Exploring Vintage Modern

by Jim Coombs

Eric Esterkin June 1, 2016 Design Ideas


Rooms like this appear everywhere you look, from movies to magazines. It looks cozy and lived-in, but also polished and sophisticated. It’s a room you can see in your own home, picturing yourself making memories with your loved ones. It isn’t your parents’ living room, or is it?

The term “Vintage Modern” is used so frequently these days that you sometimes pause and think, “What is it?” The two terms themselves seem to oppose one another, yet when used in design, they blend beautifully into rooms filled with life, personality, and practicality.

Let’s first look at the primary basis of Vintage Modern design. Most of the designs feature many Mid-Century Modern pieces. The classically styled furniture with clean lines and an industrial feel are the pieces that were manufactured in an interesting time for America, 1933-1965.

We were at the end of the Great Depression, entering a Great War, and then later experiencing peace time and a thriving economic period known as the Golden Age of Capitalism. While the term itself wasn’t coined until 1983 when author Cara Greenberg was tasked with writing a book about furniture of the 1950s, the style was synonymous with the American Dream.

Though the Mid-Century Modern style wasn’t out of the mainstream for long, it wasn’t as readily available again until the 90s when designers like Knoll and Herman Miller offered their previously exclusive designs to a broader audience. At the same time, baby boomers were getting older and wanted to bring a sense of nostalgia into their own homes. Once AMC’s popular TV show Mad Men brought back the 60s in a big way, Mid-Century Modern was prevalent again.

Looking at Mid-Century Modern design alone doesn’t completely encompass Vintage Modern design. 

There are definitely other elements at play. While some MCM decor can appear too museum-like or cold, Vintage Modern is eclectic, warm, and inviting. Fun textiles, personal touches, and versatile color palettes are what bring Vintage Modern to life.


A big component in Vintage Modern is the use of industrial lighting. Whether old or new, a farmhouse or shop lantern, an articulated desk lamp, or a geometric pendant lamp make a big statement in your space. It’s a way to keep a look clean, but also vintage.

The kitchen to the left is oh so modern, with incredible touches of vintage. The clean lines of the cabinetry, including the open shelving above, embody the modern kitchen. Rustic wood pieces, a natural stone island, and warm wood floor give the space a comfortably classic feel. The vintage touches of the farmhouse sink and lanterns combined with the ship-lap walls complete the look.

This washroom has a wonderful eclectic vibe. Sea glass green subway tiles and a yellow honeycomb pendant light pair boldly with the crisp white sink and dark counter top.

Accentuate bold architectural features with clean mid-century furniture, dark metal industrial pieces, and a minimal shop light fixture.

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Seating options are versatile in Vintage Modern design. Sometimes, you may find the classic Mid-Century designs like an Eames or a Barcelona chair, but often you’ll see that mixing and matching styles suited to the personal taste of the homeowner is key. (Almost) anything goes! That’s what so great about this style.

Again, we see a lot of industrial styles popping up in Vintage Modern spaces, this time in the form of seating. Borrowing from old schoolhouse or architectural drafting studios, counter and bar stools like the ones above are extremely popular. Their no-fuss rounded wooden seats and backs combined with industrial steel legs and hardware make them a style suited for many spaces!


Mixing different styles of chairs is another concept that would typically be frowned upon, but is often embraced in Vintage Modern style. A table becomes more focused on its actual function of bringing people together rather than emphasizing a matching set of chairs. This is definitely on the side of eclectic, so it’s important not to overdo it. You can see that all the chairs are the same color and they are paired together so it doesn’t look too unusual. Another way to incorporate this design trend is to use the same chair but in different colors.