What Exactly Is Mid-Century Modern Architecture? [Ultimate Guide]

Mid-century modern homes continue to remain very popular in the Pacific Northwest, yet there is some misinformation on how to identify a true Mid-century modern home. In this article, we will cover some history, descriptions, and help you discover whether a Mid-century modern home is for you.

modern mid-century home in north portland with wooden and black accents
Wriff Residence in St. Johns, Oregon | Architect: Guggenheim Architecture and Design Studio | More photos here

What is the history of Mid-century modern homes?

Mid-century modern is a design movement that originated from 1945 to 1969 and included architecture, interior design, and products such as furniture. Mid-century modern architecture tends to have simple, clean lines with open floor plans. This style is in contrast to previous decades where design included more ornamentation, pattern, and compartmentalized rooms.

Many of the quintessential Mid-century modern homes were built after WWII during a big housing boom, coupled with the desire for affordable homes. Mid-century modern designs provided a way to create affordable, middle-class homes that were both attractive and could be built quickly. Joseph Eichler was one post-war developer who built these affordable homes. Yet, higher-end homes were also built using the Mid-Century design for affluent homeowners.

foster residence in granada hills by joseph eichler
Foster Residence, Granada Hills by developer Joseph Eichler

What are some characteristics of Mid-century modern homes?

The characteristics of Mid-century modern can vary, depending on the geography. For example, in Palm Springs, CA, Mid-century modern had significant post-WWII growth. These homes took into account the warm climate and their desert surroundings and emphasized the use of concrete, stone and glass.  In contrast, in the Pacific Northwest, Mid-century modern homes were and continue to be heavily influenced by its nature with more use of natural wood on walls, ceilings, and cabinetry.

We interviewed Jenny Guggenheim, Principal Designer + Design Director at Guggenheim Studio for this article. She commented that “Mid-century modern historically brought innovation into the design: the home was customized to serve how the family actually lived and the design responded to the immediate location and environment.”

Apart from the influences from each region, the typical design elements of a Mid-century modern home are:

  • Open floor plan
  • Connection to outdoors through large windows
  • A pared-back color palette
  • Simplified design style with clean lines
  • Minimal display of personal objects that otherwise can create clutter
  • Textures and color influenced by surrounding nature
  • A design honoring its immediate environment
  • Use of natural wood, concrete, stone, and glass and sometimes plastics and vinyl
  • Lightness in furniture such as thin legs or slim low couches
  • Spaces that result in a calming effect for the inhabitant

There are a variety of expressions of Mid-century modern designs, such as a design that uses an earthy tone palette with simple design lines, or another that incorporates splashes of bright colors, patterning and texture.

What architects influenced today’s Mid-century modern homes in the Pacific Northwest?

Homes in the style of Mid-century modern in the Pacific Northwest are sometimes called Northwest Modern style. Mid-Century Architects of note from Oregon are John Yeon, Saul Zaik, and John Storrs. Northwest Modern style is influenced by Japanese principles of design and the palette from Northwest forests. Northwest homes also have large windows that bring more natural light into the interior.

northwest modern style home bedroom with view of the outdoors
Architect: Gary Holbrook | Photography: KuDa Photography | More photos here

modern mid century dining room with wooden oak cabinets and a counter with a wine bottle on top
Architect: Christie Architecture LLC | Photography: KuDa Photography | More photos here

When shopping for products, how to recognize true Mid-century modern design?

Today’s homeowners will often choose to mix mid-century design with their own taste to personalize their home so it does not look like a museum. Just know when you are deviating from true Mid-

Century Modern or not.

Jenny Guggenheim advises, “Don’t take the word from a product manufacturer that something is Mid-Century design. Don’t assume that cabinetry that is simple, like a Shaker cabinet, is Mid-Century. Ask an architect for guidance or take the time to study mid-century articles or books that present true Mid-century modern.”

How to incorporate Mid-century modern design into a remodel?

Not many homes can be easily remodeled into an authentic Mid-century modern look. However, there is wisdom learned from Mid-century modern design that you can use in your home remodel:

  • Keep the design honest with a simplified lines
  • Declutter the space, keeping objects at a minimum.
  • Use an open floor plan
  • Use wood, concrete, stone, glass
  • Bring in the natural light with floor to ceiling windows
  • Furnish with Mid-century modern products
mid century home dark wooden flooring
closeup of the wooden and white tiles in a mid century home
Architect: Paul McKean Architecture LLC | Photography: KuDa Photography | More photos here

Any advice in bringing Mid-century modern into a house construction or remodel?

Jenny Guggenheim offers final words of wisdom when you are planning to create your home using Mid-century modern Design principles:

  •  “Not everything needs to be brand new. Bring in a sixth sense or feeling into the home by finding a few true vintage products such as an interesting light fixture that can be rewired.
  • Work to define your own comfort level with an open floor plan versus private, more cozy spaces. Do you want one great room or do you have the need for a cozy den space as well?
  • Take time to understand if you lean towards a more natural material color palette inspired from wood, concrete and stone, or if you prefer bright colors and more dramatic patterning and textures. These two approaches are two different expressions within Mid-century modern design.”
interior of a mid century home with wooden sides, dark navy couches, and large windows
Whole home remodel | Architect: Paul McKean Architecture | Photography: KuDa Photography | More photos here 

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