Know Your Home: Mid-Century Modern Style - West | South
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Learn about your mid-century house and make it your dream home.

Know Your Home: Mid-Century Modern Style

exteriors

image of a white painted mid century modern house with tall yellow doors, with a xeriscaped front yard with palms and succulent cacti

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

UNDERSTANDING THE ARCHITECTURE
VINTAGE CURB APPEAL
BRIGHT WHITE CURB APPEAL
COOL GRAY CURB APPEAL
ALL BLACK CURB APPEAL
NATURAL CURB APPEAL
ADDING SCULPTURAL ACCENTS
USING PRIVACY SCREENS
FINISHING WITH MID-CENTURY LANDSCAPING

HOW TO KEEP IT ALL TOGETHER

Understanding Your Architecture

Mid-Century Modern homes are made up of two parts: the architecture and the details. So the first step is to research what architecture you’re dealing with and figure out the reasons it’s been done that way. What year was your house built? Who built it? Why was it built?

Each region has different catalysts for building neighborhoods, and each neighborhood has different styles. Each region uses different materials for its climate. Knowing what you’ve got architecturally 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.

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.

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 and take a long look.

Is it a single story or does it have a walk-out basement on the back that you can’t see from the street? You may have a Modern! If it’s two stories, or a split or tri-level, it’s likely more Ranch or another type of architecture entirely.

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:

image of mid century houses showing modern rooflines on the left and ranch rooflines on the right

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 determined you’ve got a Mid-Century house, and you think it’s got Modern architecture. Now it’s time to talk about the details.

Does it also have:

  • Clean Minimal Lines – overall, is it long and lean and low to the ground?
  • Long, rectangular window openings, set high in each wall?
  • REALLY deep eaves? (3 feet + from the fascia to the house)
  • Minimal Window Trim?
  • An unfussy Entry Door with simple ‘Lites’ (the glass in the door)
  • Open Eaves/ Soffits with exposed Rafter Tails and no Fascia board?
  • Visible Beams?
  • Asymmetry side-to-side?
  • A particular focus on the front door, with extra materials or bright color added there?
  • An open carport?

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 many vinyl windows! This is especially true when it comes to the eaves – so many added pork chops when those eaves got closed in! And so many crazy downspout designs!

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.

Mid-Century Modern Style: Vintage Curb Appeal

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 Mid-Century Modern Curb Appeal

When you look at the references, on the whole, each scheme uses a significant amount of painted siding, be it shingle, lap, or board and batten. They are all grounded with a bit of masonry detail, either 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. And such fun and punchy color combos!

I would absolutely work with these designs verbatim for a client who wanted an authentic look. 100%. They’re so fun but also timeless!

Creating Vintage Mid-Century Modern Curb Appeal

First, start by selecting a fun color to paint the textural siding you’ve got in place on most of your house.

Next, if you don’t already have it, add some small areas of masonry in places where it makes sense, like the chimney, foundation, or entry steps.

Then, layer in the trim color, probably white, especially around the doors and windows. If you’ve already had your eaves closed in, keep the gutters and downspouts white, too, to help them blend in.

Finally, finish off the design with bright accents on the front door and the mailbox along with fun mid-century details on the lighting and entry hardware. Loose boxwoods complete the look!

Sources for Vintage Mid-Century Modern Curb Appeal

Mid-Century Modern Style: Bright White Curb Appeal

This is one of the most popular mid-century modern color schemes. It’s a style that’s Instagram famous due to the colorful doors of Palm Springs, California.

Inspiration for Bright White Curb Appeal

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!

Creating Bright White Mid-Century Modern Curb Appeal

First, start by selecting a clean white paint the smooth stucco or brick siding you’ve got in place on most of your house. Try at least 3 different white colors, you may want to look at off-white to help cut the glare if you live in a climate with a lot of very bright sun. Add some contrast with darker trim color on the fascia.

Next, pick a bright pop of color for the front door. Really go for it here! It doesn’t matter what actual color that you select, only that it’s nice and bright!

Then, add in some texture where you can, again, probably on the chimney or around the entry. You can also do this with a fun privacy screen or other half-wall detail.

Finally, finish off the design with very modern hardware on the front door and a fun mailbox. And this is the perfect scheme for a xeriscape yard and hardscape scheme!

Sources for Bright White Mid-Century Modern Curb Appeal

Mid-Century Modern Style: Cool Grey 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 Cool Grey Mid-Century 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 Cool Grey Mid-Century Modern Curb Appeal

First, start off with dark grey walls on whatever siding you have beit paneling, lap siding, brick, or stucco. Again, this one needs multiple swatches to get the right amount of undertone in it for your region’s light. Avoid primer grey!

Next, accent the siding with a crisp white trim in an undertone that matches your grey, and add a bright and fun door color. Go for the brightest, juiciest color you can find for the door!

Then, warm up the scheme with composite wood accent siding, but keep it simple and balanced. A wood or wood-look garage door is also a great way to do this!

Finally, complement your modern curb appeal scheme with mod hardware and lighting in a black metal finish. Play with the scale here, this scheme can handle a larger statement light and numbers!

Sources for Cool Grey Mid-Century Modern Curb Appeal

Mid-Century Modern Style: All Black 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 Mid-Century 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 Mid-Century Modern Curb Appeal

First, GO FOR IT! Paint every surface in the same deep, dark paint. This doesn’t necessarily mean that it has to be black, though! Look at bitter chocolate brown, deep forest green, or even inky indigo blue to get the same effect.

Next, accent some warmth with wood accents. This could be the underside of the soffits, the entry and garage door, or accent siding in special areas.

Then, balance the hard surfaces with lush, green landscaping. This is not the scheme for xeriscaping! Let the leaves of large plants brush softly against the deep siding color.

Finally, keep it functional but very subtle with a mailbox that blends in, sleek house numbers, and simple but beautiful door hardware and lighting.

Sources for All Black Mid-Century Modern Curb Appeal

Mid-Century Modern Style: Natural 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 a more traditional, layered landscape with a touch of structure to it.

Inspiration for Natural Mid-Century Modern Curb Appeal

Creating Natural Mid-Century Modern Curb Appeal

First, start with warm colors and natural materials – or even realistic faux composites – they look so realistic and come with really wonderful longevity and maintenance levels for your investment.

Next, ground all that natural texture with a soft neutral for the trim and other accents. Soft metallic finishes like brushed nickel add a soft glow to the more natural tones.

Then, layer on a slightly more modern element in horizontally applied wood siding or composite veneer. Keep it balanced left to right, and look for soft pre-weathered finishes.

Finally, complement the house with a landscape that reflects what’s happening in the details, with a mix of natural soft plantings and more structured accents in the hardscape.

Sources for Natural Mid-Century Modern Curb Appeal

Mid-Century Modern Style Accents, Accessories & Landscaping

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

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 adds great personality to your facade.

01 – Precast Vatican Breeze Block by Atlantic Coast PreCast in Florida

02 – Phoenix Breeze Block by Our Block Co. in Arizona

03 – xpanse 2ft x 4ft W Morse Screen Composite Panel in Clay at Wayfair

04 – Tamworth Carport screen project by konstrukcio Studio

Sculptural Accents

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.

01 – Decor Shore Concentric Circles Gold Metal Wall Decor at Amazon

02 – Deco 79 Brown Flying Birds Modern Metal Wall Art Decor at Amazon

03 – Cosmoliving by Cosmopolitan 56924 Large Contemporary Style Silver Abstract Art Square at Amazon (I’d do this in multiples)

04 – Metal Wood Wall Panel Decor, Set of 2 at Amazon

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:

01 – ORNAMENTAL GRASSES
SwitchGrass, left and Blue Fescue, right

02 – SCULPTURAL EVERGREENS
Golden Sword Yucca, left – for cooler zones & Blue Glow Agave, right – for warmer zones

03 – small areas of clipped lawn, in the variety for your zone

04 – Square White Concrete Patio Stone, 20×20 and Kolor Scape Pea Gravel, .5cuft both at Lowes

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.

How to design your home’s exterior without losing your mind

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:

STEP ONE: Answer when, where, who and why

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.

STEP TWO: Determine the style of your house

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!)

STEP THREE: Pick a focal point

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.

STEP FOUR: Pick a guidepost

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. 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.

STEP FIVE: Blend the surroundings into your house, and stick with your style for details

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 own house, let me know! I’m always here to help.

get it now

How to Find & Work With Trades

free download

learn more

Detailed planner, seasoned shopper, & thoughtful creator of solutions for the overwhelming home projects in your busy life.

I'm Mel!

hey there

- hide Comments

  1. Jen says:

    Great article. I have a big modern rancher in mostly original condition (currently redoing the kitchen). I live in a cool climate… I need some help with the exterior.

  2. Laura says:

    Fab website, thank you. Any examples to renovate Ranch style mid century modern homes?

  3. Caroline says:

    I Love this article! I own a home built in 1969 however it is very Eichler inspired. I also live in Orlando (Winter Park) And have a single-story mid century ranch that is currently all beige and I am looking to paint it gray with white trim. It has some wonderful elements like a completely closed in courtyard and large glass windows as well as slate floors and a fireplace.

    I’d love to get your input!

    I would love to send you a photo!

  4. Rebecca says:

    Please let me add a vote for mid century ranch moving up the list. I close in September and am starting to plan. I need help with the exterior (like this article), making it look current.

  5. J says:

    Love this post! Will you please do a post on mid century ranch style?

  6. Rmpc says:

    Yes – please, please, please do Mid-Century ranch exterior! We’re also closing on one in a month or two and need help…

  7. Nicholas F Coscia says:

    doing down to the studs remodel of a Palmer-Krisel/ Alexander on Duane in Racquet Club West – Have a couple of questions

  8. Emily says:

    Hello – I love this article and your mid-century ranch article as well. I recently bought a home built in 1959 but I am struggling to determine if it’s mid-century mod or ranch. Could you help me?

  9. Craig says:

    Just wanted to thank you for a wealth of information you have provided.

  10. Ali says:

    I really needed to read this! It brought me some sanity and clarification. I have a mid century modern home, built in the 60’s. “Slopped” referring back to your drawings. It was totally the IT house for that time.. I have had such a hard time decorating and picking out colors for the exterior of the house. Keep the pointers coming!

  11. Leanne Powers says:

    I am excited to find this site to steamline the visions I keep having in my head. I purchased a ranch in Florida (Marco Island) where everyone is demolishing everything or trying to give it that coastal flare. We are seeking to make this a Beatles themed home with each room a different inspiration. My interior is on point, however I am perplexed by the exterior and feel like I bought the ugly duckling home. I was so excited to find your site and am eagerly awaiting when you reopen for phone consults in June, We have the issue of getting in line for impact windows so I had to wing the decision myself, but am eager to have your help me with the rest of the outside so I can get this home to press! It is by far my most challenging project ever and I cant wait to have you make this home look as awesome on the outside as I have on the outside

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