Mid-Century Modern Style

By Scott Sidler October 2, 2017

There’s a new kid on the historic block and his name is Mid-Century Modern or Mid-Mod. The youngest of the historic styles of architecture I’ve written about Mid-Century Modern architecture was absolutely on fire during the 1950s and 1960s.

Pulling from the space race and all the amazing new conveniences available, America was ready for something fresh and different. New was the fad and the Mid-Century Modern style did things with design that had never been done before. Sharp geometric angles, bright colors, space age technology right in the home, clean modern lines, this style broke all the rules and wrote some of its own.

What is Mid-Century Modern?

Today, the terms “retro” or “vintage” seem to go hand in hand with Mid-Mod. The Mid-Century Modern style was marked by a few very specific characteristics not found in any other style of architecture.

Minimalism

mid-century modern interior
Source: //www.houzz.com/photo/14229497-mid-century-modern-renovation-and-addition-midcentury-bedroom-san-francisco

The ornamentation of previous styles was stripped away and the architecture was left with only the bare necessities. Sleek, clean lines with none of the ginger-breading of the Queen Anne Style (which is the most diametrically opposite style to this).

The minimalistic design expresses itself in every facet of the Mid-Mod home. Clean, plain front cabinets, simple birch slab doors, flat roof lines rather than gables, and even simple trim elements like baseboards and casings were flattened and simplified.

Geometric Design

mid-century modern home exterior geometric architecture
Wexler/Alexander Home
Source: Barbara Marshall via Los Angeles Times

Geometry was king in Mid-Century Modern design! Circular windows, angled intersecting roofs, stars, trapezoids, parallelograms all over the place.

In previous architecture, squares, rectangles, and triangles were used out of efficiency of design and strength of structure, but Mid-Mod took these basic elements of design and brought them from the hidden depths of the structure into the desired design elements homeowners wanted. They weren’t simply a part of the house anymore they were a featured item.

Non-Traditional Materials

mid-century modern kitchen interior terrazzo flooring
Source: //www.houzz.com/photo/3054008-park-st-contemporary-kitchen-melbourne

As new materials became available everyone rushed to find ways to incorporate them into their modern new homes. Materials like formica, masonite, plastic, aluminum (whose price had come down massively), and vinyl were snapped up and installed everywhere.

Aluminum in particular was the new space-age material that promised no rust and long-life. It had a shiny appearance which compared to the aged bronze that was on most previous homes felt clean, fresh, and new. Just the thing for a Mid-Century Modern home!

Concrete is another material that while previously used for structural components had now come into the design realm as architects and designers began using decorative concrete elements in their design. Whether it was pre-cast pieces or custom designs, concrete was a very popular material in Mid-Mod structures.

Terrazzo floors were huge for Mid-Century homes too. Polished to a glass like appearance these floors were virtually bulletproof and could withstand any traffic or abuse the owners could dish out. Except of course, when you install carpet tack strip around the perimeter. Sadly I’ve seen so many terrazzo floors destroyed around the edges by carpet installers once the terrazzo fell out of favor in later years.

Traditional building materials like wood, steel, and glass were still used extensively in Mid-Mod design but they were used is new modern ways. Gone were the dark stained woodwork of the American Craftsman or the stained glass of the Folk Victorian. Now it was light and airy natural birch and expansive walls of clear glass which was able to be manufactured larger than before.

Fresh Colors

Mid-Century Color SchemeEvery architectural style comes with its own color palette and Mid-Mod was no different. The dark brooding colors of the Craftsman were out and brighter pastels were in. But it wasn’t just pastels, it was bold colors with bold names that were now in vogue.

The colors paired well with the brushed aluminum and light wood finishes that had become popular. They were a rebellion, like most new styles, against the colors of the previous styles.

You can find help with choosing a color palette for your historic home no matter what the age or style on my free resource page Historic Paint Colors.

Mid-Mod ALL the Way

Mid-Mod is right on the historical cusp. The building techniques are so varied and the style so unique that it’s almost difficult to describe how and why things were done. As a contractor I find that these homes swing widely in how they were built due to the vast array of new building materials available after WWII and the willingness of builders and homeowners to experiment.

Some are built like fortresses and some like traditional stick-built homes, but however they were built they were built in a futuristic time when the sky was no longer the limit and the old rules no longer applied.

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