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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Bologna, Italy


The computer has revolutionized design by giving architects the ability to convey their ideas in 3 dimension. We now email 3D models to our clients so that they can navigate their way through our designs from their iPads. With this tool, clients can better understand their home design and be fully engaged partners in a way that wasn’t possible before. The advent of virtual reality will soon make walking through a future home and making adjustments in real time a feasible endeavor.


Given the extraordinary powers of the computer, why do architects still rely upon the use pencils, paper and a few simple drafting tools? To begin to understand the strong resurgence in architectural hand drawing, an approach that has changed little since the 15th century, just search #architecturedrawing on Instagram and you’ll be amazed by the vibrancy of the drawing culture.


I first found an answer to this question when I attended architectural school in the 1980’s. High on the walls of MIT’s drafting studio were ancient plaster casts made from iconic Greek temples from the Acropolis. For nearly 100 years, budding architects had honed their drawing skills by sketching these fragments. I took up the habit, making sketches of the historic pieces and then going on to try my hand at drawing everything is sight: caricatures of professors, campus buildings, and interiors.


As I practiced drawing, I learned that my hand-eye coordination and ability to understand objects in 3D was dramatically improving my ability to design buildings. By observing, and then drawing, the environment around me I learned how the built world is made: from its building blocks to its proportions. The act of drawing the world around us commits our observations to memory and they, in turn, become part of the designer’s tool box.


Urbino, Italy 


On a recent trip to Urbino, Italy I sketched the Piazza in front of the Ducal Palace. I focused on both the overall view of the space, and then on a close up of the Egyptian Obelisk in the Piazza. When doing the sketch in closer observation, I noticed how the Renaissance architects mounted the obelisk on a contrasting marble pedestal. While I’m pretty sure I’ll never be asked to design the support for an obelisk, I did learn how contrasting design elements can be incorporated into a seamless composition and how the pedestal served the purpose of raising the obelisk so that it visually held its own in the plaza. Perhaps the most interesting observation I made was how the 2,000 year old obelisk is weathering much better than the 500 year old marble supporting it.


While living at a time that is so technologically driven definitely has its benefits for our industry, sometimes you have to do things the “old school” way to not miss the details that make up the world around us.



Text by Colin Flavin, AIA
Flavin Architects




The Case for the Midcentury Modern Kitchen Layout

Before blowing out walls and moving cabinets, consider enhancing the original footprint for style and savings


Colin Flavin | Houzz Contributor


The kitchen can be among the most challenging projects when remodeling a midcentury home. The large, open kitchens we often dream of can far exceed the floor plan of the original space. Expanding the layout can be expensive, as space will have to be carved from adjoining rooms or an addition will need to be placed on the home.


Yet the midcentury modern era taught us that a compact kitchen needn’t skimp on function or beauty. When remodeling a midcentury modern kitchen, consider updating the finishes, appliances and storage while keeping the efficient layout.


Halderman/Brooks Eichler by Modern House Architects

Halderman/Brooks Eichler by Modern House Architects. Photography by Assassi Productions.


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Flavin Architects, Modern Screen Porch in Wellesley, MA


The practice of uniting residential architecture and design to a home’s natural setting first became popular in the Unites States in the 1920’s. It’s an idea that resonates greatly with our studio’s philosophy of Natural Modernism. At Flavin Architects, we strive to create homes that speak to their surroundings in a cohesive and fluid way.


To create this relationship, we approach the built environment of your home and its surrounding landscape as reciprocal spaces. Connection between your home’s interiors and the landscape can be done successfully by establishing visual connections, using a natural material palette, and making cohesive furniture selections.


In your interior, high ceilings and steel framed windows and doors create the illusion of disappearing boundaries. Open floor plans and clear lines draw the eye to the outdoor spaces, inviting you to “experience” the natural surroundings of your home from the interior. You can also connect your spaces through decoration. Lean towards natural materials: you can look beyond wood and use cane, rattan, or other natural plant fibers in your home furnishings. Juxtaposing these elements with softer textures and pops of color creates a sense of warmth necessary for an indoor space. Incorporating natural materials like stone and wood further tie indoor rooms to your outdoor space. A bluestone for the flooring used inside your home can be continued onto a terrace to define a larger entertaining space.


Furniture that is designed withstand the elements, while still speaking to the interior, is ideal for your terrace. Cohesion through contrast can be achieved by incorporating industrial materials in your lawn furniture. Using modern materials like stainless steel in your garden decoration carries the finishes seen inside a contemporary home to the outdoors. 


Flavin Architects, Modern Screen Porch in Wellesley


For a renovation project in Wellesley, MA we worked with Landscape Architect Zen Associates to blur the boundary between interiors and exteriors. The addition of a modern screen porch seamlessly links the home’s structure to the extensive gardens. A grey granite floor runs from inside the screened porch to the outside terrace to achieve an extension of the home’s entertaining space. A black nylon insect screen is used for maximum transparency and a standing seam copper overhang projects the home into the garden.  The addition of the porch creates a refuge from the blaring summer heat, while allowing the owners to savor the fresh air and surrounding landscape.   


Henry Hoover House,


In Massachusetts, Henry Hoover was a pioneer of the movement to unify a home’s interior design with its natural landscape. Hoover benefited from working in a post-war era where he had access to an abundance of mass-produced materials like glass, metals and concrete. In the design of his own home in Lincoln, MA, he took advantage of such materials to fashion rooms with high ceilings, vast open spaces, and a south-facing wall of windows to capture the vistas of the Cambridge Reservoir. It was imperative to him that his homes have a harmonious union with their natural surroundings, and he picked his sites based on where his homes would best “grow.”  Instead of leveling the land to fit the needs of an ideal home, Hoover designed imaginative and modern structures that fit into the landscape like a puzzle piece.


When the distinction between inside and out becomes fluid in your home design, you redefine the spaces in which you live.  


Text by Alejandra Bennett, Studio Manager
Flavin Architects