House Style- Mid Century Modern

By the end of World War II, America was primed for change. Soldiers were returning home to a country that was eager to put the past behind it and move boldly into a newly imagined future. This optimism created both a baby boom and a housing boom, as expanding families migrated into new “sub-urban” settlements. Emerging technologies created opportunities for innovation in building.

Newly invented “post and beam” construction removed the need for bulky walls, allowing for broad interior spaces and vast expanses of glass along the exterior. Wartime scarcity of steel and other traditional building materials spurred on the development of new alternatives, such as fiberglass, plastics, and industrial textiles. International influences also came to bear, as architects and designers fleeing Nazi Germany, such as Mies van der Rohe and Walter Gropieus, brought modern ideas from the Bauhaus that reimagined traditional tenets of architecture and design. From the convergence of these factors emerged the house-style referred to as “mid-century modern.”

The mid-century modern house embodied the ideological and technological aspirations of its time. Forward-thinking, innovative, accessible to the working man, efficient, affordable, the mid-century modern house signaled the arrival of a new America, poised to take its place as a leader in the world. Formally, the mid-century modern movement spans from the 1940’s to the early 1970’s, but stylistically, this popular design movement has continued to enjoy revivals well into the present day.


Fans of Mad Men are already familiar with the iconic style of the mid-century modern aesthetic. Clean lines, sleek curves, open floor plans, modern materials-these are all hallmarks of the mid-century modern style. Windows are a predominant feature of this style, and are often used in place of traditional exterior walls. This blurs the division of inside spaces and outdoor spaces, and makes this style particularly popular in the temperate climates of California and Florida.

From the exterior, the post and beam construction of the mid-century house creates a structural system that is visible and is often valued as a part of the overall aesthetic. Multiple rooflines are also a dominant feature of the house, creating an asymmetry that suggests that the house has not only function, but also a sculptural form. These flat, or slightly sloped, rooflines also allow the house to blend organically into the surrounding landscape. This marriage of nature and industry is a vital component of the style, and is reflected in the use of understated materials and colors.

The Mid-century Modern might be perfect for you if:

  • you like open spaces: HGTV might call it “open plan.” Mid-century modern (MCM) houses are known for their unencumbered living spaces. Rooms blend effortlessly, one into another, without walls or doorways to break-up the flow.
  • you want windows: Windows and light are a major feature of this house-style. But lest you think this means you’ll be sacrificing privacy, mid-century architects took extra care to ensure that the orientation of windowed walls was generally away from public spaces and streets, making these homes “bathrobe optional.”
  • you want to embrace a full-design approach: Because the mid-century modern movement encompasses all aspects of architecture and design, from architectural plans to furniture design to light fixtures, many MCM house dwellers enjoy decorating their homes in the “floor to rafters” mid-century style. For the design aficionado or MCM collector, finding the perfect mid-century modern house can be a dream come true. Martinis optional.

This might not be your dream home if:

  • you like to control the temperature: Sure, the windows of an MCM house provide abundant light, but they also can make it difficult to regulate the thermal properties of the house. Summer sun can make a mid-century house uncomfortably warm, while in the winter those walls of windows (many of them not updated to today’s ratings) can be darn-right drafty. Be prepared to grapple with a fluctuating environment, as well as the energy bill that comes with it.
  • you don’t want to stay on top of the roof: Not literally, but the flat roof design that gives the house it’s organic feel can be problematic, particularly in areas where snow or excessive rain are an issue. In such climates, living in a mid-century modern house means you’re prepared to keep an eye out for leaky roofs, and that you’re willing (and able) to allocate the resources needed to fix them.
  • you crave a traditional house: Let’s face it, we’re not all modern. Some people prefer a more traditional house, replete with cozy spaces and private rooms. It’s okay. If your dream house requires separate spaces for dining, cooking, and sitting, keep looking. The mid-century modern style might not be for you.

(Stay tuned for our next House Styles article: New Construction)