This one is near and dear to my heart – I live in a house built in 1954 in one of the best-known neighborhoods in Orlando for Mid-Century Modern Style Curb Appeal. So I see this style every day!
But it can be hard to tell what you’re dealing with when you first buy a mid-century home. So today, I’m gonna break it down for you step by step. Then I’ll give you ideas for mid-century modern style curb appeal and accents for your home project.
Jump to a topic or style or keep scrolling for the details:
The first step is to research what you’re dealing with. What year was your house built? Who built it? Why was it built?
Each region has different catalysts for building neighborhoods, and each neighboorhood has different styles. Each region uses different materials for the climate. Knowing what you’ve got will guide every decision you make from start to finish.
The local property tax registry is a perfect place to start with this, but your city should also have neighborhood histories if the registry doesn’t pan out. You can also get key info from your general state history. Go to the historical society and ask questions. Talk to your neighbors; if you’re lucky, you’ll have an original owner nearby to tell you their story.
Case in point – my house was built as family housing when this area was an Air Force Center in the years after WWII, so the building is SOLID because Cold War. Because it was essentially tract housing, each house has a shared set of materials, but all with a different color scheme – I have sage green terrazzo and a grey bathtub, the neighbor’s is tan terrazzo and a yellow bathtub. It’s three bedrooms on a single level, but it is a more generous 1700sqft instead of the more typical 1200sqft because my landlord closed in part of the carport and back patio to add a sunroom and utility room in the early 2000s.
And I think it’s important to stay true to the history of the house – these are vintage homes with all the quirks of antiques. And once they’re gone there is no replacing them – a lot of these techniques aren’t done anymore because they’re too labor intensive.
Anyway, if you’re anything like me, you will get sucked into a worm-hole of history, and hours and hours will pass in a blink.
So, do I have a Modern or a Ranch?
This is the next thing to figure out, and it’s a big one. Modern or Ranch? Not all Mid-Century houses are modern. Not all Ranches are Mid-Century.
The easiest way to figure this out is to stand across the street, directly in front of your house.
Is it a single story, or a hidden or recessed split-level? If it’s a stacked two-story, it’s probably not mid-century.
Look at the roof. What shape is it? Can you see shingles? If yes, you probably have a Ranch. If no, or very little, you probably have a Modern.
Here’s a quick chart to help you decide which Mid-Century Style you’re dealing with; while it’s not perfect, it can absolutely narrow it down for you:
If you have a ranch, you can read more about my ideas for ranch house curb appeal RIGHT HERE
How Mid-Century Modern is it?
So you’ve got a Mid-Century house, and you think it’s a modern style.
Does it also have:
If it doesn’t have these things, then we know where to start to bring your mid-century home back to life.
When you first buy a mid-century home, a lot of what you’re going to do is strip it back. Because of their age, most mid-mod homes went through deep, sad renovations in the ’80s and ’90s. So your mid-mod might not look so mod.
But before you start ripping off that trim and peeling back the vinyl siding, let’s get some inspiration.
When in doubt, look at originals! There are so many books and websites dedicated to mid-century homes, and they can have some truly inspiring, and still contemporary, designs.
Inspiration for Vintage Curb Appeal
Each scheme uses a significant amount of painted siding, be it shingle, lap or board and batten. They are all grounded with masonry detail, in the chimney, wainscot or retaining walls. White trim draws your eye to the large windows and the door is the final accent, be it with the shape of the door lights or a bright pop of color.
I would absolutely work with these designs verbatim for a client who wanted an authentic look. 100%.
Creating Vintage Curb Appeal:
So this is what I most people picture when they think ‘mid-century modern’. It’s a style that’s Instagram famous due to the colorful doors of Palm Springs, California.
White houses do great in warmer climates, and look amazing with a vibrant door color and xeriscaped front yards. That big expanse of white walls also lends itself to artful additions like garden sculpture, or an interesting privacy screen. Make sure you have lots of texture in the wall finishes to keep it interesting!
Inspiration for Bright White Curb Appeal
And here’s what I would do for a crisp, modern yet still mid-century look:
Creating Bright White Curb Appeal
Now we’re starting to edge into ever more contemporary territory. This is very current – almost to the point of saturation. It feels like every other house in my neighborhood is painted dark grey (including mine, sigh…). However, it can be a great scheme to give a flavor of Mid-Century Modern Style to a house that isn’t fully renovated back to original, or that isn’t a fully Modern house. This is a really versatile scheme that applies well to any house with extremely simple lines.
Inspiration for Neutral Grey Curb Appeal
This is what I would do if I wanted a taste of retro mid-mod, but didn’t feel the need to go all the way. This is a scheme that would require multiple swatches on the side of your house to make sure you’re getting a grey that is dark and neutral without looking like a primer:
Creating Neutral Grey Curb Appeal
Lowkey want to paint my house all black – someday…when I own the place.
I love love love this scheme. It’s such a dramatic statement, particularly when your house is surrounded by landscaping on the lusher side – it looks great with big trees in any region. It needs a bit of warmth, which teak siding, fascia or soffits add with aplomb.
Inspiration for All Black Curb Appeal
Going all black adds instant contemporary styling to any home – but particularly a home with mid-century modern style to begin with. It’s also a great way to tie together all parts of a house that haven’t necessarily been renovated thoughtfully – like an add-on sunroom or 90’s bedroom addition. Everything just blends together when it’s the same dark shade.
Creating All Black Curb Appeal
And so we’ve reached the most contemporary end of the spectrum. This style is warm, neutral, and takes its color scheme from its surroundings. It can be any number of materials, but all are based on earth tones and complementary neutral paint colors. It looks great with mature plantings and a streamlined landscape.
Inspiration for Natural Warmth Curb Appeal
So lovely, right? I particularly like the way the textures look weathered and become part of the surroundings. Here’s how I would get this look:
Creating Natural Warmth Curb Appeal
Mid-Mod homes are so streamlined and simple, that once you’ve chosen your background scheme, they REALLY benefit from a bit of added personality. This can be done in many ways, but I’m going to talk through three options that would be great ways to add your own touch.
Privacy Screens are not seen on every mid-century modern home – they tend to be on larger homes, or more sprawling homes, especially in regions that have year-round indoor/outdoor living. Generally, these are NOT load-bearing structures. While Breeze Blocks are a classic example, a composite panel or a light filtering wood screen also add great personality to your facade.
Mid-Century Modern homes often have large flats on their facades that are screaming out for a piece of art to be hung on them. It might sound crazy to buy art for the outside of your house, but it’s such an easy way to add sophisticated depth to an otherwise flat face.
All of the following pieces would benefit from a quick exterior clear coat spray down before you hang it up outside.
Landscaping or Xeriscaping
Even though I’m talking about this last, it is by no means an afterthought. Good landscape design can add depth and interest, while also greatly increasing your visual value and curb appeal.
I particularly like when a landscape feels like it’s always been there, and is informed by its region and location. That being said, I think there are some basics that look fantastic with every style of Mid-Century Modern home:
These suggestions are a great starting point but would benefit from additional plantings unique to you and your area. Make sure you’re working with plantings native to your region, and appropriate for your site.
Listen, this can be overwhelming! Don’t feel bad one bit if it’s getting the best of you. It’s a lot of decisions, and there are a lot of options out there. But, you can stay sane and get the house you want if you keep these five things in mind and take it step by step:
Do the research first to figure out the history of your home. Note the region it’s located, the year it was built, who built it, and why. These answers will help you determine the original style of your home. It can also guide you throughout the process with decisions on project scope and help you with your contractors.
If you know ahead of time the general history and quirks of your home, it can save you a lot of time and money when it comes to labor.
Using the history you just learned, determine what style your house is. Don’t forget to listen to your home, and don’t try to force a style onto architecture that doesn’t make sense. Own up to the fact that your house may be a Mid-Century Ranch Style, not a Mid-Century Modern Style. (It will still be awesome, I promise!)
Now that you’ve nailed down a style pick a focal point or feature to highlight and then put your most significant effort into that focal point. Your focal point could be the entry area, the courtyard, a big picture window, or the garage doors.
You can work backward, too – if you have an ugly garage door, work to draw attention away from that area by concentrating on others.
Decide which material, color, or texture is going to be the thing that drives all your other decisions and is threaded throughout your design. Want a metal roof? Then this would be your guidepost. If you want to use horizontal wood, this would be your guidepost. Want your house to be a specific color? Then that would be your guidepost.
Your guidepost is the thing that everything else is built around, and that which everything else must coordinate to. And you want to be ruthless – if something you’re trying to decide on doesn’t feel right with your guidepost, CUT IT! Alternately, if NOTHING is working, you may need to circle back and pick a new starting point.
It’s always better to let the details on the house determine the design of the fences, driveways, and landscaping, not the other way around. If you have to add a retaining wall, make sure it uses one of your house materials. If you need to add a carport or trailer cover, make sure it uses the same scale and details as the house. Finally, when picking finishing touches, always make sure that what you’ve chosen coordinates with your home style. Mixing and matching across styles will only make your home look unfinished (and frankly, cheap). Keep it simple, keep it honest, and keep yourself sane!
And I think that about does it! I don’t know about you, but I’m ready to get my Mid-Century Modern Style house into stylish shape.
I do hope this has helped! If you ever need help figuring out what is right for your house, let me know! I’m always here to help.
Learn about your mid-century house and make it your dream home.