Updating Midcentury Modern
Three remodels evoke the spirit and staying power of modernist design.
Synopsis: Architect Katie Flynn uses three case studies—the Mid Mod Eichler House in San Francisco, the William Landsberg House on Long Island, and the Peacock Farm House in Massachusetts—to outline the features of midcentury-modern design and describe the important considerations for maintaining the style when updating midcentury-modern structures. Midcentury-modern architecture features natural materials, low-slung roofs, modest scale, clean lines, open floor plans, and extensive glass, and the article gives examples of these features in the three case studies. It also features a section on energy performance and updating midcentury-modern houses with better building technology, including insulation details and new assemblies that meet current energy and structural codes.
From architecture to furniture to appliances, midcentury modernism is having a “moment” in the spotlight. At its inception during the first half of the 20th century, the modernist design movement saw architects re-evaluating stylistic expression, exploring concepts around society and community-building, and adopting new approaches to construction. They believed that architecture should be free from nostalgia and should reflect the spirit of the time in which it is built.
Midcentury-modern homes began appearing in the 1950s as the first broad-market realization of the modernist ethos in America—thanks, in part, to a group of expatriate European architects working primarily in New England, Chicago, and California following World War II. Among those pioneers were architects Walter Gropius, Marcel Breuer, and Ludwig Mies van der Rohe, whose work helped shape what have become telltale elements of the style: exposed structure, natural materials, low-slung roofs, modest scale, clean lines, open floor plans, extensive glass, and omission of fussy ornamentation. Those very features can present challenges when it comes to updating midcentury-modern homes to 21st-century standards of structural integrity and energy performance while also supporting contemporary lifestyles. But they are worth preserving and improving upon—not just because…