Isn’t it true what they say – what’s old is new again?
You have likely watched some of your favorite clothing styles over the years come right back around, which has left you regretting your decisions to ditch half of your “outdated” wardrobe.
The same is true for home design, both interior and exterior. And lately we have watched as a classic style has come back around to fill home-décor stores and dominate new-construction projects: Mid-Century Modern.
The style – typically low-slung rambling homes with flat or shed roofs, largely open floor plans, often high ceilings, lots of glass, and spare interiors – emphasized looking forward to the future, so it’s fulfilling its destiny as Gen Xers and Millennials seem to be increasingly enthralled with the style and embracing it as they build their own homes all these years later.
Top: This classic mid-century modern home was designed by Verne Lars Solberg, an architect in Illinois who was greatly influenced by Frank Lloyd Wright, in the mid-1960s. The organic materials, ground-hugging stance, and use of full-height glass are tell-tale signs of the style (courtesy of Curbed). Bottom: This 2-bedroom, 2-bath home with a 2-car garage in the rear out of view on the left side is reminiscent of the Solberg house (Plan #149-1873).
Why the Comeback?
The mid-century modern home construction comeback is not entirely surprising.
Let’s face it, even though the style is decades old, it still feels fresh and new, especially in the hands of today’s designers, who bring contemporary sensibility and technology to the style to “transition” it to today.
The popularity of these homes may have increased in part due to the nostalgia of the kids whose parents or grandparents grew up living in or admiring these modern marvels. With many of them building their own homes now, the stories and imparted memories of these properties from the past – and in some cases maybe even a backlash against a parent’s rejection of the style – is welcomed in their new construction projects.
Other trends in design have prompted the interest in the mid-century modern new construction projects. Retro television programs like Mad Men have made a huge impact on popular culture and increased interest in the function and the sleek design of mid-century modern buildings and décor. So it should come as no surprise that younger generations have embraced the vintage and retro feel of these well-designed homes.
And the openness and spare design of the interiors is indeed appealing. But perhaps more importantly, the style’s emphasis on blurring the line between indoors and outdoors, with its atriums, courtyards and patios connecting interior and exterior, and extensive use of glass, supports the growing interest in bringing the outdoors in and a desire to live in more environmentally conscious ways.
Based on a design style that is decades old, this 3-bedroom, 3.5-bath single-story home feels fresh and new all the same. It blends classic mid-century design elements with modern features not likely way back when, such as an expansive mudroom/laundry area, large master suite, 2 additional bedrooms with ensuite baths, and a 3-car attached garage (Plan #202-1022).
What Exactly Is It?
The mid-century modern home has its origins in the early-century work of Frank Lloyd Wright and other architects pushing the envelope of modern design. Beginning in the ‘30s and ‘40s, what we refer to as mid-century modern style flourished under such architects as Walter Gropius, Philip Johnson, Richard Neutra, and later A. Quincy Jones, Cliff May, Robert Anshen, Steve Allen, and others.
But the development and real popularity of the style came about – as most innovations have – as an answer to a need. World War II had ended, couples were growing their families, and those families needed places to live. With demand skyrocketing, and quickly, the intricate details that were once part of the home building process were no longer realistic for home builders.
Top: Philip Johnson's design, called the Glass House, is emblematic of earlier mid-century design, having been built in 1949, and with all the glass – and today's stricter building codes – probably couldn't be built today (courtesy of Boca Do Lobo). Bottom: Similar to Glass House, though in 2 stories, this 4-bedroom 2.5-bath home embraces Johnson's ideas in a buildable home plan for today's family (Plan #116-1121).
Developers – especially Joseph Eichler – saw this need to build homes for growing families as the baby boomers were coming into the world and came up with the solution building simple, yet sleek, mid-century modern homes. In fact, in the minds of some, the American mid-century home is synonymous with Eichler and are call Eichler homes. These homes boasted large rooms, open space, modern building materials like steel and metal, and a general aesthetic that at the time seemed futuristic and incredibly modern.
But mid-century modern was about so much more than some boxy, modular design to keep construction costs low and the work uncomplicated. The early mid-century modern trailblazers were about creating a home that felt like a work of art. And because families were moving outside of urban cores, they could have sprawling homes with floor to ceiling windows and feel as if they were living in the outdoors. This design was revolutionary and ahead of its time.
The materials most often found in mid-century modern homes complement their connections to the outdoors. Exposed beams, wood paneling, stone, expansive glass, and open courtyards are far from cookie cutter or industrial. They are built as part of the living experience that comes with this classic style of home making its well-deserved comeback.
Embracing the ideas that Eichler brought to home building and that designers before him brought to the world of architecture, this 2-bedroom, 2-bath home includes a "den away" concept that helps to mitigate the "exposure" some families feel in open-floor-plan homes (Plan #202-1011).
Mid-Century Modern Essentials
The transitional mid-century modern home – “transitional” because it often includes contemporary features like 3-car garage, extra storage space, “away” places to temper open floor plans while maintaining their flavor, large master suites, and mudrooms/laundry areas – can offer advantages to the homeowner looking to build the perfect new construction home.
1. The flat planes, most often the roof, make the design simple and may offer a simpler new construction project. The simplicity can often keep construction costs lower while appearing rich and sleek as a final product.
Flat planes and boxy shapes, as in this 3-bedroom, 3.5-bath home, are typical of mid-century modern style, but the design elements also help to keep construction costs under contrtol (Plan #100-1278).
2. Large windows, especially floor to ceiling, can make smaller spaces feel larger, which allows homeowners to keep square footage to a minimum. These windows bring in a significant amount of light, often making daytime electricity optional.
3. The mid-century modern home was ahead of its time with its sprawling open floor plan when most homes just prior to its introduction included smaller rooms and choppy floor plans. Those considering building a mid-century modern home today reject the idea of lots of small rooms with specific purposes, and these open floor plans will align with the preferences of today’s homeowner when it comes time to sell.
Lots of windows (top); expansive, light-filled interiors (center); and a sprawling open floor plan (bottom) are hallmarks of mid-century modern reflected in this 5-bedroom, 3.5-bath, 1.5-story home. The terrace/patio at left in the floor plan embraces all of the living areas, and that, along with the glass sliders and panes, creates the connection betwen inside and out – another classic sign of the architectural style (Plan #202-1021).
4. Changes in elevation throughout the home offer both function and an interesting design aesthetic. This traditionally mid-century design element allows for partial walls or cabinets of varying heights, which can create depth and interest while not sacrificing space or openness. Just a few steps down in one room, such as an office just off a living room, can create the feeling of a new space without chopping up a floor plan or building a wall that may create the feeling of a smaller space.
5. Aside from a love for design and function, mid-century modern home builders are most often interested in merely complementing their surrounding property. These homes are perfect for those who have a beautiful piece of property that they don’t want a home to overpower or those who want to enjoy the beautiful view from, in, and/or around their lot. Because these homes typically have large windows and feel like they are part of the landscape, they are best on larger lots without many obstructions or other homes nearby. They are far from being the home that hides its interior.
Top: For a view lot, this mid-century modern home in Massachusetts is perfect for providing picturesque vistas out the back (courtesy of Hammer Architects). Bottom: This Great Room in a California mid-century style home shows off the classic use of natural materials and the blending of inside and outside with movable "walls of glass" (courtesy of JWT Associates).
Is Mid-Century for You?
Mid-century modern design is far from a thing of the past. To begin with, it was ahead of its time in design when it was born out of a need for function and efficiency. For those thinking of building one of these classic homes, they must think about the kind of life they want to live in their new home.
If functional yet simple, clean lines are the most important elements, this style home may be the perfect choice. And for those who value light, openness, and a feeling of being outdoors, it doesn’t get much better than the light-filled and airy mid-century modern floor plan.