Not long ago, you couldn’t give away a mid-century modern house, so reviled were they. No sane person would ever want one of these spare, plain, flattened houses, when they could fall in love with a pimped up Painted Lady or a down-to-earth Craftsman. It was far more virtuous to own the Victorian or Craftsman.
Something about the mid-century houses just didn’t feel right. Was it the era itself, which stretched from post WWII to late 1960s and even the early 1970s? Was it the people who inhabited those homes–brutish, impulsive, non-PC people who smoked cigarettes and consumed hard liquor and red meat?
Was it the construction itself? This era ushered in cheap, gimcrack building methods and materials: single-pane aluminum-framed windows, thin drywall, laminate counters.
Then, it happened: people got weepy and nostalgic. They fondly remembered these box houses as places where they grew up and played Barbie and Tinkertoys and G.I. Joes. Mad Men came along, further stoking dreams of ranch homes past.
Here are a few ideas you can use to give your mid-century modern house more of a retro feel.
1. Neutra House Numbers
Vienna-born architect Richard Neutra’s house designs practically define Southern California mid-century residential architecture. Why spend $3.7 million on a Neutra house when you can spend on the order of $25-$35 per piece for these brushed aluminum house numbers in Neutraface font? As it turns out, Neutra had nothing to do with this font: it was developed in 2002 (though is in the spirit of his design principles).
2. Retro Laminate Counters
Nothing says “mid-century” like a futuristically-patterned kitchen countertop. Boomerang and plenty of other retro laminate counter designs are found in WilsonArt’s Indie Collection. Starting in 1956, Texas-based WilsonArt lead the way in populating American kitchens and bathrooms with laminate surfacing. Founder Ralph Wilson’s house in Temple, TX, now a registered historic landmark, acted as a proving ground for many new WilsonArt laminates, including post-formed, rolled-edge counters (counters with laminate rolled over the edge instead of protected by a metal bumper).
3. The Ultra-Wide Brick Fireplace
Cadillac-wide brick fireplaces were found in practically every mid-century home. When mid-century fell into disfavor, many of the fireplaces came down. Homeowners found no need for fireplace-heating anymore. Plus, these sizable hulks wasted much floor space. You can veneer over your existing fireplace with brick to achieve these very horizontal lines (veneer is thinner than real brick).
4. Pendant Lights
Space Age pendant lighting graced many a ranch house or split level home in the 1950s and 1960s. A pendant called Rokot from Rejuvenation approximates the one shown in this vintage photo.
5. Swanky Exterior Door
Punch a few bold geometric shapes in your exterior door with these DoorLite inserts from Crestview. Specifically designed for the mid-century home, these kits include inserts, frames, sealant, screws, instructions–everything you need except a drill and jigsaw. These kits are not cheap, but they will be cheaper in the end than hunting down and installing vintage doors.
Update: Crestview Doors is out of business.
6. Privacy Screens / Dividers
Mid-century homes’ open floor plans made spaces feel nebulous, undefined…even unsettling. That’s why room dividers saw their heyday during this period. These easy-to-install, easy-to-remove screens visually “wall off” an entryway or kitchen, or define a living/family room. These dividers also come from Crestview Doors. An expanse six feet long and almost touching an 8-foot ceiling will run you around $700, including shipping and tax.