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What Is Midcentury Modern Design? Way More Than ‘Mad Men’ May Lead You to Believe

Bill O'Leary/The Washington Post via Getty Images

What is midcentury modern design? This form of architecture and furniture is all over the places these days, although the movement dates back decades.

So what exactly is Midcentury modern design?

Fans of the show “Mad Men” may already be conjuring up images of Don Draper’s snazzy Manhattan apartment with floor-to-ceiling windows and that sunken living room, but the classic style is about so much more than chain-smoking guys in skinny ties and women with beehive hairdos.

Midcentury Modern is actually an architecture and design movement that changed the way many of us live—and its influences are hotter than ever today.

A brief history of Midcentury Modern design

Midcentury Modern design homes began springing up in the mid-1940s, right after World War II, and continued to spread through the 1980s. Soldiers were coming home, starting families, and setting off the baby boom. They needed new homes quickly, and the experimental technologies and materials—steel, aluminum, tempered glass, stucco, and plywood—developed during the war and beyond were quickly applied to residential structures to meet the needs of the growing U.S. population.

The Midcentury Modern era, which lasted until the 1980s, produced a number of prominent architects, including Philip Johnson, John LautnerRudolph Schindler, and Richard Neutra. (Schindler and Neutra were mentored by Frank Lloyd Wright, a seminal American architect.)

When it comes to superstar Midcentury Modern homes themselves, perhaps the most famous are the Case Study Houses, found mostly in Los Angeles but also in San Francisco and Phoenix. When they were built, the Case Study Houses were designed for affordability, but their value has skyrocketed over the years—and many have been preserved, restored, and maintained by historic organizations.

Mid-century modern home in Sunnyvale, CA
An Eichler midcentury modern home in Sunnyvale, CA

Nancy Nehring/Getty Images

What is Midcentury Modern architecture?

Homes and buildings constructed in the Midcentury Modern architectural style all have certain elements in common, including the following:

  • Flat planes and geometric lines: The exterior walls are usually unembellished with round columns, elaborate porches, or bay windows. They are smooth and flat, often accented by geometrically shaped windows. In warmer climates, where snow buildup is not an issue, it’s common for roofs to be flat.
  • Large windows and walls of glass: The popularity of the sliding glass door and the floor-to-ceiling window originated in the Midcentury Modern era. They were built in an effort to integrate outdoor nature with indoor living. Houses were designed with the goal being to make sure as many rooms as possible had expansive outdoor views. At the time, this was considered not only aesthetically pleasing but advantageous to one’s health as well.
  • Open floor plans: In earlier eras, rooms tended to be small in order to promote privacy. But the postwar era of peace and love went hand in hand with more common space. By integrating fewer walls and more open spaces into the floor plan, Midcentury Modern style encouraged families to share space and feel more engaged with one another.
  • Varied elevations: Large, open, geometric spaces were broken up with a few small steps, rather than entire stories and staircases. The split-level design and the sunken living room were ways to create rooms without walls. Smooth, unadorned built-in cabinets of varying heights gave the same effect and provided storage.


Typical floor-to-ceiling windows in a mid century modern home.
Typical floor-to-ceiling windows in a mid century modern home.

Bill O'Leary/The Washington Post via Getty Images

If you’re on the market for a Midcentury Modern home, it won’t come cheap. Due to the popularity of this style, these homes can command as much as 149% more than similarly sized homes of different styles. (Believe it or not, that’s a higher premium than a home designed by Wright!) Still, if you love the look, the appeal does not seem to be waning any time soon, so odds are it’s a great investment that won’t seem outdated.

The post What Is Midcentury Modern Design? Way More Than ‘Mad Men’ May Lead You to Believe appeared first on Real Estate News & Insights |®.

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