Mid-century modern inspiration: Living room

A little over a year ago, we bought a charming 1952 time capsule of a house. In the year that followed we spent most of our dollars on replacing electrical wiring, plumbing, and improving energy efficiency. However much we wanted to fill the place with authentic (and expensive!) mid-century modern furniture, we had to wait. 

On one of the many IKEA trips I made to furnish the house on a budget, I was playing with the idea of finding pieces inspired by famous mid-century modern designs. Quite surprisingly, I found a lot!

Below are my five picks for the living room. While we’re dreaming of acquiring authentic mid-century treasures one day, these affordable IKEA pieces* can meanwhile help create a period-appropriate feel in our house. 

 

Couch

Mid-century modern inspiration for the living room: IKEA Landskrona Sofa and Relaxed Sofa by Florence Knoll
Product images: Knoll, IKEA

A perfect candidate for one of the living room essentials is IKEA’s Landskrona Sofa ($599 with fabric cover, $799 in leather). Its simple, clean lines remind me of the 1954 Relaxed Sofa by Florence Knoll. 

A designer and architect, Florence Knoll trained under, and worked with, preeminent names in the field: Eliel Saarinen, Mies van der Rohe, Walter Gropius, and Marcel Breuer. She went on to become a business partner and creative side in the Knoll Associates furniture company. Florence Knoll is known both for her own timeless designs and her collaborative efforts, whereby she successfully commissioned leading architects and designers to create furniture for Knoll. 

Florence Knoll had an architect’s approach to furniture design and loved exposed metal frames, clear and sleek silhouettes. I think her furniture looks very modern; no wonder it is still in production by Knoll. The Relaxed Sofa is made in a multitude of colors and materials. This version in soft chenille upholstery costs $9,645.

 

Armchairs

Mid-century modern inspiration in the living room: IKEA’s Poäng armchair and Armchair 406 by Alvar Aalto
Product images: Artek, IKEA

We could find matching armchairs or a loveseat in the same Landskrona series (likewise for Florence Knoll’s Relaxed Lounge Collection). But if we wanted to pick something different, IKEA’s cantilevered Poäng armchair would be my first choice. I’ve owned a Poäng before and loved sitting and reading in it until my cat Rorik turned it into his napping station. Poäng is one of IKEA’s most popular designs, having been in production for 40 years. The armchair comes with a fabric or a leather cover in a range of colors. This version in Hillared anthracite cover and birch veneer costs $99, and there is a matching ottoman.  

One day, however, I hope to own one of Alvar Aalto’s armchairs – for example, this Armchair 406 from 1939, still produced by the Artek company Aalto co-founded ($1,355 in one of online shops). 

The armchair armrests are formed from a single piece of solid birch, which is then split in half. This ensures that as the chair ages, it remains perfectly balanced. The webbing in linen offers comfortable seating as it takes the shape of the body.

Alvar Aalto has been one of my favorite designers ever since I visited his museum in Finnish Jyväskylä many years ago. The biggest Finnish architect and designer and one of the world’s greatest modernists, he was the first to make cantilever chairs in wood.

 

Coffee table

Mid-century modern inspiration in the living room: IKEA Nyboda coffee table and Florence Knoll Coffee Table
Product images: Knoll, IKEA

A simple, geometric coffee table could be a perfect complement to the couch. IKEA offers just that – a Nyboda coffee table with a reversible table top in black/beige or white/gray ($49.99 for the smaller size). 

Nyboda reminds me of another of Florence Knoll’s designs – the graphic 1961 Florence Knoll Coffee Table, still in production today. The coffee table has a steel frame with polished chrome finish and several different tops ranging from the minimalistic clear glass ($783) to luxurious brown marble ($1,682).

 

Cushions

Mid-century modern inspiration in the living room: IKEA Ottil and Johanne cushion covers and Arne Jacobsen patterns - Vertigo/Centennium Circler and Trapez
Product images: www.Edition20.com, BoråsTapeter, IKEA

“Ah, these colors and patterns look perfectly mid-century”, I thought wandering in IKEA’s textile section and looking at the new collection of Ottil cushion covers ($9.99, doesn’t include inner cushion). I double-checked my hunch when I got home. Indeed, I found lots of semi-circles in Arne Jacobsen’s Vertigo/Centennium Circler textile design from the 1960s.

IKEA’s geometric Johanne cushion cover ($12.99) also evokes similar motifs of the great mid-century Danish architect and designer. The black-and-white minimalism reminds me of Jacobsen’s Trapez. 

Both Vertigo and Trapez patterns are currently produced as wallpapers by BoråsTapeter and monochrome wool cushions by Fritz Hansen. 

 

Light

Mid-century modern inspiration in the living room: IKEA Majorna Floor Lamp and one of Isamu Noguchi's Akari Light Sculptures, the Floor Lamp Model UF4-L6
Product images: The Noguchi Museum, IKEA

For a while, IKEA was selling a whole lot of paper shade lamps. One of them currently on offer is Majorna Floor Lamp ($34.99). To me, it looks inspired by one of Isamu Noguchi’s 1951 Akari Light Sculptures, such as the Floor Lamp Model UF4-L6 ($750). Browse the many Akari Light Sculptures and see if you find inspirations for other IKEA paper shade lamps, such as Storuman or Holmö. I do!

Isamu Noguchi was a Japanese-American sculptor, architect, furniture and landscape designer. He’s the creator of the iconic glass-topped table for Herman Miller furniture company that I see in every second design magazine picturing an affluent living room. His Light Sculptures are hand-made using washi paper, bamboo ribbing, and metal frame. They are still being produced by the original manufacturer in Japan.

With a couch, armchairs, coffee table, cushions and lighting, my living room is practically complete! Perhaps just a few accessories?.. 

 

*Currently available on IKEA website as of October 2018