17 APR 2018

Colour and Pattern in the Mid-Century Home

Let’s just say, as the curtain of fear and war lifted on the world – so did any caution with colour combos!

Words by Julia Atkinson-Dunn of Studio Home for Mr Bigglesworthy

Populations began to boom and so did the expectations of home living for the regular working class person of the late 1940’s to early 60’s. Homeowners wanted indoor/outdoor flow, multiple entertaining areas, they wanted to experiment with the latest of materials and most of all, take major chances with reflecting their personalities with the bold use of colour vs pattern vs texture.

My initial thought, when researching the use of colour and pattern in Mid Century homes, was that there was going to be a pretty obvious palette and common combinations would present themselves. But the more I fossicked, the more I discovered that this was most definitely NOT the case! What we look back on and see as singular trend, in fact, was a sliding spectrum reflecting the courage and character types of the time.

American magazine 'Better Homes and Gardens' became a leader for residential decorators and issued annual guides for over 10 years.

The resonating messages I found focused deeply on decorating your homes to suit your family, lifestyle and personal tastes. As the cult magazine of the era; Better Homes and Gardens outlined in their 1961 decorating book:

“Old and New – a happy blend. No matter how luxurious your home, or simple; how gadabout your pattern of living, or sedentary; how varied your tastes – it’s easy to plan colors and furnishings that fit your family living pattern” (Amen to that).

And if there were any lessons for us to take away from the homes of our Mid-Century decorators, it’s that they concentrated more on colour combos to surprise than attempting a carbon copy of that “look”.

Better Homes and Gardens Decorating Book, 1956

Companies didn’t present just one colour palette or collection of furniture/ flooring/ fabric and simply say “A, B and C” are designed to go together for the best result. Instead they went out of their way to list how “A” looks fantastic with “F” and “F” could even be repeated with a dash of “B” if you like! Competing brands leapt at the chance to offer multiple scenarios so that clients could adopt what felt right for them.

And no. This is not like now. I’m talking about your oven matching your sink and kitchen cabinetry. Not complementing each other in tones of faux stone, faux wood and stainless steel.

Let’s just stop and get a gist of what the choice on offer to home owners.


I have dug up some imagery from THEN (not as we interpret it now) to demonstrate the extent homemakers were willing to go to inject their personalities into their homes. When I look at these spaces, I take into account that if they were appearing in books/ magazines/ advertising at the time, then they would have been particularly adventurous and glam examples of what people might strive for. There is no denying though, that the benchmark presented is so saturated with personality I think we can assume that these are some defining characteristics of design and living at the time.

I did discover that there were clear divisions in interior style as I followed the design trail through the late 40’s to the early 60’s. This was clearly laid out in the debut chapter of the 1959 Better Homes and Gardens Decorating book.

“It’s Your Home”

How to find your family personality – choose among Colonial, Traditional, Contemporary – or mix your styles”.

This statement reflects the general vibe I got that, within all the choice and zesty flavour now available in home furnishings, you could take these options and interpret them to suit your existing style. It feels like they had a realistic grasp on the fact that they could slowly take their homes in any direction they wanted. Something we should remember too!

Below are the main characteristics of home decorating that stuck out to me.


We’re not talking just about being brave with your kitchen bench here, you could really raise the eyebrows of the neighbours with a bench that also matched your floors AND walls. And that’s not even including your appliances!

Something I really noticed was the deceptive restraint used within a chosen colour palette of a room, despite the bold use that would blow us white walled creatures out of the water!

Mostly, within a space, two key colours were picked to dominate. These would appear across two or more main features of the room and were very carefully coordinated. This could be perfectly matching walls, carpet and sofa accented with boldly contrasting lamps, chairs and curtains featuring another colour.

The result was very strong, intentional and quite simply, full of personality! For example:

Ways to translate this idea into your own home:

/ Next time you are painting a room, why not paint some furniture to match in the same colour for a really tonal vibe.

/ If brights still freak you out, why don’t you slowly boost your neutral decoration with some deep but muted colour. Think inky blues, deep rusts, ochres and greens. This adds depth and might make you happy!

/ Match your sofa with a rug to start creating a dominate colour theme in the room.

/ Instead of a single arm chair in your living room, how about having two…matching! IN colour! Check out the vintage collection from Mr Bigglesworthy over here for some inspiration.

These are pretty way out examples of where you could go, but maybe for your first attempt, you might choose a less zingy colour.


This path of decorating had a more masculine and sophisticated vibe. Rich use of brick, glass, tile and wood in both construction and furniture was complimented by accents of isolated colour. Think burnt orange sofa’s or turquoise rafters. Indoor plants softly added to the palettes texture and created a kind of quirky, modern juxtaposition with the vibrancy of the furniture. And that’s not to forget that much of the furniture was in the slick glossy finishes of plastic, perspex, linoleum, fibreglass or steel. This was all about spaces with layered texture and introduced colour as a secondary player. Examples below:

Ways to translate this idea into your own home:

/ If anything, this is what we all try to do now!

Perhaps it’s time to be a tad quirkier? Could those steel rafters be anything other than black or white? Could that new shelving system you just put in be painted?

/ Furniture doesn’t have to be your only way to get some colour into home. Instead of buying that orange two seater straight off the bat, why not inject colour through an object like a standalone sculpture or piece of glasswork? Start here by browsing the beautiful offering of Mr Bigglesworthy that stand apart from your normal go to of another candle holder.

Candy Pink Bowl by Josef Hospodka for Chribska


I think anyone that is drawn to colour often has a strong preference for “warm” or “cool” tones. What I think is fascinating about the Mid Century colour lovers, is that they took this very seriously! All the archival magazines I was able to get my hands on emphasised the importance of ‘ones handle on colour’ and the interpretation of this into a room. I am sure this was made particularly challenging given the fact that we aren’t just talking about the introduction of some blush pink cushions into a grey and white living room!

For example:

/ / / Warm / / /

/ / / Cool / / /

Ways to translate this idea into your own home:

Maybe, the first step is stopping to take better stock of what you ARE drawn too? Take a walk through your home with fresh eyes. Are there rooms that feel better to be in than others? Perhaps you could slowly transition all the spaces in your home to subtly reflect those colours and tones?


No surface was safe! Can you imagine a world when Formica offered you benchtops with atomic inspired pattern in pink instead of faux marble? Access was granted to books of Lino flooring, featuring endless colour and pattern options and if you needed MORE, you could order a linoleum “rug” to go under your dining table (on top of your other lino!)

The pattern of interior textiles was born out of the fluid art and sculpture of wider Mid Century Modern design movement. From the spacey, hand drawn atomic designs to more organic flora and fauna that developed in the 60’s, pattern was no longer limited to William Morris wallpaper! Examples below:

Pattern – Lucienne Day for Heals
Pattern – Lino Rug
Pattern flooring via The Big Chill

Ways to translate this idea into your own home:

It’s time.

Lets a) get some curtains back into your home and b) have them patterned!

While Linoleum is actually a great product made of natural materials, its virtually impossible to source these days. You can find some interesting patterned tiles coming to market and this UK brand is offering graphic, patterned vinyl.

Maybe it’s not a subtle textured rug you need, its actually a mad patterned one!

Here are some super special rugs from Mr Bigglesworthy that will take your flooring expectations to the next level!

If I had my way I would pair this Dilana rug with my existing inky blue lightshade and largescale artwork to really drive home the colour in my living area!

We had SO much fun investigating this period of living to the point we needed to share MORE!

Click here to check out our large collection of original imagery on Pinterest.

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