Proof that great design is timeless…
Look back at the designs and fashions over the last 50 to 60 years, and it’s easy to giggle. From cars to fashions to food and furnishings, we can think to ourselves, wow – haven’t we come a long way? But home designs? Wait a minute. When we look at the classic beauty of home designs inspired by the mid-century movement, we’re still (many decades later) hard-pressed to improve on such magnificence.
Mid-century architecture developed approximately between the 1930s and 1960s in the US. After the war, there was a demand for new, quickly built houses which young, inspired American architects, influenced by the earlier International style, along with newly migrated German architects, influenced by the earlier Bauhaus style, helped to fulfil.
Mid-century home features
Classic, clean and understated, the mid-century home is fuss-free and timeless, with the following features:
• minimal ornamentation
• sleek, clean lines – incorporating both organic and strong geometric forms
• plenty of glass – ample windows
• open plan living, with a strong focus on indoor-outdoor flow, bringing the outdoors in (ideal for the Aussie lifestyle)
• a strong focus on function to help serve the needs of the postwar American families
• centrally positioned fireplaces
• the use of both traditional and non-traditional materials such as glass, metal, vinyl, timber, plywood, Lucite and Plexiglass.
• boldly juxtaposed materials – creating strong contrast, along with strongly contrasting colours (including monochromes)
Architect and designer names from this mid-century period are legendary, including Harry Bertoia, Arne Jacobson, Jens Risom, Frank Lloyd Wright, Richard Neutra, Florence Knoll, Alexander Girard, George Nelson, Eileen Gray, Isamu Noguchi and the infamous Charles Eames and his wife, Ray Eames.
What’s not to love?
Many devoted mid-century architecture fans would argue that there is nothing not to love with these timeless designs. However, as with all home designs, it’s essential you don’t become a slave to design for design’s sake, but instead choose a house that suits your needs and climate. But some elements of midcentury homes are not suitable for everyone.
Take, for example, the following features:
An overabundance of glass
A lot of glass was used at this time; it was all a part of the postwar movement involving breaking down barriers in a lot of areas – race, gender, fashion. Everything was stripped back, and transparency was key, making glass an on-trend choice. But live in a glass-filled house, and you may feel like you’re living in a fishbowl. Also, glass is not a great insulator, unless you’re prepared to double or triple glaze, so this can be a problem both in summer and in winter.
Huge central fireplaces
The oversized feature fireplace was more to do with design and less to do with sensible heating solutions, particularly as in the 60s, the ‘all electrical home’ gained popularity, so the fireplace was a bit of a waste. And in Australia, unless you’re living in Tasmania, do you need a huge fire in the centre of your home?
If privacy is your thing, the novelty of open-plan living may soon wear off, particularly if you have a large family. Forget private telephone conversations, intimate chats or resting peacefully in the lounge if others are talking loudly or watching television nearby. Short of spending all your time in the bedroom, you may just crave to have a few more doors to close.
Luckily, for many Australians, living with a flat roof is not as much of a problem as that of those in colder climates where snow can be an issue. We still hav
e to deal with the issue of fallen leaves though, which don’t easily fall away on a flat roof.
But the benefits…
Despite some less than ideal characteristics (for some), keep in mind that mid-century homes have been thoroughly praised for good reason. So if you’re about to build a new home, it’s well worth exploring mid-century designs. And if you choose to incorporate some or many of their elements, you can certainly be confident knowing you’re in great company!