7th May 2021

A brief history of mid-century modern style

Mid-Century Modern (MCM) was an American design movement running from the late 1940’s to the late 1960’s. It had its roots in the pre-war European International and Bauhaus movements – many of the artists and designers involved in the movements relocated to the USA after the war, keen to carry on their works. It found a ready audience amongst newly wealthy Americans benefiting from a booming economy – consumers who wanted something new and forward-looking, not hamstrung by the past.

Originally an architectural movement, MCM style expanded to include interior, product and graphic design. Its characteristics include openness and clean uncluttered lines with free-flowing shapes. Tones are often neutral with highlights of bright, vivid colour. It was a softer, easier to live with version of its harsher brutalist and minimalist cousins.


Mid-century modern on a large scale. Opened in 1962 the Washington Dulles airport was designed by Finnish-American Eero Saarinen. Clean, swooping lines, big windows and open spaces.
Image By Joe Ravi, CC BY-SA 3.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=16279816


Home designs were a key part of the expanding MCM movement. New building techniques allowed for more open, spacious interiors. A common feature was ground-to-ceiling windows allowing lots of natural light and connecting the dweller inside to nature outside.

Some designers kept it going all the way to the mailbox…

A mid-century modern icon. The Eames lounge chair, 1956, was a modern take on the armchairs found in gentlemen’s clubs in London. The chair and ottoman foot stool are part of the permanent collection of the Museum of Modern Art in New York.

MCM style expanded into all realms of design, including home decor, and is still sought after today. These prints are currently on sale at nordstrom.com.

Our MCM 1 t-shirt designs follows the principles of mid-century modern art and design – open graphic shapes catch the eye, the print is black onto vintage white with one highlight colour. In fact the principles behind MCM design can be found in many of our t-shirt designs – clean and minimalist with careful, considered use of shape and colour.

You can see more of our MCM 1 design here.