Adding More of a Good Thing to a Midcentury Modern Home

Here’s how to add space and still keep the spirit of a vintage home

 

Colin Flavin | Houzz Contributor

 

I love how midcentury homes often fit beautifully into their neighborhoods. Many are only a single story, with low-pitch roofs and subdued color palettes. The homes also tend to be small and are often in need of enlarging to accommodate contemporary households. Fortunately, designers have come a long way from the 1970s and ‘80s, when midcentury was out of fashion and additions often disregarded the original house design.

 

What is the best approach to making an addition to a midcentury home, while keeping the spirit of the original home intact? Should the addition harmonize or contrast with the existing home? Should the addition be placed out of sight from the street or be a new focal point? There is no right answer; it depends on the character of the original house and your own design personality. From the Pacific Northwest to Cape Cod, here are some creative approaches to adding on to a midcentury home.

 

add space and still keep the spirit of a vintage home

Mid-Century Modern Addition, Truro, MA by Hammer Architects

 

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Diamond in the Rough: Albert Frey’s Desert Masterpiece

Walk with us through the architect’s iconic Palm Springs home — boulder and all — and find out how it came to be

 

Colin Flavin | Houzz Contributor

 

I went to Palm Springs in February expecting to enjoy the exuberant midcentury homes on display for Modernism Week. What really caught my eye was something very different: a modest house perched on a rocky slope on the outskirts of town, designed by architect Albert Frey.

 

Albert Frey's Desert Masterpiece

A giant boulder original to the site separates the home’s living and dining areas from the bedroom. Photo from Dan Chavkin

 

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Deck Houses: Midcentury Modern, East Coast Style

These ‘East Coast Eichlers’ were midcentury modern homes for the masses and inspired other architects

 

Colin Flavin | Houzz Contributor

 

The Deck House Co. achieved tremendous success, building over 20,000 classic midcentury modern houses — primarily in Massachusetts and North Carolina — from its founding in 1959 to its merger with Acorn Structures in 2005. Not only were they made in great quantity, but they also were so widely copied that the term “Deck house” has become as synonymous with midcentury design in New England as “Eichler house” has become in California. Now, with the ongoing revival of interest in midcentury design, Deck houses are once again in high demand, and their high-quality construction is standing the test of time.

 

Deck Houses: Midcentury Modern, East Coast Style

Midcentury Exterior, Bridgeport. Image by Luke Wayne Photography

 

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Revive the Spirit of Midcentury Modern Design in a New Home

You can weave details from the era into a home built today

 

Colin Flavin | Houzz Contributor

 

America’s love affair with midcentury modern design continues unabated. Today’s architects have helped foster the love affair by renovating homes from that era to fit today’s lifestyles. Midcentury modern homes feature great design moves that can be applied in other homes today: celebrating the home’s structure, transitioning seamlessly between indoors and outdoors, and embracing an open-plan layout for informal living in a compact space. Midcentury modern homes were designed with a relaxed aesthetic, which was a welcome departure from the stricter styles of earlier modern homes. Here’s how to bring some of that midcentury modern magic into your new-house design.

 

Revive the Spirit of Midcentury Modern Design in a New Home

Lexington Modern by Hickox Williams Architects

 

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Smaller and Smarter: An Architect’s Resolutions

This architect and midcentury fan plans to get out of his comfort zone in the new year

 

Colin Flavin | Houzz Contributor

 

I’ve been focusing on midcentury architecture in my articles for Houzz — a fun topic for sure — and the more I write about it, the more fascinating it becomes. But it’s a brand-new year, and it’s time to move on. I’ll be putting an exclamation point on this topic when I write from Modernism Week in Palm Springs, California, in February.

 

I’m ready for a fresh start in 2017, both in my writing and in my architectural practice. Here are three new topics to get me outside my comfort zone of home design. If I’m lucky, I’ll not only write about these things this year, but I’ll also get them built.

 

Smaller and Smarter

South Durras House, Sydney by Fearns Studio. Photo by Tom Ferguson

 

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How to Improve the Comfort of Your Midcentury Modern Home

You can maintain the era’s signature style in your home while improving its thermal performance

 

Colin Flavin | Houzz Contributor

 

One of the main reasons midcentury modern homes fell out of fashion in the 1970s was that their thermal performance was so poor. Midcentury modern design was ahead of its time in aesthetics, but it also turned out to be beyond the technical performance of the materials available to designers and home builders. The spike in energy prices in the mid-1970s was a knockout punch, making these homes so expensive to heat and cool that homeowners had the difficult trade-off of paying exorbitant utility bills or stocking up on sweaters in the winter.

 

Aside from the heating and cooling costs, the homes tend to be uncomfortable because of drafty walls and windows and cold pockets due to inadequate mechanical systems. Here are some tips to improve the comfort of your midcentury modern home without losing any of the design vibe.

 

improve the comfort of your midcentury modern home

Sculpted to the Land, Lincoln, MA. Photo by Nat Rea

 

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The Frank Lloyd Wright-Joseph Eichler Connection

Living in a Wright house inspired Eichler to build his midcentury housing tracts, which brought modernist residential design to the masses

 

Colin Flavin | Houzz Contributor

 

Joseph Eichler was working as an egg and butter wholesaler when his life took an unexpected turn. In 1943, he moved his family from a nondescript home in San Mateo, California, to the nearby San Francisco suburb of Hillsborough. Eichler’s business was being sold, and he needed a short-term rental while considering his next career move. The home he chose, designed by Frank Lloyd Wright and built in 1940 for the Bazett family, was one of Wright’s Usonians, a term the architect coined to describe the modest-size homes designed to provide custom housing for the middle class.

 

Eichler’s family rented the home for two years, when it was sold to Louis and Betty Frank. Within six years, Eichler had left the egg and butter business for good and started a new career in home building, founding the Eichler Homes Co. in 1949. Coincidence? Definitely not. Eichler’s homes were strongly influenced by the lessons learned while living in the Bazett House. Over the next 20 years of his newfound career, Eichler’s company built about 11,000 homes, and to this day, they remain in high demand for their uncompromising midcentury design and the enduring quality of their construction.

 

While Wright’s Usonians were custom-designed for each individual client, Eichler built large subdivisions of houses on spec and found customers for his finished designs. This led to fascinating tweaks that Eichler brought to Wright’s design approach to make the homes both affordable and desirable to a large audience.

 

Frank Lloyd Wright's John J. Dobkins House

Frank Lloyd Wright's John J. Dobkins House photographed by Adrienne DeRosa

 

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Small Is Beautiful in Midcentury Modern Design

We can adapt for today the innovations that were born out of necessity in the middle of the 20th century

 

Colin Flavin | Houzz Contributor

 

Midcentury modern homes were small out of necessity. Money was in short supply after World War II, so architects and builders had to keep houses compact yet functional to stay within homeowners’ budgets. At the same time, lifestyles were changing. Smart architects took on a new approach and designed homes with an open feel, which differed greatly from the boxy designs of the previous era.

 

Frank Lloyd Wright Walker House

Frank Lloyd Wright’s Walker House

 

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blueberry farm, flavin architects

 

The Japanese concept of borrowed scenery, or shakkei, is the idea of incorporating the natural landscape into the cultivated garden. At Flavin Architects, this is a principle that we take into consideration in our home design. We aim to understand the surrounding land to make sure both the built home and the manicured spaces that encompass it speak to, and have cohesion with, the site.

 

Shakkei is known as an aesthetic concept primarily attributed to the spatial relations depicted in Japanese landscape paintings. When considering this notion, whether in painting, gardening, or design, you start from the outside and work your way in. What this means is that the artist, architect, or designer first takes a step back and looks at the greater surroundings of the site. Does the space have a view of the mountains, a river, or a valley?  You then consider how these natural elements will play into the design of the garden and the home; by incorporating an expanse of windows that face the vistas, as well as thoughtful landscaping choices that lead the eye to the spectacular natural elements, you embrace the borrowed scenery.

 

blueberry farm, flavin architects

 

In our Modern Blueberry Farm project in Lincoln, MA, which we completed in collaboration with Ben Wood Studio Shanghai, borrowed landscape had an impact on the design of the home. As the name would have it, the home is sited on one of the areas last surviving blueberry farms. Not only did the owners want to preserve the acres of blueberry bushes, they also wanted to create a space that was modern while being attune with its natural surroundings. The dining and living areas of the home have floor to ceiling windows that take in spectacular views of the farm, while also letting in an abundance of striking natural light found only outside of city living. The interior of the home is predominantly white, from its walls to the finishes and furniture. This is a welcomed juxtaposition to the greenery which envelopes the majority of the property.

 

Thoughtfully take in your surroundings when designing your home as a nod to the beauty of the natural world. Instead of separating yourself from this world, by borrowing from it and incorporating it into your daily life, you make it yours. 

 

Text by Alejandra Bennett, Studio Manager
Flavin Architects

 

5 Steps to a High-Impact Entry Garden for Your Modern Home

Use walls, fencing, plants and paths to tie your entrance area to your indoor spaces

 

Colin Flavin | Houzz Contributor

 

The entry garden sets the stage for your modern home. In traditional home designs, a relatively solid exterior wall defined the house’s edge. The modern approach was to make the home’s exterior walls largely of glass and create a garden wall that defined the “edge” of the house, making the garden as much a part of the home as any other room.

 

Why not take the entry garden further by creating an enclosed outdoor space that ties itself spatially to the interior? To achieve a comprehensive modern vibe, take the same care in the selection of garden walls, fencing, plants and pathways as with your interior finishes and furniture. Here’s how to design a high-impact visual front garden.

 

Rising Glen by Tocha Project

In this entry by Tocha Project, the honed concrete flooring extends inside to out, heightened by a flush threshold. The path is also dramatically defined by a dark pebble reflecting pool.

 

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