The Essence of Mid-century Modern Architecture

 

This entry way shows several elements of Mid-century Modern design: clean lines, high windows for extra light and organic elements such as brick and rock.
This entry way shows several elements of Mid-century Modern design: clean lines, high windows for extra light and organic elements such as brick and rock.

California in the post-World War II years was brimming with optimism and opportunity. Enter Mid-century Modern architecture!

After a generation struggled from an economic depression and war, suddenly there was a relief and exuberance in the air. Folks from across the country began streaming into California in search of jobs, so houses and apartments started popping up in record numbers to accommodate the influx. For decades, California was known for some incredible examples of architecture. In this generation, people were ready for something new and modern.

 

This house front shows how the carport became a distinct feature during the mid-century era.
This house front shows how the carport became a distinct feature during the mid-century era.

Now attached to everything from architecture to design to furniture, Mid-century Modern architecture is probably as popular today as it was during its initial heyday. Though popular in this country from about the mid-1940s through to the 1960s, the movement’s roots actually start earlier in Europe. Modernism as we know it in America mixes elements of the International and Bauhaus movements, which rose in popularity in the 1920s and 1930s. These movements experimented with clean lines, light and technological advances. It seems so commonplace today but at the time it was a radical ideology.

 

Once it hit American shores, Modernism was a little less formal than its European counterparts. Frank Lloyd Wright, Mies van der Rohe, Richard Neutra and Richard Schindler are among the architects often credited with bringing the Modern aesthetic to this country. The movement quickly went mainstream and was made available to middleclass families at affordable prices. Here in California, for instance, there were even pockets of Mid-century Modern subdivisions by developers such as Joseph Eichler and Cliff May. These houses are still highly sought after even today. I’ve been lucky enough to step foot into both Eichlers and Mays and both types of homes were very cool. Expanding the mid-century aesthetic even further, the Modern has an American cousin in the form of the California Ranch House. Both architectural styles were enormously popular as suburbs were built as quickly as developers could complete them.

 

Mid-century houses popularized the concept of open. They utilized large windows and sliding glass doors, which allowed natural light to flood into the house and make the walls between indoors and outdoors “disappear.” Windows are so important that you’ll often see them near the roofline to allow in an extra stream of light. This blending of indoor-outdoor living was an ideal feature for the warm, sunny California weather. Floor plans also became more open, making the rooms lighter and giving them flow.

 

Structures of Midcentury homes are combination of glass, steel and wood. Rock is also common, but those elements are the main three and create a balance of organic and industrial. If any of those elements overpowers the others, it can affect the unique Mid-century feel.

 

Architects and developers of this era correctly gauged that cars were increasingly a more important part of the American culture. Garages were already standard with houses, but by the middle of the twentieth century they were becoming a more dominant feature. No longer relegated to the back of the house, many Modern homes featured garages or their open-air cousins, the carports, right up front.

 

This Mid-century house looks like it's been freshened up a little but it still has the hallmarks of the design: clean lines, natural elements and large windows that blurs the lines between inside and outside.
This Mid-century house looks like it’s been freshened up a little but it still has the hallmarks of the design: clean lines, natural elements and large windows that blurs the lines between inside and outside.

Mid-century Modern architecture’s sleek design still appeals to many home buyers today. In fact, it’s experiencing a resurgence with those who want vintage or vintage-inspired clean lines, natural light and open floor plans. Looking back at the impact Mid-century Modern architecture had on its time and the influence it still holds today, it’s clear that this was a major movement in American housing.

 

Here are a few hallmarks of Mid-century Modern:

 

  • Large windows and sliding glass doors for lots of light.
  • Post and beam construction.
  • Indoor-outdoor living.
  • Flat or gently sloping roof lines.
  • Balanced combination of glass, steel and wood.
  • Split levels of various degrees. Many houses have steps down or up into other living spaces.
  • Open and flowing floor plans.
  • Garages or carports.

4 thoughts on “The Essence of Mid-century Modern Architecture”

  1. Every time I see houses like this it screams “California Dream”. It’s a pleasant ghost from Southern California’s past. Thanks for reminding us of the state’s heritage- some one needs to!

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