Mad for Mid-Century

All the cool kids are talking about Mid-Century Modern (MCM). It has become the coolest, the hippest and the most talked about. It’s totally a thing. Well, at this point, it has been a thing for the past few years. So be it. It comes up all the time when I am working with home buyers, so I thought a brief snapshot of MCM and why it finally gets the recognition it deserves as classic, quintessential American style was worth a few lines.

What’s the skinny? For years no one wanted anything to do with the low, linear roof lines, avocado green sofas, and the powder blue toilets had to go. The pink and tangerine sparkly Formica counter tops were the first thing to hit the dumpster. All that super cool Danish Modern design was kitsch. Yeah, well things have changed a bit. Starting in 2007, Mad Men’s Don and Betty Draper made MCM the hottest and hippest. Let’s roll with it.

Copyright 1950 – National Plan Service, Inc., courtesy Indiana Coal & Lumber Co. & RetroRenovation – Idealistic Ranch style Mid-Century Modern Home

Not only is the furniture and home decor of MCM now recognized as classic, but home buyers now appreciate the function and style of a Mid-Century home. These homes were designed with the needs of the average American family in mind. Not high style –  simple form and  function. Built at a time when the economy was flush, these homes were built with exceptional quality, character, and all the amenities that we still consider “modern.”

So, What is Mid-Century Modern?

This is not a scholarly or academic research piece. Just a quick down and dirty of what the MCM fuss is all about. Now recognized by scholars and museums worldwide as a significant design movement, MCM describes the design aesthetic, style, and components generally associated with the period between 1933-1965. These years were characterized by huge shifts in the American psyche. World War II, mass production, and the suburbanization of America among them.  New building materials were available and city residents were running for the newly laid out suburbs. Thanks to the Federal-Aid Highway Act of 1956, that move was increasingly more convenient. Americans also had cash to throw down.

New architectural styles emphasized large windows – bringing the outside in,  open floor plans, and the elimination of bulky support systems. This was but one vehicle in bringing modernism into America’s post-war culture.  Function was key; the residential design movement focused on creating livable, functional homes for the average American.


Mid-Century Modern Interior, bringing the outdoors in. Photo Credit: Wanken


MCM homes were designed to allow family life to unfold. The layout is generally open, with the bedrooms grouped at one end. A patio or outdoor area accessible from the main living space, with large windows or sliding glass doors to separate outdoor and indoor living while celebrating their union – a key component of the Mid-Century lifestyle. Overall, these homes were not large. The space was compact and manageable, but still open and seemingly spacious. Because the homes are generally on the smaller side, they are more cost efficient. They cost less to heat, cool, repair, and renovate. They also take less time and effort to keep CLEAN. Just saying.

Floor plan for a 1,625 square foot 1950’s Ranch style home. RetroRenovation calls this a near perfect floor plan with nearly every modern amenity, including two  bathrooms and a mudroom, making it comfortable for today’s living.


Time Capsule Homes:


Murray Steel Kitchen Cabinets. Steel kitchen cabinets are extremely durable and can still fit the contemporary aesthetic. Check out this couple’s Kitchen Re-Model using their St. Charles steel cabinets!

Because many MCM homes have had the same owner since they were built, you will find the occasional, completely original, time capsule home – offering a peek into a MCM lifestyle. Ten years ago, many of these homes would have been considered a gut job. Today, buyers appreciate the retro character and are restoring these homes. Thanks Don and Betty! These classic gems are just now hitting the 50 year mark, making them eligible to be listed on the National Register of Historic Places, allowing preservation efforts to take place. Not only are these homes starting to achieve some historic significance, they are just plain cool. I’ll say that again. JUST PLAIN COOL.  The organic lines, bright colors, and open living spaces are huge selling points for the informed  Mid-Century Modern buyer.

Here are some Time Capsule Homes for your viewing pleasure

Color & Decor:

“The colors in the mid-century were a reaction that went against what was there before,” says Brooke Schneider, owner of Source, Inc., a Long Beach-based design firm. “What was there before were very somber, subtler, quieter colors. Colors in the ’50s and ’60s became brighter and stronger — anti-establishment, but optimistic.”


New color fervor optimism showed up on the walls in striking shades, such as turquoise and flamingo, and abstract shapes in furnishings and accessories. The 1960s pushed color trends further, as acid green, blueberry, citron, and hot pink were the must haves for modern homeowners.

The post-and-beam architecture of MCM structures emphasizes windows and walls and the newly introduced open floor plans forced homeowners and designers to think in terms of complete home palettes that complement both the exterior and interior. Natural boundaries of color such as hallways, and millwork were far less important. As rooms flowed into one another, so too did color.


1948 Kohler Cerulean Blue Bathroom with Maroon accents – note the dental sink!  More Blue Bathrooms.

Kitchens & Bathrooms:

In MCM homes, the kitchens and baths  can be downright frightening when it to comes to restoring or updating. How can you update, yet keep the original Mid-Century appeal? RetroRenovation has many of the answers, illustrating how to keep your bathroom retro, but still make a selling point of your home. Not everyone loves a pink and red bathroom, but the nice  folks at RetroRenovation sure make it less nerve-racking.

Neighborhood & Location:

The single floor ranch style homes that are typical of the Mid-Century Modern style are also appropriate for aging in place. This allows the aging population of a neighborhood to stay in their homes longer. My parents dumped their Victorian era home and purchased a ranch when I was in high school. I know. Many of these homes have been owned by the same person or family since they were built, creating mature neighborhoods, stability, and longevity in the community. MCM homes were generally built in new developments just outside the cities. Ring suburbs, we now call them. Location, location, location! As populations shift back to urban centers, these neighborhoods are again appreciated because of their proximity to the cities, but with suburban culture and values. Take that any way you like.

This post could go on and on…and on and on. Especially if you are a MCM enthusiast. From mass production informing building materials and storage to new textiles, furniture and modern home accessories – but enough is enough for now.  Just appreciate these designs, typologies and aesthetics for what they are. Fabulous!

Click HERE for resources the help with choosing bathroom colors, vintage appliances, and more.

Mid-Century Modern Homes for sale in Chicago.

Mid-Century Modern Homes for sale in the US.

Do you own a Mid-Century Modern home? Click HERE for some resources to update, preserve, replace, or renovate your home.

Check out Zillow‘s blog about Mid-Century Modern and Bringing the Outdoors In.

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