How To Spot a Mid-Century Modern

We’ve used the term “mid-century modern” several times in our newsletter recently. What do we mean by that, exactly? We’ve talked about twentieth century houses like the Craftsman bungalow and the ranch as being “modern”. So, what’s the difference?

Where did mid-century modern come from?

At the beginning of the 20th century architects both here and in Europe moved away from designs based on historical styles, and developed new ways of building. Though there were a few others, Frank Lloyd Wright is the most famous of the Americans who did this. 

In Europe the movement was larger and crystalized in the Bauhaus, a college in Germany training architects and industrial designers in a new, history-free aesthetic reflecting the machine age. Their ideas were not well-known in this country until many Bauhaus faculty and other progressive designers fled the Nazis, bringing their ideas to the US with them. 

After surviving the depression and World War II, Americans were ready for something new. And we also needed millions of new housing units to meet nearly 20 years of pent-up demand. Mid-century modern, with its roots in Bauhaus design, burst forth, lasting from the late 1940s through the early 1970s.

What does it look like?

Though there are exceptions to every rule, mid-century modern generally looks like this:

  • Long and low. These houses tended to spread out and hug the ground. Roofs were sometimes flat and sometimes gently sloped, but never steep. Eaves were wide and provided shade.
  • Open. Open floor plans and high ceilings were the rule in living areas. Roof beams were often left exposed.
  • Glassy. Big windows and lots of them, especially in living areas.
  • Outdoorsy. Outdoor living was considered important, so decks and patios were usually part of the plan.
  • Simple. Even large expensive examples are simply detailed. Quiet lines, smooth walls, and an absence of applied ornament. 

Where is it found? 

Mid-century modern is a suburban style. Like ranches (which in some cases overlap into mid-century modernism) these houses were built in new suburbs as American cities and towns were rapidly spreading outward. In Nashville, mid-century modern can be found in the suburbs of the 50s and 60s – Green Hills, Forest Hills, West Meade, Hillwood, Bordeaux, and College Hill among others.

Want to know more?

In recent years a lot has been written about mid-century modern. If you’d like to know more, some of our favorite on-line resources are listed below. Or just give us a call. We love this stye and would enjoy talking with you about it.