frame in wood, such as the Cherokee Mocha Walnut Slim frame by MirrorMate, is one way to bring in more wood from the era.
15 Tips for Nailing the Mid-Century Modern Bathroom Style
These suggestions should inspire you and help you figure out which mid-century modern bathroom ideas will work best for you:
- Embrace Natural Materials: Look for bathroom furnishings made of walnut, oak, or other natural woods commonly used during the mid-century era.
- Geometric and Organic Patterns: Consider wallpapers, tiles, or textiles that feature quintessential mid-century patterns.
- Minimalism Is Key: The mid-century style celebrates sleek lines and an uncluttered space. Ensure there’s a balance and avoid overtly ornate details.
- Vibrant Colors: Color in unexpected places can be delightful. You could build your palette around a chartreuse bathtub, or a wall of burnt orange subway tiles, popping against neutrals.
- Go Vintage with Fixtures: Brass, sleek chrome, or matte black fixtures can provide a touch of authenticity. Look for designs that are angular or have clean curves.
- Floating Vanities: Opt for vanities that hover above the ground to create a sense of space and emulate the iconic furniture style of the era.
- Statement Lighting: Seek out pendant lights, sconces, or chandeliers that offer a retro vibe. Consider those with starburst or globe designs. You might even find some originals at flea markets or antique stores.
- Frame It Right: As mirrors are central to bathroom decor, choose a frame that aligns with the mid-century aesthetic. Frames like those from MirrorMate’s collection can add a touch of vintage glam. Consider adding a bold color to a paintable frame.
- Terrazzo and Tile Play: Terrazzo is a great choice for floors or counters, and for walls, choose subway tiles, square tiles, or those with a hexagonal shape.
- Incorporate Greenery: Houseplants like the snake plant or rubber tree evoke a mid-century feel and can thrive in bathroom environments.
- Open Shelving: Instead of bulky cabinets, consider open shelving with neatly arranged items, adding both functionality and design potential.
- Accessorize Thoughtfully: From retro soap dispensers to mid-century art prints, the little details can tie your bathroom's look together. But remember, not too much.
- Blend with Modern Elements: The key to making your bathroom feel current (while honoring the past) is to blend mid-century style with contemporary designs. An entirely vintage room could feel stifling, so combine the best of today with mid-century favorites. One way to freshen a mid-century bathroom is to make white your main neutral, or a light gray, contrasting with warmer colors and wood tones.
- Tub with Character: Freestanding tubs, especially those with a slightly angular design or in unique colors, can serve as a statement piece. Another focal point for your mid-century modern bathroom decor could be a period console or credenza, topped with a sleek vessel sink.
- Consider Windows and Natural Light: Large windows, possibly with unique shapes or placements, can usher in natural light, highlighting the design elements of the space.
The Power of Frames: A Necessity, Not an Accessory
One of the easiest ways to give your bathroom an elevated look is to add a MirrorMate frame to a wall mirror. Mirrors draw the eye, and vanities are often the focal point of a bathroom, so the right frame can make your mid-century modern vanity.
Whether your changes are major, such as installing a skylight, or as minimal as putting bubble wall sconces on either side of a mirror, mid-century modern elements will make your bathroom unique, functional, relaxing, and fun.