Thoroughly Modern Retro

The cheapskate's guide to mid-century modern

Mid-century modern is the interior style loved by design junkies, Mad Men fans and retro aficionados alike.

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The search is on

The mid-century look is based around design popular between the mid-1930s and the mid-60s. It focuses on clean lines and strong shapes, with a lot of wood, metal and plastic. It’s worth looking on eBay and other auction sites for the scene’s big-hitting designers such as American couple Charles and Ray Eames and Arne Jacobsen. Famous names generally turn up reproduction items “inspired by” the originals – and they cost a bit less.

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Don't buy now, pay October

If you’re shopping for replicas, though, hop to it. The UK’s copyright laws are changing. Last month a bill passed extending copyright protection on industrial design items to the length of the designer’s life plus 70 years. The new law kicks in this October. For sites dealing in reproduction furniture, this could mean a hike in prices or not producing new items. Until then we’ll be browsing sites like Voga and Swivel for designer repro finds.

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Nearly there

Fancy having a side table that isn’t quite so directly “inspired” by the originals? There of plenty of retailers producing their own designs to fit the mood. On the high street Dwell are a good bet (though true budget watchers might want to wait for the sale). Online there’s Blue Suntree (where our editor bought her sofa), and the direct-to-makers sites Swoon Editions and Made, both of whom love a bit of mid-century influence.

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Get sleuthing

Furniture fairs such as the Modern Shows are great for inspiration (seeing whole rooms set up is always useful) and smaller items. After that, head back to eBay. Narrow your search terms to sellers in your area. If any of them seem to be businesses using eBay as an outlet, then take note of their names. Look them up and see if they have physical premises –prices can often be lower for walk-in customers and you’ll avoid a mark-up on the postage.

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There's always Ikea

A large number of the celebrated mid-century designers originated from the Nordic countries, so it’s not too surprising items from the Swedish furniture giant have mid-century influences in their DNA. Take advice from these bloggers and mid-century hack your flatpack. There’s a very simple, but very effective coffee table switch on Triple Max Tons and a more advanced (but totally worth it) bookshelf-to-console on The Handyman.

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