Mid-Century Modern
October 12, 2023

Your Guide to Mid-Century Modern

Your Guide to Mid-Century Modern

Your Guide to Mid-Century Modern

Everything You Need to Know About Funky & Functional Style

You've probably heard the term mid-century modern quite a few times, but what is it really? Most assume the phrase describes anything built in the middle of the 20th century, but it is in fact an architectural style defined by a specific set of principles and influences. Let's unpack the history behind its origins and what has made this much-loved style so popular for decades.

The History of Mid-Century Modern Architecture 

The style and design we have come to know as mid-century modern architecture was shaped by forward-thinking architects and designers who came prior to the era. Frank Lloyd Wright stands out as the foremost influencer of the mid-century modern period. His architectural legacy left a profound mark on the characterized site-specific designs, thoughtful space flow, and strong commitment to the use of wood paneling.

 The postwar Case Study Houses program launched the building boom of, and arguably popular interest in, mid-century modern homes. The home design competition was to emphasize modern, affordable, and easily built homes to aid in housing shortages following World War II and the Depression. The creator of the Case Study, LA-based Arts & Architecture magazine Editor John Entenza, intended the competition to include a small number of well-known architects. Each would submit their prototypes and eight houses would be open to the public until they were occupied. The program was so successful that it ran from 1945-1966 and over 350,000 visitors toured the homes prior to their purchases. Many of the program's homes have since been demolished or remodeled out of the original architectural design, but twenty of the houses remain today. 

Defining Characteristics of Mid-Century Modern Architecture

  • Floor-to-ceiling windows
  • Wood and other natural textures
  • Open floorplans
  • Indoor-outdoor living
  • Seamless blend with nature
  • Clean lines
  • Functionality
  • Built-Ins

Notable Mid-Century Modern Homes

Elrod House by John Lautner

Palm Springs, California

Lautner's Elrod House achieved lasting fame when it appeared in the 1971 James Bond film, "Diamonds Are Forever." With its cave-like design but well-lit interiors due to strategically positioned skylights, it almost seems to belong to the realm of UFO aesthetics. 

Charles and Ray Eames's Eames House

Pacific Palisades, California

The impact of Charles and Ray Eames on our present-day comprehension of mid-century modern style, from their Herman Miller furniture to their work for IBM, is immeasurable. At the heart of their legacy lies the Pacific Palisades residence they conceived and constructed in 1949. Comprised of two elevated steel-and-glass constructions, both showcasing flat roofs, vibrant color accents, and a deliberate integration with the natural environment. 

Richard Neutra's Kaufmann House

Palm Springs, California

The Neutra residence is primarily recognized for its inclusion in the iconic Slim Aarons photograph titled "Poolside Gossip." The Kaufmann House, a split-level architectural gem by Richard Neutra, stands as one of his many noteworthy creations and is undeniably one of the most celebrated homes in Palm Springs. 

Ludwig Mies van der Rohe's Farnsworth House

Plano, Illinois

This home is constructed of steel and glass and seamlessly integrates with the natural surroundings. Even without the sunny weather of sunny Southern California, the home showcases the beauty of its design spectacularly. The Farnsworth House originally served as a country retreat for Edith Farnsworth, a doctor, violinist, and patron of architecture. The bedroom, office, dining area, and living room flow harmoniously, providing unobstructed vistas of the surrounding landscape. Floor-to-ceiling glass doors lead to a covered patio, extending the living space. The home is truly a work of art. 

Looking for a mid-century modern home of your own?

Check out these lovely DMV neighborhoods that feature the classic and beautiful mid-century modern designs we know and love. 

Mid-Century Modern Homes of the DMV

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