Ask a Designer: Decorating a Mid-Century House

If you’re looking for the perfect setting for that swinging cocktail party, you’ve got plenty of options around here. The playful spirit of 1960s Reston can still be seen in its original houses. Huge windows, clean lines, and open spaces for entertaining are some of the highlights of these beautiful homes.

Mid-century modern house in Reston, Virginia

But what if you just moved into one of these mid-century modern houses from somewhere more traditional? Does your decor fit the house? What furniture should you choose? How can you update your home while staying true to the architecture?

To answer these questions, we spoke with Katherine Sable and Kari Wekluk of Etch Design Lab. They are a Northern Virginia-based collaborative creative studio that works in home, business, and event design. Kari is a certified interior designer and has been working in the field for 10 years. Kate is a visual artist, making Etch a dynamic and atypical partnership between artist and designer.

What advice can you offer for updating a mid-century modern home?

We think that the clean lines and sleek bones of MCM homes provide the perfect neutral framework to incorporate each individual homeowner’s taste.  If MCM furniture isn’t your cup of tea, the MCM architecture should not feel like a limitation to stick only to mod furniture and styling, but rather just as the jumping off point for an eclectic approach to design.

Although we feel the simple lines of MCM allow for mixing interior design styles, the exterior of a MCM home feels best when kept sacred and authentic. Embrace the MCM exterior architecture, and avoid straying too far from the design intent when updating windows and doors.

  • Your door is the first thing everyone will see. Choose a beautiful, sleek door, and choose a cool accent color to add your style into the mix.
  • Don’t replace fixed pane glass windows with multi-pane or double hung windows.
  • Don’t put in an exterior front door with traditional styling and/or stained glass ornamentation.

Often, an untouched MCM home needs updating, especially in the bathrooms and kitchens.  Same goes for these interior architectural elements, try to choose finishes that respond to the MCM ideal, and infuse your taste in other ways.

  • Hold onto the period integrity by choosing a cabinet profile with clean lines, no molding/panels, and simplistic trims. Avoid shaker or colonial style cabinetry.
  • Don’t put speckled granite countertops into your MCM home. Go for a quartzite material for your countertop, instead.
  • Keep your hardware simple too!  There are a lot of resources for new MCM-inspired hardware out there.

If your MCM home boasts a kitchen that is in the center of the home, or near the living and dining spaces, it’s likely that it’s just closeted up with a few swinging doors.  Think outside of the box when you renovate, you might be able to open the space up to the entertaining area without too much demolition.  If you can sacrifice a little storage, remove a bit of upper cabinetry to gain a little air space.

Mid-century modern house in Reston, Virginia

Could you recommend some good resources for buying furniture and decor for a mid-century modern home?

  • Modern Montage at the Antique Center in Alexandria has an extensive collection of authentic MCM pieces.
  • Design Within Reach is a fabulous resource for MCM pieces still in production, and also has a lot of new pieces created by some amazing contemporary designers.
  • Room and Board and West Elm are great resources for affordable options.  A lot of their pieces hark back to the clean lines of MCM, but in updated upholstery finishes, and current furniture scale trends.
  • Seek out estate sales. We often find a lot of great deals for original pieces that are in amazing shape!

Kate and Kari created a Pinterest board for us, with lots of great suggestions! It includes high/low, retail/vintage finds that they think are stellar examples of MCM, with a few contemporary twists. Here are some of their selections. Check out the Pinterest board to see the whole set!

Mid-century modern decor

1. Devyn Wall Mirror, Joybird

2. Dallas 18 Light Mini Chandelier, Arteriors via AllModern

3. Titan Exterior Door Set, Rejuvenation

4. Modern House Numbers, Rejuvenation

5. Hughes Loveseat, Joybird

6. Alistair Sofa in White, Dot & Bo

7. Mid-Century Modern Tripod Coffee Table, mungoandmidge via Etsy

8. Vienna Black Side Chair, Crate and Barrel

9. Franklin Sofa, Joybird

Etch Design Lab takes pride in being a women-owned, small, hands-on creative studio with a very personalized, individual approach to their projects.  If you’d like to learn more about Kate and Kari of Etch Design Lab, you can find them at, or their blog, Delicate and Durable. You can also keep up with them on Facebook, Twitter, Pinterest, and Houzz.

Kate and Kari, we send huge thanks for all the great information!

Do you have a mid-century modern house? How have you updated it for your 2014 lifestyle? Do you have any advice to share?