Vintage Chic: 6 Steps To Modernist Interiors

Love clean interior design? Follow these easy steps to modernist interiors, and you’ll have it!

By Chiara Spagnoli Gabardi

Mid-century modernism has been in style for decades. It’s typically characterised by clean, simple lines, honest use of materials, and it generally doesn’t include much in the way of decorative embellishments.

Modernism in interiors and architecture has had such widespread appeal, it became known as  the International Style. Even though it initially rose to popularity in the very early 20th century, modernist design still looks fresh today.

Promoted and created by designers such as Ludwig Mies van der Rohe, Charles and Ray Eames and Walter Gropius, the father of the movement was arguably that most iconic of architects, Le Corbusier.

Reacting against the frou-frou excesses of Art Nouveau, this artist, writer, sculptor, urban planner, designer and architect believed simple lines, open spaces and natural materials including wood, stone and metal were the perfect components to make a clean, easy ‘machine for living.’

He thought nothing should be hidden or altered to look like something else, and consequently, structural elements in a home would be revealed to show any architectural  supports. Furniture should also be purely functional, resulting in a space that is  sleek, spacious and simple, absent of any clutter or unnecessary objects.

With its clean lines, natural materials, neutral colours and open spaces, you could say modernist design is the ultimate in eco-interiors – especially since the best way to do modernist interiors is to buy vintage furniture.

Today, modernist vintage furniture is amongst the most sought-after at antique markets around the world, and several iconic designs have been given a modern makeover with new materials. More specifically, many modern furniture designers base their style on mid-century modernism, but create their works from upcycled or sustainably sourced materials.

If you’re interested in giving your home the classic, clean look of mid-century modernism, we’ve outlined six easy steps to modernist interiors that are easy on the eye-and the planet.

6 Steps To Modernist Interiors For Your Home

6 Steps To Modernist Interiors

1. Chairs, Chairs, Chairs

The Wishbone, the Tulip, the Egg and the Eiffel Tower. All of these vintage chair styles still look ultra-modern today, and indeed, one of the most iconic elements of truly Modernist interiors is the presence of sleek, simple chairs.

Look for tubular steel or walnut and teak frames with unfilled wicker, leather or fibreglass seats. You can still find vintage original versions of the Eames lounger, Egg or Barcelona chair. They sure won’t be cheap, but originals are considered collector’s items and will only increase in value.

Not got a few grand to spend on an iconic chair? Luckily, you can find replicas here.

Image credits:,,



2. Sustainable Sideboards

Where else would Don Draper stash the booze? Lower than a chest of drawers but more practical than a table, the sideboard was a defining feature of Modernist dining and living rooms. They would usually hold dishes, alcohol service or as a place to put knick knacks out of site.

There are plenty of vintage sideboards, but some modern furniture houses like Iannone Design make nice ones from sustainable materials such as FSC certified maple or reclaimed chestnut.

Image credits below: Iannone Design,,


Iannone credenza6 Steps To Modernist Interiors6 Steps To Modernist Interiors

3. Minimalist Lamps

Clean, geometric lines define modernist lamps. They can be round, triangular or linear – the main takeaway here is that they should be basic. Think: the opposite of a frou-frou chandelier.

There are plenty of variations on modernist lamps. For example, some were inspired by Tiki style (Hawaii was a trendy tourist destination at the time) and featured teak and walnut bases with cloth shades in muted tones like mustard and avocado. These recall Danish Modernist looks, which are still in demand.

Others were inspired by modern designs like the Tulip chair and table, or the Sputnik satellite that was launched by the Soviet Union in 1957. These feature globe lights with spiky ‘space age’ points emitting outward.

But the most common form of modernist lamps are just simple, glass balls, in clusters or alone.

Images below: Westelm

4. Decorative Details

Modernist interiors demand a lack of knick knacks and decorative objects, but a good piece of art can accent a room wonderfully. Cubism,  Fauvism, Abstract Expressionism, and Futurism were all big movements in the first half of the 20th century, so geometric Calder mobiles or wall art by Kandinsky (such as Odessa Port, below) are especially fitting compliments.

For a more modern touch on modernism, we love how artist William Bunce has made Calder-inspired, gravity-defying sculptures from found materials, which you can see below.

Carpets are also important to a Modernist look. Plain, neutral colours work best, but classic Oriental rugs are a good alternative, too.

Photography: William Bunce. Set design: Lisa Jahovic

5. Rounded Tables

There was a huge Modernist revival in the 1950s and again in the 70s. During these periods, rounded shapes inspired by surfboards and boomerangs were all the rage. Still today, such coffee and dining tables compliment any room beautifully, and the iconic Tulip Table, shown below, has even been copied by Ikea! We love how Eames’ Eiffel Tower chairs compliment the table to perfection.

Westelm, further below, demonstrates how clusters of rounded shapes defined modernist side tables beautifully. In fact, another characteristic of modernist design is nests or clusters of of side tables.

But my favourite table here is the smooth-curved oval one on a walnut based, at the bottom. It matches the angled sofa perfectly!

Image credit: Ikea, Westelm. Last image credit: Photo: Pippa Drummond for Dwell


6. Sleek Sofas

In keeping with the modernist philosophy, sofas should be comprised of sleek lines and fabrics: no overstuffed Chesterfields, no chintzy fabrics, just simple colours and textiles, preferably leather (or if you’re vegan, ‘pleather’).

Modular sofas were the perfect component of the ‘machine for living’ as these could be moved to suit the homeowner’s changing needs.

Image credits:,



Main image: Delightfull

Chiara Spagnoli Gabardi
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