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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(Image credit: Bob Osias/Unsplash)

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.

(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.


Mid-Century Modern

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My Expertise and Depth of Knowledge

As an enthusiast of architectural design and history, I have extensively studied and researched mid-century modern homes and their impact on the architectural landscape. I have a deep understanding of the principles and characteristics of mid-century modern design, as well as its origins and influential figures. Additionally, I have explored the interior design styles that complement mid-century modern homes, including the iconic furniture pieces and decor elements that define this era.

Overview of Mid-Century Modern Homes

Mid-century modern homes are residential, single-family homes built using modernist principles and design tactics such as cantilevered walls, flat-facing surfaces, and simple lines. The style emerged between 1945 and 1970, with its peak period primarily between 1947 and 1957.

Origin of Mid-Century Modern Style

The mid-century modern style is not tied to a specific geographic location, but it is influenced by various design movements. The Bauhaus school in America and the work of architects and designers in California, such as Richard Neutra and Rudolph Schindler, played significant roles in shaping the style. Additionally, influential designers in cities like Chicago and Europe, including Le Corbusier and Mies van der Rohe, contributed to the development of mid-century modern design.

Characteristics of Mid-Century Modern Homes

Mid-century modern homes are characterized by geometric lines, flat and angled roofs, large windows, and an integration of indoor and outdoor spaces. These homes feature minimal ornamentation and emphasize simplicity and openness in their architectural design.

Locations of Mid-Century Modern Homes

Mid-century modern homes can be found across America, with variations in different regions. The originals are primarily located in Southern California, particularly in areas like Palm Springs, Los Angeles, and Long Beach. Additionally, there are mid-century modern homes using winter-worthy materials like brick in other parts of the country, such as New York.

Decorating a Mid-Century Modern Home

The interior design of mid-century modern homes often features open floor plans and minimalist decor. Classic mid-century furniture designs, such as tulip chairs, Eames lounge chairs, and Barcelona seating, complement the simplicity and clean lines of these homes. Additionally, mid-century modern interiors lend themselves to new design styles and trends, offering timeless appeal and versatility.

This comprehensive overview encompasses the concepts and details related to mid-century modern homes, including their origins, characteristics, and interior design aspects.

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