Mid-century modern decorating with orange

1961-living-room-white-orange-blue-235Rebecca and Keith seem to be gravitating toward a monochromatic palette of orange, butterscotch, gold and linen in decorating their 1961 mid-century modern living room and family room. Rebecca asked for some tips, so first up, I searched 1960 and 1961 advertisements for colors to complement orange. Rebecca, I think that adding just one substantive accent color — most obviously, a blue or green — will really make your beautiful autumnal palette really “pop.”


I do need to preface all of these photos by saying that the orange is reading very red from my scans on my monitor. Red shades are the most problematic to scan, and I don’t know how to color correct on photoshop. I’m telling you, you think that blogging will be all creative expressive glory. Really, it’s like 90% technical nonsense. I am not kidding, I have become a 90th percentile geek girl, and it is still not enough. But I diverge. The other colors are pretty close to “original”, though. I chose this photo out of interest in the fireplace… but when it comes to color accents for orange, also to showcase that medium slate/powder blue. This color looks really wonderful with orange in mid-century interiors. And hey, since your house is in Ann Arbor, Mich., you could get some M Go Blue juice going, too. Well, toned down a bit… In this photos, also notice the plant in the foreground right, in the groovy planter. Every self-respecting mid-century modern homeowner needs a tropical plant. My favorite mid-century plant is Monsterosa Deliciosa.


I know that you just tore out “atrocious” green carpeting. But, olive or avocado is another color that accents mid-century orange very beautifully.


Here’s another image where sharp colors seem to be freaking out my scanner. I sure hope it is not broken. Lord knows how you fix that. But again, you can see green — this time I’ll call it monsterosa green, it’s like a shiny tropical plant — paired with orange. The black accents provide a forceful (as opposed to milquetoast) counterpoint. And look at that powder blue piano. My goodness.


Regular readers will recognize this photo. It’s an ad for paneling. I chose it to show that blue chair…. a lovely punctuation mark in the room.


A rich jade pillow, and a navy pillow, on this orange sofa.


I noticed this ashtray in your living room, Rebecca — this blue-green jade (like the pillow above) would be a good accent color to build out in this room.


More green in this ridiculous photo … including in the recessed beer stein holder.


Orange makes you want to play the marancas — another photo showing mid-century musical instruments played at home. You also need a painting with roman horses — another favorite mid-century motif.

These are photos that I found in just three magazines from 1960 and 1961. I’ll be on the looking for more, and plan more posts on decorating with mid-century orange.

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  1. Elizabeth Mary says

    Hey, was that a white washed brick wall I saw behind the Monterosa Deliciosa?

    All kidding aside, I don’t know what I was doing yesterday but I missed this post so I am just catching up today. Last week I talked about this blog with a friend who LOVES split levels and last night she wrote me that she was buried in Retro Renovation. Today I see why. What a great post and follow-up to introduce her to this blog. Divine intervention of the first order.

    • pam kueber says

      :) Thanks, Elizabeth Mary, glad to see your recruiting efforts continue. I hope you have having a great holiday season!

  2. Annie B. says

    Oh, I’m loving these ideas, Pam. The colors are right up my alley…orange, yellow, and that teal-ish green. Especially love the monstera in the bullet planter. Wish the reproduction bullet planters weren’t so pricey, though. Might have to bite the bullet and get one, anyway!

  3. Annie B. says

    Congratulations, Rebecca, on a superb choice in light fixtures. Rejuventation’s offerings are so elegant.

    Just another thought on accent pieces and color (as in your Norwegian ashtray): I’ve found a number of reasonably priced pieces of vintage California pottery at local flea markets recently. The colors of these pieces are astoundingly vivid….have just purchased an orange divided dish which looks positively radioactive. Royal Haeger pieces are nice, also; I’ll bet you already have some in that wonderful new home of yours.

  4. Virginia says

    OOOooooer! I always love warm toned monochromatic rooms, but never knew how to recreate that in a visually interesting way with mid mod style. Bookmarked! Thanks for such an amazing site Pam. I picture your archives as unending.

    • pam kueber says

      Hmmm, Virginia. I have to admit, I don’t tend to gravitate toward monochromatic palettes. But, I just went and looked at my bedroom, and it’s got the same groove going on as Rebecca’s living room. Rebecca, if you want to stay in this same autumnal family … then you might start adding some rust and see how that looks. In my bedroom, I started with gold walls, a light gold bedspread, mid-century Baker furniture in kind of a cherry tone with faded brass pulls etc. Then, in went a Danish style rug that had stronger colors including deeper orange and brown, and the curtains, which definitely have kind of a reddish rusty thing happening. And, just as these things happen, I had a perfect framed print from two houses ago that also shared these colors. I’ll have to take a pic of that… it’s actually a folk art print — but framed and matted it also has a graphic modern feel. So my bedroom is Danish-Modern, Modern, and Folk Art all at the same time — all in a monochromatic palette not too dissimilar to your living room.

  5. Annie B. says

    Your light fixture is shown in the cover photo of Better Homes and Gardens Decorating Ideas from 1960!

  6. Anne says

    Oh, my! My great aunt had (and still has) an orange wool Risom
    loveseat. It’s itchy as all-get-out. It was originally (1955) paired with an olive green sofa, beige carpeting and black lacquer side and coffee tables. Later, when she and her husband built a ranch house in 1973, the kitchen counters were bright orange Formica. Cabinets were dark brown. Horrors! The orange sofa now rests comfortably with her in her assisted living apartment…looking fabulously retro!

    • pam kueber says

      My mother-in-law had a handsome and well-constructed long (probably 90″) Baker sofa — reupholstered in the 1970s in a nice orange textured print. My husband had it in his apartment when we married. We gave it away and kept some piece ‘o crap that I had. Young and foolish – that was me.

  7. Rebecca Prichard says

    Mmmmm. . .rust. LOVE that idea, too. Bright orange formica and dark brown cabinets sounds wonderful to me.

    • pam kueber says

      You might like this post, too, Rebecca. It’s on mid-century fabrics available from Maharam. One of the lead mid-century desingers, I can’t remember who, but I know where I read it, was heavily into autumnal palettes. He got that particular color religion after a fall driving tour of New England. So autumnals are in fact, authentic mid-century and part of the trajectory that led us to harvest gold, avocado green and brady bunch orange.

  8. MrsErinD says

    I like orange and gold with green which is more 60’s to me, and especially orange with teal/dark aqua-turquoise which I see a lot in the mid/late 50s.

    My decorating is pretty much blues and greens aquas, with pink, a touch of brighter pink and black, pretty classic 50’s, and I just got a pair of mid century box triangle orange plaid nubby pillows, I was contemplating putting them on my couch with my 2 tealish/dark aqua box pillows and my bright pink pillow, I know it sounds pretty bright, but I like bright colors and the colors actually look nice together,the orange isn’t super orange bright, a little rustyish. I have been going back and forth on them and now I think I will keep them there for a while, the bit of orange is a nice pop and this is inspiring me. :O) Thanks Pam.

  9. says

    Love love love your blog. Thanks for putting up with my questions via Twitter. :) Your advice is VERY valued!!

    My grandmother gave me their burnt orange 60’s sectional when I was a teenager. The kind with the cupboard (but not the lazy susan style) and reversible cushions. I LOVED that sofa. When my parents moved out of their house and into a townhouse, I had to sell it (sob) because I couldn’t afford to pay storage and had no room at my place to keep it. Now that we’ve just bought a 60s house I’m so desperately wishing I had found a way to keep it!!

    • pam kueber says

      Rina, boo hoo. Burnt orange: My favorite color, for sure. But then, there’s also ravishing coral, Mamie pink, aquamarine, harvest gold, avocado….It’s all delicious.

  10. Julie says

    My favorite post EVER! My favorite colors are olive green and orange. Those are our accent colors in our mid-century living room, combined with dark woods and walnut floors. I will definitely be bookmarking this post for suggestions on other colors to go with them!

    Now if I could just find that wonderful pendant lamp in the third photo!

    • pam kueber says

      Wow, Julie, your enthusiasm is contagious, and now I’m all excited to find some more 60s / 70s harvest gold, avocado green, and brady bunch eye candy for everyone. Thanks, :)

  11. Jeanne says

    Very inspiring thread! I just wanted to add another comment on the color orange. The “open” upstairs of my 1952 bungalow is done in knotty pine with a white ceiling (both the flat part and the two angular sections). We have claimed this as the master bedroom. Not being a fan of the knotty pine (because I grew up sleeping in my parents knotty pine upstairs), I was not initially thrilled about it.

    At first I was going to use all ivory or white accessories to lighten it up. I bought ivory taffeta lined curtains for the windows, which look nice. The previous owners left two large (5 x 8) braided rugs done in a red, burgundy, white and a touch of rust. I left them in the room for the time being and after a while decided they looked good with the wood. I then remembered I had a coral/orange comforter packed away and got it out and put it on the bed and it REALLY looks good with the knotty pine and red/orange braided rugs! It was like an epiphany. The orange really looks good with the wood.

  12. Genjenn says

    Punches of deep aqua/turqoise would be gorgeous and sophisticated.
    This is the best way I can describe the color I am thinking of: Imagine teal, then make it bluer and maintain teal’s rich saturation and brightness.

    Hope that makes sense.

  13. Genjenn says

    Just realized my earlier post makes no sense. Rebecca and Keith: I ADORE your choice of orange, butterscotch, gold and linen. Stunning! I think the blue teal color I suggested above would be a great accent color. Apologies for any confusion.

  14. Rebecca Prichard says

    Thanks Genjenn! Thinking the accent color maybe being the color in the ashtray like Pam suggested. That sounds like what you mean. Right now there’s no orange in that room. And, the couch has green it, too. The rug is gorgeous dark brown, my favorite color.

  15. Genjenn says

    Hi Rebecca! The ashtray’s color (on my screen) is very close. Make it a dash deeper (more jewel tone-ish) and you’re there. As for orange, your Danish pieces have that wonderfuly rich orangy tone. You can play that up (or go a few shades darker) in artwork, pillows, lamps/lampshades etc. One final thought: Restoration Hardware makes a paint color I think would look great on the walls. It’s in their FLAX Paint collection: color LATTE. I think it would provide a warm, neutral, interesting, non-kitschy bakground for your period decor. Grass cloth is another good option, I think.

    BTW: chocolate brown is my fav color too.

  16. atomicbowler-dave says

    Since I seem to be on a run about the color-coordinated outlets…there ARE orange outlets in the world. Again, one would need to look for them with a commercial electrical house, and I am sure they do not come inexpensively. They’re some sort of high-test item used (I believe) in medical situations and critical computer supplies. Hubbel is the manufacturer. I’ve never seen an orange outlet plate, but they might look interesting with brown.

  17. Rebecca Prichard says

    Dave. I prefer your teak idea, I am in love with that one! The marine site says “out of stock” now.

    Genjenn, The wallpaper made out of grass, right? I LOVE that! We had in my mom’s house. I have told Keith about it so many times and I how I would totally have it. I can’t get it anymore can I? I didn’t even think of looking for it!

    • pam kueber says

      Grasscloth still exists. I bought Seabrook. As I recall, there is a HUGE national discount wallpaper place based in Southfield, Mich. American Blinds and Wallpaper, maybe? Maybe you can go up there and look thru all their materials….Pam

  18. atomicbowler-dave says

    Rebecca, you might also try http://www.fisheriessupply.com, I ordered some from them a few weeks ago. There are a couple different importer brand names for all sorts of teak goodies (includung a teak version of the HallMack comfort unit, more or less!), the one that comes to mind is Thailand Teak. Towel bars, TP holders, magazine racks, cup holders, toothbrush holders…

    • pam kueber says

      Woah, atomicbowler-dave, you are a veritable ocean of ideas and inspiration today. P.S. Is anyone actually doing any WORK today?

  19. Rebecca Prichard says

    Thanks Pam for the wallpaper place and the pendant! Wow, much cheaper than the Rejuvenation one. I am dying over the Seabrook Grasscloth. I am on the phone now with a place in town to see if they have them there! I will definitely go to the place in Southfield!

    Dave, what is a Hallmack comfort unit? Can’t find that out. :)

  20. Rebecca Prichard says

    Jesus, a place for your cigarettes! Hilarious.

    I found the wallpaper place, it’s in Livonia. Awesome, and close to me. It’s still open, you never know these days. MI has had it tough for way longer than most other places.

    I wish I could get you over here to help me decide on the WHERE of the wallpaper! Now, I want the Reverb and the grasscloth.

  21. Rebecca Prichard says

    Thanks, Kathy. I just assumed it was too old school. I am so excited to have grasscloth again somedy soon, and now I won’t pull the pieces of grass OUT of it like I did when I was a child!

  22. m in minnesota says

    Re: the niche for the beer steins….reminds me of some “Mediterranean” stuff that we removed from one of the walls of our dining room…floor to ceiling of blackish brownish narrow ledges installed over heavy weight, textured vinyl ,light green wall paper….under all of which was a Large patch in the drywall that was about 2′ x 3’…….what did those previous residents do ?– Drive a car through the garage into the dining room?!…..New wallpaper to the rescue… Hey do you think the beer stein thing is like people with their wine bottle storage today?…

  23. Kortney says

    Where did you find the image of the woman in living room (next to kitchen)? I’m trying to find a 60/70’s inspired image and love this one!

    Please let me know as soon as you have a moment, thanks!

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