5 Tips for Taking Care of Your Mid Century Modern Furniture

As I’m writing this, I’m also packing for a trip to Japan that we’ll be going on in a few days. On top of packing, I also have to take all of the necessary precautions to ensure that our furniture will still be looking good when we come back! I’ve made a lot of mistakes in the past, but I’ve also learned a few tricks and tips along the way that have worked for me, so I thought I’d share them with you all. Without further ado, let’s jump into it!

1. Know your materials

I think the most important thing that someone can do to take care of their furniture is to know what it’s really made of. I would highly suggest that before you start to buy that danish oil or leather conditioner you’ve been eyeing, that you take the time to sit down and research the various kinds of wood, leather, or metals that your furniture is comprised of and the proper way to care for these materials to ensure that they age beautifully. Take note - as with most things from the Mid Century era, since Mid Century Modern furniture is made with quality materials, the key is “less is more”.

Living room of Jessica de RuiterLiving room of Jessica de Ruiter showcasing many different types of materials. Image via One Kings Lane

2. Dust til dawn

No matter what your furniture is made up of, it will collect dust. One of the most overlooked but best ways to keep your furniture looking beautiful and maintaining its luster is... dusting!

What is dust? Dust is a culmination of many different things, but it’s mostly comprised of the various materials found in your local environment such as dirt, bacteria, pollen, molds, animal dander, hair, fibers, dryer lint, dust mites, and (most of all) our very own skin flakes that we shed.

Not only does removing dust from your home protect you, but it also protects your furniture! A buildup of dust can eventually cause damage through unwanted residue and clogged surfaces. I recommend dusting your furniture every few days and at the very least, once a week. You’ll be surprised just how much dust can gather in one week. By dusting your furniture every so often, you’ll save yourself the headache of having costly repairs down the line!

DustImage via The Odyssey Online

3. Treat your wood

There are so many different types of woods that it would take an entirely separate article just to explain them (which I’m hoping to write in the near future). For now, I’ll start with some of the basics. The most common types of wood you’ll see in Mid Century Modern furniture are solid wood, plywood, or veneer. Solid wood is exactly what is sounds like, it’s the solid unprocessed lumber cut straight from the tree. Plywood is a bit different, it’s multiple sheets of thinly sliced wood that have been pressed and glued together. Lastly, veneer is somewhat similar to plywood except for that it is only one sheet of a higher quality wood that is glued over a lesser quality wood or MDF. The only wood that I suggest you actually treat with oil or wax is solid wood that has a natural finish. A natural finish is something like tung oil that penetrates the pores of the wood and cures over time, but still allows for maintenance through the open pores. (See Nakashima Foundation guide to solid wood maintenance) With plywood or veneer it’s most likely already finished with some form of sealant which goes over the pores of the wood, preventing anything from penetrating. This means that any oil, wax, or soap you put on this finish will just sit on the surface and gather dust. And by now we all know what dust can do!

Rule of thumb: If you’re not sure, just occasionally wipe down the surface with a damp cloth.

George Nakashima Frenchman's Cove Table

A solid wood dining table made by master craftsman, George Nakashima. This particular table is made of solid cherry wood and is from his Frenchman Cove series. (Image via Case Antiques)

Plywood: Material of the Modern WorldPlywood chairs - as seen at Plywood: Material of the Modern World at the V&A Museum in London. (Image via Unknown)

Hans Wegner Heart Chairs and FH4602 Dining Table in Teak Veneer

Hans Wegner Heart Chairs and FH4602 Dining Table made of Teak veneer. (Image via Modest Furniture)

4. Don’t condition your leather

Contrary to popular belief, I would highly suggest that you don’t use any conditioner on your leather. Leather used during the Mid Century era was usually high quality full grain or top grain leather that was meant to age and patina over time. The natural oils on your body act as a conditioner and will actually make the leather softer and more supple over time. Leather conditioner will only darken the leather in an unnatural way and wipe away any of the patina that has built up over time. If you’re really set on conditioning your leather, I would highly suggest to bring it to an expert!

Borge Mogensen Hunting Chair Brand New

A newer production of the Hunting Chair by Borge Mogensen with brand new saddle leather. (Image via TwentyTwentyOne)

Vintage Borge Mogensen Hunting ChairVintage Borge Mogensen Hunting Chair that has aged gracefully with 50 years of patina on the leather. (Image via 1stDibs)

5. Keep away from direct sunlight

This one is the most simple tip, but can do wonders for the longevity of your Mid Century Modern furniture. Direct sunlight is a silent killer, you won’t notice that it has done irreversible damage until it’s too late. There won’t really be any noticeable changes after a couple of weeks in front of direct sunlight, but after years of sitting in the same spot, you’ll start to see that the wood on your chairs or tables almost look as though they’ve been bleached. Unfortunately, sun damage is one of the few things that is pretty much irreversible. That’s why I suggest you keep woods and leathers away from direct heavy sunlight. Try to find a nice spot with some filtered or indirect sunlight.

Sun Damaged Leather

Leather chair with sun damage on the left side. (Image via Durable)

Table with sun damage

Table with sun damage. (Image via MacWoods)

Mid Century Modern Living RoomA great example of a light filled room with furniture arranged in a way to avoid sunlight damage. (Image via Home Designing)

Thanks for reading! Hopefully these tips will help you keep your 50 year old furniture looking beautiful for another 50 years!



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