Mid-Century Design Cornerstones: Mix of Materials

20 min read The right mix of playful modern materials is just one of the Cornerstones of great Mid Mod design.

Your material and finish choices make or break a “mid mod” remodel. 

Choose correctly and you enhance your home with lovely, long-lasting materials that feel era-appropriate and yet somehow timeless … and don’t even over strain your budget. 

The Cornerstones of Mid Mod Design Series

This is one of a five-part series on the Mid Mod Update Design Cornerstones. If you’ve ever wanted to know HOW to add a little more Mid Mod charm to your home … start here. Make sure you listen to all four so that you can:

  • Keep your house balanced while you play with ASYMMETRY
  • Choose the right SIMPLE SHAPES to keep those clean modern lines
  • Highlight a MIX OF MATERIALS to make your home shine
  • Add or enhance the FLOW BETWEEN SPACES (in and around your home)
  • Pull it all together with a listener Q&A

Grab my easy Mid Mod Update Design Cornerstones guide to make it easy!

mid mod design cornerstones guide: learn about asymmetry, simple shapes, the mix of materials, and flow between spaces in a great mid mod home update

What’s great about a mix of materials?

With a mid-century home, you get to choose the best of both worlds – highlighting stunning wood, stone, brick and tile when you want, and choosing convenient, budget friendly materials for the rest. 

The materials used in a mid-century house are a high/low mix of gloriously gorgeous wood grain stained in soothing warm shades and effortlessly practical, durable “new” materials in plastic, tempered glass and coated metal.  Mid-century houses and furniture weren’t billed as luxury goods – they were sold by singing the praises of “the maximum in comfort and beauty and the minimum amount of care.”

The mid-century was about practicality, rather than luxury. And often the most practical mid-century materials were what we now consider luxurious. The mid-century was a hybrid. A transitional moment between craft of solid wood floors and the practicality of plywood cabinets. 

Highlight mixed materials in your home update.

Take stock of the mid-century materials you’ve already got in your home.  Any original wood floor, trim, or built in elements of your house are likely old-growth timber you can’t replace as easily today … so stick with those.  Then feel free to mix in new and durable materials to help your remodel last as long as the original house has!  

Show off your wood grain where you’ve got it, and jazz up your home with colorful paint, fabric, wallpaper and other design elements where you don’t!

Watch a quick lesson on creating the right mix of materials:

Watch all the Cornerstone videos on Instagram

Resources to help you design the cornerstones into your remodel

And you can always…

Read the Full Episode Transcript

The material and finish choices you make can make or break a mid mod remodel, choose correctly, and you’ll enhance your home with lovely long long-lasting materials that feel period-appropriate and yet somehow timeless and don’t over strain your budget. 

Fortunately for you and me, the mid-century era we love wasn’t all about the most high-end and Luxe finishes. But if you choose wrong, you can make a decision that goes out of trend, wears out quickly or just feels off. Let’s talk about how to avoid that today. 

Hey there, welcome back to mid mod remodel. This is the show about updating MCM homes helping you match a mid-century home to your modern life. I’m your host della Hansmann, architect and mid-century ranch enthusiast, you’re listening to Episode 1503. 

And this is part three of our cornerstones of mid-century Design series running all through December. Before we get into how to create a gorgeous mix of materials perfectly suited to a mid mod update. I want to ask if you fully filled in your Christmas list this year. 

If you haven’t, well, there’s no shipping time on ready to remodel, sign yourself up and your spouse up for a new year of simple one step at a time choices following the path of the master plan method to get yourself set to actually take on your first projects in spring of 2024. You can put these presents under the Christmas tree metaphorically for just $117 using our 12-month payment plan. And honestly, why wouldn’t you? 

Well, maybe you’d rather have Midwest design your update for you. If that’s the case, give your household the gift of having applied to work with us in the new year. Sorry, the old della can’t come to the phone right now. Why? Cuz she’s on vacation. Our office is closed for the week before and after New Year’s but our apply to work with us form is not closed. So fill it in. And we’ll get back to you in the new year to schedule our free chat to call and talk about your project. 

And then if the fit is good, get you signed up for a master plan method package and scheduled into our New Year’s design queue. I’m looking forward to hearing from you. As always, you’ll find the show notes with the other information we mentioned on this website, a link for how to work with us or to ready to remodel and our free mid-century cornerstones resource on our show notes page at midmod-midwest.com/ 1503. 

All right, here we go. When you want to plan a remodel for your mid-century house large or small, they’ve kept the mid-century spirit alive. After you’re done, you want to make sure you’re following the four cornerstones of a great mid modern model. And they are asymmetry, simple, playful shapes, a practical mix of materials, and the flow between spaces. Today we’re talking about what is the mix of materials that works best for a mid-century update that keeps the mid-century spirit alive in your home. 

So if you are watching a replay of this video, then I hope you’ll grab the Cornerstones workbook so that you can follow right along, you can get that at the link in my bio. Or you can go to midmod-midwest.com/cornerstones to grab your copy of that. 

If you’re here live, hello, it’s so great to see you. Thanks for the waves. And if you’ve got questions, go ahead, or opinions really, if you’ve got anything you want to share, go ahead and pop it in the comments, ask an actual question and then I’ll be sure to see it and flag it. But I’m going to try to respond to everything that comes up while we’re here on alive. Because that’s the fun of life. 

So tomorrow we’re going to be talking about the flow between spaces. But today we’re talking about what are the right materials for a great mid-century update. And this is where I want you to start, I want you to take your cues from the house you have or if the house you have has had most of the mid-century character removed from the house you wish you had. Let’s have a shout-out. 

Anyone want to tell me what the favorite mid-century material what’s your favorite mid-century material you’ve got in your house now, I will go first. It’s wood. I’ve got my original doors. I have original wood floors. I’m so lucky to have it. Wood is a super important material of the palette from mid-century design. The fun thing, though, that I want to talk about all through this live is how much there was a high-low mix of materials and mid-century houses. 

This wasn’t an era that was all about luxury. It was about practicality. So honestly, the amazing oak floors that I’ve got in my house that will last until long after I’m dead if no one is foolish enough to take them up. They were chosen not because they were fancy not because they were I mean they loved the long-lasting practicality of it. But they were chosen because that was considered a builder basic option in that era. But it was a time when mass production and machine technology was coming into the fore so more and more standardized materials were being used. It was a little early. 

My house for example, doesn’t have drywall on the walls. It has a proto drywall product that’s two-foot high, eight-foot long strips that were installed sort of horizontally stacked. And then the drywall installers in that moment had been the plasters of the moment before so they tended to just go ahead and like layer on as much plaster as you would use if you were just doing the lath and plaster wall. 

But my point is here, there’s basically there’s sort of this hybrid, this transitional moment between craft of solid wood floors, and the practicality of plywood cabinets. But the plywood cabinets of a mid-century kitchen are so sturdy, are so well built that honestly, unless you’ve got to change your layout, it’s a tragedy to tear them out. 

So any mid-century character you’ve got in your house, I’ll be saying this again and again, throughout the life, I urge you to keep it. Think about if you have to move something if you can take it out and put it back. Or if you can keep something attacked. Because most of the original mid-century materials in your house were built to last. My internet friend over at the Craftsman blog he specializes in, in an older era of houses than our favorite but the mid-century era, he’s often working on Victorian era houses, for example, but he specializes in restoring original windows. And he’s constantly singing this song about how if you tear out your original windows and put in replacement windows, the replacement windows are probably going to last 10 to 15, maybe 20 years, those original windows in a mid-century house, if you’ve got your original windows, they’ve lasted 60 or 70 years and a Victorian house, they may have lasted 100 years, how are they holding up? Could they be repaired? This is always the question. 

So obviously it’s your house, it’s your choice, you’ll make the choices you’re going to make. But we want to keep anything original in the house that we can as a touch point, that’s where we get started. So shout outs are things you can look for and love that might be original to your house that you might not even think about the floor. The trim around the doors, the doors themselves, built-ins, cabinet doors, cabinet handles, door handles, but else, perhaps appliances, although they’ve probably been replaced in the interim. 

But frankly, if you have a mid-century appliance in your house, like if you’ve got your original wall oven, it’s more likely to last through the entire time you live in your house than a replacement oven that you buy today. They really built for longevity back then. 

What else? Yeah, here’s what I want you to if you don’t have original house materials in your house, and we did a poll in the Instagram story yesterday, it was about 6040 60% of people who have mid-century quality in their house they want to preserve when they remodel, and 40% people who their house has been flipped. And what they want is when they remodel to restore some of the mid-century quality to their house. So if you’re in that 40% Where can you go to look for features you love. Oh, hey, Morgan. Great to see you there. And she’s shouting out limestone fireplace? Yes, if you’ve got many people might still have the original stone around mid-century fireplace intact. And if you do, please, please, don’t paint it white because HGTV told you to. 

I do know people who are dedicated DIYers who have managed from the challenge. This is actually going to jump ahead to our discussion for tomorrow when we talk about the flow between inside and outside. Part of that is created with windows with doors with openings and walls. But part of the flow between inside and outside on a mid-century home is created psychologically by callbacks to materials. 

So Morgan, do you have the same limestone on your fireplace that you have? Do you have that same limestone outside your house somewhere and a knee wall and a planter in some sort of decorative detail? I wouldn’t be surprised if you don’t because if you do, because this is a super common way that even very builder-grade mid-century houses showed a psychological connection between what’s happening on the outside of the house and what’s happening on the inside. And it’s really a wonderful feature. 

So okay, so you don’t have mid-century features in your house. Where can you go to find them? You can look on Pinterest, you can look on Instagram, you can search your neighborhood, for the other original houses in your area that still have their features. Make friends with your most long-standing, let’s not say elderly, your most long-standing in the neighborhood neighbors and see if you can get invited for coffee or cookies into their house. They’ll tell you wonderful stories and they’ll show you the original features of their houses. 

Whenever a house goes on the market in your neighborhood, make sure you go to the open house even if you’re not looking for a house, you can look for the details inside them. And another thing you want to pay attention to is not just there’s two factors in choosing the materiality of your house, one building on what’s there in the house you’ve got and the other is what works for you your personal style. So shout out if you have taken my mid mod style quiz. Mid-Century Modern is a really broad category, modern from the middle of the century. That’s a big time period. Some people have more of a tip towards the vintage in their love for mid-century and some people like more of the mod. 

Are you from the 40s in your favorite era, the 50s The 60s 70s If you take the style quiz, which you can get on, it’s in the link in my bio, it’s on my website, mid-mod-midwest.com/stylequiz, you’ll get an answer for what your personal mid-century style is, and some suggestions for where to go there. 

And this actually makes a difference because with your materiality with your finished choices, your handles your hardware, and even the stain colors you choose, you’ll be tipping your house towards the earlier part of the mid-century era or towards the later and that’s a choice you can make that will suit it best to your life. 

Dripless Denise has taken it, I know you have either Denise. Okay, so I want you to think about determining your personal style. And then I want you to start building what I call a style guide. Now I create these for all of my one-to-one design clients. And I also talk about how you can make them in several episodes of the mid mod remodel podcast. If you want to use the style guide workbook, this is another fun free resource, you can go to midmod-midwest.com/style guide. 

But basically what this is, is putting together the collection of decisions you’re going to make throughout your remodel, you can do it on a room by room basis. Or you can go big picture and do it for the whole house, you’re going to choose what are the wood types? Species stain color that you already have in the house? And or what would you like to introduce? What are the types of metal finishes that you already have in house? And or what would you like to introduce? What are the types of paint colors that you already have in the house? And or what would you like to introduce. 

And eventually you create a small material palette that you’re going to use every time you have to make a choice. Every time you choose a light fixture, every time you buy a piece of furniture, every time you choose a frame for the art, you’re going to hang on the wall, you start to pull from that materiality palette. And then you get this wonderfully cohesive, well-designed coherent look, which feels like you had a professional designer involved in your project, even if you didn’t. 

So when I’m creating a style guide for my clients, I’m looking at their Pinterest collections, at the pictures of their house at what they’ve said about the way they want to live in their house to choose for them. What sort of level of of hypermodern if they’re looking for a more sort of mid mod style, we might be looking for more 60s color schemes, we might be looking for bolder shapes, we might be looking for a mix of multiple different stain and green colors. 

If we’re going more vintage, we’d probably be choosing you know the classic honey blonde, wood stain color pine, more modest materials. And then we would always be choosing brass, original vintage brass for our door handles etc. I’ve got Can you handle behind me, you can’t. But that’s what I’ve still got my original door handles and I love them. As you start to make these choices for yourself. You can benefit from this fact of mid-century design, which is that the mid-century material choices were always practical. 

They were choosing things they thought were beautiful, short, but they were also choosing things they thought would be long-lasting hardwearing easy to keep up. The sort of ethos of the mid-century era was to get as many American families into houses as possible, not the biggest house ever. That’s Hey McMansions of my youth that’s a different eras philosophy, and not the most sort of faux luxurious feeling the ethos of modern HGTV design where what’s the sort of most gold spray painted finish that you can get on anything, they were looking for real solid materials that would last and that would be durable for families to go up around. 

So this allows you to choose some really beautiful things you can do teak you can do wall night you can do beautiful, sort of high-density wood grains in your house, or you can make things out of pine and plywood and that’s perfectly mid-century appropriate. You can also choose honestly you wouldn’t choose for example marble countertops and a mid-century kitchen update. 

I often recommend solid surface white counters or butcher block counters if you’re doing a budget-friendly, white cabinet finish so you can bring some wood grain back into the kitchen. If you want to go truly vintage a sparkle lamb Formica countertop is a perfect mid-century choice. And those are so durable, you just can’t get around it. 

Basically, I want you to just remember that you can always hark back to the practicality of the Mid-Century Modern now they did misfire occasionally. I would be remiss if I talked about mid-century materials without warning you a few of the hazards that were floating around in the mid-century era and which might still be lurking in your house and that long-lasting way. 

You might want to check your walls for lead paint. You might want to check painted wooden window frames for lead paint that’s actually one of the riskiest spots. Because window frames are operated every time the sash goes up and down. It particle sizes potential little bits of lead paint, which can be really dangerous, really toxic, especially if you’ve got any young children in the household watch out for that. 

And mid-century moderns also loved asbestos they thought it was a really cool material, they hadn’t yet realized how carcinogenic it was. So they used it in insulation, it is a great fire retardant. They used it in popcorn ceilings, which again, why total misfire and in shingles. So if you’ve got asbestos around the house, again, that’s a material, I don’t recommend that you preserve. 

I do want you to think, though, as you’re taking stock, if you’re following along in the workbook, what you’ve got in the house already, and then choose very intentionally as you make finish choices for your house that the new materials, the new colors, the new finishes, new stone, new block new paint, new wood that you’ve introduced to the house, plays well with what you already have, it doesn’t have to be a one to one match, but it does have to be friendly. 

Here’s an example that comes up pretty regularly in my neighborhood. On my dog walking route, there’s another house that’s just put in a new landscape stone stepped going up to their front house. It’s a nice graceful design, it’s obviously going to be easier for them to keep shoveled in the winter. 

And they’ve got a nice sitting space, the layout of it is great, but they have chosen a material that I wouldn’t have recommended to them. Their house has a lovely cream brick, and they chose really a very cool gray. A very unnatural looking stone for the steps that they’re putting up. And the gray is very chic and modern. 

Right now my house is painted gray. Feel free by the way to paint your house any trendy color you want. But try to be less trendy with your longer-lasting materials like paver stones, because they’re really the grade of their paver stones just doesn’t play well with the cream brick of the house. And it’s a shame because I don’t know that that’s going to change over time, it may fade and moderate itself over the decades. But it reminded me of that Frank Lloyd Wright phrase that when an architect misfires, all they can do is plant vines. Yeah.

This comes back though, to matching what you’ve got to mixing what you’ve got with the new choices that you make. And to that end, I’m going to tell you the same thing that I tell people when they’re choosing paint colors, which is always test real samples in person, get swatches of paint colors, and paint them on the walls in your house. 

If you’re buying new door handles or cabinet handles, always order one unit, it’s very inexpensive to order a single door handle a single cabinet handle order one, keep it around, make sure that the metal in the door handle is the same or plays nicely with the metal in your light fixtures is the same or plays nicely with the metal in your cabinet handles. As you start to put these things together, you’ll create a little give them in a shoebox, hang them on a wall, a little collection of the materiality of your home. 

And the more that you have these things accumulated, the less you have to worry every time you make a decision. You don’t have to make that decision fresh, you can just choose to make sure that what you’re buying now coordinates with what you’ve already chosen in the past. This is one of the reasons why I love to encourage people to think about a master plan approach to their whole remodel before they start anything other than a really small weekend friendly update project for their house. 

If you are listening to the mid mod remodel podcast, tomorrow’s episode is all about how even if you’re planning a maintenance work project, replacing a furnace, updating your roof, fixing rotting deck boards on your deck, it makes sense to pause and take a quick masterplan overview of the entire project before you dig in too deeply. 

And that includes this style guide this materiality element because when you thought about your big picture materiality, you’re not going to make a choice right off the bat that later you regret. Or that later you have to undo or that later you then have to figure out how to match the original features of the house with that new replacement product you bought one time, which now you’re making a fresh decision as you remodel in another room. This is the way that people go crazy when they remodel. 

So make your life easy by creating a coherent style guide. Again, if you wanted to grab the free workbook that I’ve used to help people put this together, you can go to mid mod dash mavis.com/style guide. And I’ll also be if you go to the show notes link for my blog for my podcast tomorrow there will have a couple of previous podcast episodes linked in there. I can put them in that story right after this live. 

But I haven’t seen any questions fly by let me just check that I’m not missing any. Now I don’t think so. If you’ve got questions about choosing the materials from your mid-century house, this is a place that really rewards careful thought. Making great choices right at the beginning of your project means that all the other choices you make as you go along will be easier and that’s what the style guide really sets up for you. 

All right. I’m going to be back tomorrow for another live we’ll be talking about the flow between spaces both inside your house and between in and out of your house. That classic quality. 

Oh, green bytes project is asking how do we add more MCM? I’ll ask you how How much do you have now? Anything? Or has the house been completely flipped and stripped of its mid-century quality? Because the answer depends a little bit. it takes a minute to type an answer. And there’s a lag of the video right now. 

Basically, the short version answer is to create a style guide, okay, you have an entire remodel totally gutted, the exterior is mid-century and you’re worried you’re not adding enough MCM. This is exactly the situation. So you can start to take some of your cues from the exterior, if you have any, if you’ve got brick, stone, siding, board and batten, whatever is going on on the outside, that tells you your era. 

And that tells you what’s happening. Yeah, if you if your house was suffering from major maintenance challenges neglected, this could be I had to tear up my original basement. Sort of like lightweight finish because it was moldy behind the walls, which that doesn’t fly. So how do you bring back something you want to think about? Are you introducing enough wood product mid-century moderns would have put in wood floors, you could also try cork, they would have used wood trim. 

You don’t have to go fancy those simple ranch bass trim is very mid-century appropriate, easy to clean, easy to care for. You want to think about how if there’s any of the materials going on, on the outside, if you’ve got stone, brick, etc. You can bring those things in towards the rest of the house and start to put if you’re building back around a fireplace, if you can’t match that original brick, you might find a tile that’s the color tone of the brick and put it in the same bond pattern. That is if it’s offset, use the same offset or if it’s stacked bond like a grid. If you can use the same grid, you can start to pull those things together.

 Yeah, oh, I’m getting a couple of questions here. Now, I guess I’m going to last a bit longer. All right, so we’ve got thoughts on finding MCM patio furniture bistro set, do I have a go to source, okay? Again, the possibilities are so many. But you can go on the spectrum from full vintage, I actually got my patio furniture at an antique store. And it’s just powder coated simple metal. It’s very charming. I love it. But there’s a bunch of sources from sort of Etsy style reproduction furniture, or high-end reproduction. 

Who’s got the licenses to make some of the original mid-century furniture? Design Within Reach has some of them that’s expensive, and other reproduction mid-century designer pieces like that you can find there, or in the mid range, you’ve got CD2, blue dot. Now you’ve caught me on the fly, there’s a couple of others that are good for that. And then there’s always just all modern. If you’re looking for just a general internet supplier. 

Try to read the reviews and see if you think things look like they’re going to be sturdy and long lasting. It’s a shame too, but you know, you get original mid-century furniture, it might be a little wobbly, but it still works. And if you buy something that looks mid-century that was made last year, it probably last five years. But some things are really well built. And that’s still a fun place to go. 

So yeah, I would say for bistro set. You’d probably want to check CB2,  all modern, Google around. But it’s also not a bad idea to check out estate sales, and to check out your local vintage supplier. And if you make friends with the owner of your local vintage store or the stand owners at your local antiques mall that specializes in MCM they might look out for something especially for you and let you know when it comes in. They always have a better handle on estate sales and things like that then regular amateur ever can. 

Question about where to find court floors. I love I’m in the Midwest. And I love Green Building Supply which is a family run business based out of Iowa. And they supply a mintage of vintage type of cork floors. That’s a glue down. But they also have a click lock system that’s very easy for DIY install. I’m not particular about it, I think either is great. And cork is such a fun, durable practical, naturally antimicrobial you can use cork in a kitchen or in a bathroom, and easy to install material. It’s so foot friendly and if you use it for example, in a basement, it even gives you a little bit of insulation, a little bit of R value to stop that cold concrete floor from seeping up. 

Let’s see. I missed a couple of questions. Okay. Where do you get the cork floor? Let’s see. Somebody suggesting not an MCM era but L O L L for patio had years now bought a I’ve scrolled in my comments are scrolling slowly, a Palm Springs data set. I don’t know it but I’ll have to check that out. Because I’m always looking for great new sources. 

My clients are always asking me and I’m not an interior designer, so specification of furniture is not my forte but you know I love it too. So that’s really fun. 

Okay. I’m trying to scroll up to see if Any more questions? So I’ll just let’s see. What have we covered? What have we not covered? I want to make sure everyone L O L L. Yeah. Thank you so much green bytes project. That’s great. Let’s all go check it out and see if it’s fine. The bottom line for making great choices for a vintage house is to feel like you’re not beholden to do exactly what the mid-century moderns would have done. Think like they would have thought Think practically use simple shapes, choose finishes that are usually matte, not too glossy. Again, that comes from the practicality, they were choosing things that would be easy to swipe clean, that would not show fingerprints, and get practical samples hold things up next to each other. 

And if you’ve got any remnant of your house, like for example, if you had to get the inside of your house, you might, if you can track down the original owners information. If you can find any photos of what was going on in the house, you don’t have to match it. We’re not trying to make time capsules here, but you can use that as a jumping off point. And then you can also I should mention, source vintage materials if you can. 

Again, this is another perhaps for some people a step too far. But check out your local restore. See if you can find other people’s dropped off and discarded mid-century doors, handles light fixtures, anything actually vintage that you can introduce to a modern update will help sort of tie it back to its original era. Thanks so much green bytes project. I’m so glad you love the podcast. I love doing it. 

Alright, well, I think we’re going to wrap now this has been going on for quite a while. But if you have more questions about choosing mid-century materials a I’m going to point you to the style guide and be send me a DM I’d love to chat with you about it. 

Yeah, Instagram DM is always a great way to get in touch with me. So you podcast listener, please do consider sending me one. If you’ve ever got follow up questions about this or any episode, or at least head over to the show notes page to find the transcript and the links to the cornerstone guides and other resources at mid mod dash midwest.com/ 1503. Since we’ve been talking about material choices, I will say that my very best resource for making the right choices for your style. 

And your mid-century home. In terms of materials is the live workshop I gave last spring, the mid-century style guide clinic. In that two hour workshop, I walk you through every step of the super simple style guide system. Of course, this is something I do for our mid-century Master Plan clients, and it’s included as part of the ready to remodel program. But if this picking the right materials and finishes is your struggle, that’s the resource for you. I’ll drop a link to where you can buy the replay to that workshop in the show notes page too. 

All right, I’m gonna sign off for now. We’ll be back next week to talk about the flow between mid-century spaces, how you can create it in your house if you don’t have it and how you can maintain it during a remodel if you do. See you then.