Written by 5:43 pm The Look

California Modern Design: From Mid-Century to This Century

With elements of mid-century modern, minimalism and a bohemian touch, the California Modern style e…
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Channeling elements of mid-century modern, minimalism and a bohemian touch, there’s something about California style that is quintessentially cool. California Modern encapsulates the energy, ingenuity and creativity the Golden State is known for. The look is relaxed, sophisticated and inherently modern. Discover the motherlode of California Modern design as we unearth nuggets of its history—and see how this aesthetic could pan out in your home.

Origin and Influences: Striking Gold in Residential Spaces

California Modern architecture and design emerged in the mid-20th century, influenced by post-World War II urbanization and a demand for innovative residential and commercial spaces. Architects like Joseph Eichler and designers such as Charles and Ray Eames shaped the aesthetic, drawing inspiration from mid-century modern design, Scandinavian minimalism and the bohemian spirit.

Rooted in California’s cultural and creative ethos, the style emphasizes simplicity, functionality and a harmonious connection with nature, all tenets which are valued in the 21st century.

Mid-Century Lines

Ambit Pendant Light by TAF Architects for Muuto

Clean lines are a foundational element of California Modern design. Inspired by iconic mid-century modern and Scandinavian styles, these sleek contours infuse a sense of simplicity and order into your space. Consider incorporating smooth domes, spheres, and drums as lighting fixtures to maintain a clean and uncluttered ambiance.

Light, Breezy Tones

Caravaggio Pendant by Cecilie Manz for Fritz Hansen, One More Please Bar Stool, Set of 2 by Philippe Starck for Kartell

To evoke the calming feeling of a gentle coastal breeze, opt for a light and airy color scheme. Whites, grays and soft pastel tones work harmoniously with clean lines, creating an atmosphere of simple sophistication. With a predominantly lighter palette, richer accent colors can make a striking statement. Shades of yellow, orange, coral, turquoise and navy blue add vibrancy and visual interest.

Bohemian Accents

Loloi Rugs

While bohemian textiles are a prominent element in California Modern style, it’s important to strike a balance to maintain a luxurious and sophisticated ambiance. Select pieces that make a lasting impact rather than overwhelming the space with multiple bohemian elements. Layer these pieces with simple and minimal textiles to let them shine. Rugs, in particular, provide an excellent opportunity to introduce boho patterns and textures.

Luxe Leathers

Wallace Sofa by Gus Modern

Industrial Elements

Lyon Pendant by Visual Comfort Studio

Lustrous metals introduce a modern edge to the California Modern style. Capitalize on this opportunity to showcase lighting fixtures as true focal points. Dark, factory-style pendants add an almost gritty accent to the neutral palette and the softness of the natural materials. This juxtaposition demonstrates confidence and fearlessness in personal style that is quintessentially Californian.

Natural Materials

Eames Lounge Chair with Ottoman by Charles & Ray Eames for Herman Miller

Organic materials and vibrant greenery play a pivotal role in enhancing the warmth and depth of California Modern rooms. Incorporate woods, woven baskets, sheepskins or hides, and plants to infuse the room with an earthy-but-elevated point of view. These elements provide a striking contrast against the light and pastel colors often found in this style, creating a harmonious and balanced composition.

Indoor-Outdoor Connection

Artemis LED Smart Ceiling Fan by Minka Aire Fans, Mono Sofa by Blu Dot, Turning Table by Theresa Arns for Audo Copenhagen

California Modern design embraces the seamless integration of indoor and outdoor living spaces. Large windows, sliding glass doors, and open floor plans are common features, blurring the boundaries between the interior and exterior. This biophilic design approach allows for abundant natural light, fresh air and a harmonious relationship with nature.

Keeping It Simple

Oak U Desk by Ethnicraft

Clean lines, minimal ornamentation, and a focus on functionality are key characteristics of California Modern style. The aesthetic is uncluttered, with an emphasis on creating open and spacious interiors. The design philosophy revolves around simplicity, allowing each element to breathe and make an impact.

Organic Shapes

Ellipse Sofa and Oak Thin Coffee Table by Ethnicraft

Alongside clean lines, California Modern incorporates organic and curvaceous forms. Furniture pieces often feature sculptural shapes, embracing smooth and flowing contours. These soft curves create a sense of comfort and invite relaxation.

Casual Atmosphere

Neat Leather Lounge Chair, Esker Sofa, HiFive Magazine Rack and Turn table collection by Blu Dot

California Modern design exudes chill, seeking to create spaces that feel welcoming and comfortable, promoting a laid-back lifestyle. This style encourages a sense of ease and encourages the use of functional furniture arrangements that facilitate socializing and relaxation.

Integrating Art

Marching Bear by Bend Goods

Art is integral to a well-rounded California Modern design. Creative expression is a hallmark of California style, so this is an opportunity to let personality and taste shine through. Whether using wall art, sculpture or collections as a singular focal point or gallery showcase, the more personal the better.

Sustainable Design

Exclusive Hoist LED Wall Sconce by RBW, Lollygagger Lounge Chair by Loll Designs, Vela Planter by Ramon Esteve for Vondom, Heathered Shag Welcome Mat by Sandy Chilewich for Chilewich

Environmental consciousness is a fundamental aspect of California Modern style. The emphasis on natural materials, energy-efficient design and the integration of sustainable practices aligns with the eco-conscious mindset that is prevalent on the west coast. The goal is to create spaces that are not only visually stunning but also environmentally responsible.

Don’t Forget the Fun

You and Me Walnut Ping Pong Table by Antoni Palleja Office for RS Barcelona +
Arco Floor Lamp by Achille CastiglioniPier Giacomo Castiglioni for FLOS

The easygoing spirit of California can come into play quite literally with game tables as design elements, particularly those that moonlight as functional furniture. Flexibility and whimsy are combined, bringing a sunny sense of humor to interior and exterior spaces.

The Verdict

Achieving the California Modern style involves stepping beyond the boundaries to embrace indoor-outdoor living. Organic shapes and natural materials like wood, stone and concrete ground the look with a sense of warmth and authenticity. It’s all about creating a casual and relaxed atmosphere, integrating art and personality, and practicing sustainable design; nods to California’s vibrant lifestyle and design innovation.