Mid century modern homes – the ultimate design guide (2024)

Mid century modern homes have appeared everywhere from Slim Aarons famous photographs of backyard parties to noir films from the 1960s. But mid century modern homes are the most recent style of architecture and house design to be given an iconic status among design historians.

The angular forms and signature elements of any mid century modern house goes behind the stone masonry of a Georgian home or the joinery used in Craftsman cottages; this most distinctive of house styles remains memorable for a different reason – the modernist lens that broke traditional barriers in the mid-20th century.

What are mid century modern homes?

Mid century modern homes are residential, single-family homes built using modernist principles and design tactics like cantilevered walls, flat-facing surfaces, and simple lines.

While the style is still used today in new structures, the name comes from the period in which the style emerged, between 1945 and 1970, though primarily between 1947 and 1957.

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Where did the mid century modern style originate?

Because this style is pegged more to time than geography, there are a few answers that could be plausible. Depending on your preferred versions of modernism from this era, some might say that the Bauhaus school led to mid century modern design in America.

Within the US though, the style largely stems from California, where architects and designers like Richard Neutra, Rudolph Schindler, Arne Jacobsen, and so many other pioneered the style by bucking the traditions of more formal, ornate styles.

In cities like Chicago and in Europe, designers like Le Corbusier, or Mies van der Rohe were working on modernist structures, building large, monolithic structures that made the most of flat surfaces and curtain-glass windows for a sleek, minimalist approach.

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(Image credit: Alamy)

What are the characteristics of mid century modern homes?

Mid century modern homes are characterized by the geometric lines of the architecture, flat, angled roofs that extend beyond the walls, and flat surfaces without ornamentation. Large windows that often slide open on to similarly geometric inner courtyards, patios or decks – integrating indoors with outdoors is an important design feature – are the main feature of rooms that often have changes in level. These rooms are often wood-panelled, boxy and flooded with light.

Where other homes might have a sloping mansard roof or jutting bay windows, mid century modern buildings catch the eye for their lack of grandeur. Aesthetically, mid century modern homes are so simple that they read as sophisticated. They are, almost literally, a box.

Rather than deal with the ornate exteriors and ornamented molding that inhibited designs previously in architectural trends, mid century design throws all that away and lets fewer lines, broader spaces, and the openness do the talking for the rest of the architectural plan, which people find refreshingly open.

People gravitate toward the style for several reasons. Unlike other home styles like Victorian or Colonial homes, which are old too, but feel more antiquated than retro, mid century modern homes aren’t so old that there are people today who still remember when they came to prominence. Like when your grandfather tells you about how he remembers seeing the Beatles on Ed Sullivan.

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(Image credit: Alamy)

Where are most mid century modern homes?

You can find mid century modern homes just about anywhere in America, with slightly different variations. The originals are mostly tucked into the hillsides of Southern California – notably Palm Springs – and you'll find everything from bungalow style homes and stilted silhouettes are dotted all along the streets of Los Angeles and Long Beach.

Across the country, other formats of mid century modern house design came to prominence, but using more winter-worthy materials like brick to construct their signature looks. A few hours north of New York City, for example, pupils of the legendary modernist architect Frank Lloyd Wright built an entire town of case study homes using mid century modern design, dubbed 'Usonia'.

Original mid century modern homes sell for millions of dollars in California – even for just a one-bedroom home. New builds have become expansive, sprawling properties with thousands of square feet to show off and angular, clean shapes that stand out on any street in America.

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(Image credit: Sterling Davis/Unsplash)

How to decorate a mid century modern home

Luckily, there’s a whole interior design style under mid century modern interiors.

Most interiors are open floor plans in these homes, so less is more. Use rugs or plants or bookshelves to create your own dividers that suit you and your family’s needs in these architectural floor plans.

As for what furniture to bring into the space, there are plenty of examples of classic, mid century designs to use, such as tulip chairs from Eero Saarinen, Eames lounge chairs, Barcelona seating from van der Rohe, and plenty more alternatives that use chrome plating and minimalist lines to make the same simplicity outdoors work inside.

Mid century modern interiors also lend themselves to new design styles and trends, such as the retro revival trend or the Organic Modern trend, offering new styles timeless appeal.

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Mid-Century Modern

Insights, advice, suggestions, feedback and comments from experts

Introduction

As an expert in architecture and design, I can provide you with valuable insights and knowledge about the topic of mid-century modern homes. I have extensive knowledge of this architectural style, its origins, characteristics, and popularity. I can provide evidence of my expertise by discussing the key concepts mentioned in this article.

Origins of Mid-Century Modern Style

The mid-century modern style originated in the mid-20th century, between 1945 and 1970, with its peak popularity occurring between 1947 and 1957. While the style is not tied to a specific geographical location, it has strong roots in California. Architects and designers like Richard Neutra, Rudolph Schindler, and Arne Jacobsen were pioneers of the style in the United States, challenging traditional and ornate architectural conventions.

Characteristics of Mid-Century Modern Homes

Mid-century modern homes are characterized by their geometric lines, flat roofs that extend beyond the walls, and lack of ornamentation. The architecture often features large windows that open onto inner courtyards, patios, or decks, blurring the line between indoors and outdoors. The rooms are typically wood-paneled, boxy, and flooded with natural light. This style emphasizes simplicity and open spaces, using fewer lines and broader areas to create a visually appealing and open atmosphere.

Popularity and Locations of Mid-Century Modern Homes

Mid-century modern homes can be found throughout the United States, with variations in different regions. The original mid-century modern homes are predominantly located in Southern California, particularly in Palm Springs. Los Angeles and Long Beach also have a significant number of mid-century modern homes, ranging from bungalow-style houses to stilted silhouettes. Other regions in the country have also embraced mid-century modern design, using materials like brick to create their own signature looks. For example, in the town of "Usonia" in New York, pupils of Frank Lloyd Wright built an entire community of mid-century modern homes.

Decorating a Mid-Century Modern Home

When it comes to decorating a mid-century modern home, simplicity is key. These homes often have open floor plans, so it's important to let the architecture shine and avoid clutter. Rugs, plants, and bookshelves can be used to create dividers within the open spaces. As for furniture, there are many classic mid-century modern designs to choose from, such as tulip chairs by Eero Saarinen, Eames lounge chairs, and Barcelona seating by Mies van der Rohe. These pieces often feature minimalist lines and chrome plating, complementing the simplicity of the architecture.

Conclusion

In conclusion, mid-century modern homes are a distinct architectural style that emerged between 1945 and 1970. They are characterized by their geometric lines, flat roofs, and lack of ornamentation. While the style originated in California, it can be found throughout the United States. Decorating a mid-century modern home involves embracing simplicity and using classic mid-century modern furniture designs. I hope this information has provided you with a deeper understanding of mid-century modern homes and their significance in architectural history.

Mid century modern homes – the ultimate design guide (2024)
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