If you own a home built in the middle of the last century, you’ve probably given some serious thought to restoring it to the original look of that nostalgic era. At that time there was an optimism and sense of innocence that didn’t last long. In addition, restoring an old home may involve tax credits. On the other hand, there’s nothing like modern technology and conveniences to make life easier. Somewhere between is the mid-century modern look. Here are some design ideas for your home renovation.
1. Humble materials
Most mid-century homes featured materials which today we would call “affordable” rather than upscale. Simple cabinet designs, knotty pine wood, and subdued colors were in style, while laminate countertops and vinyl flooring were still fairly new and in demand for the then-modern look. This is contrary to what modern designers are suggesting. Granite countertops, gleaming wooden cabinets, and marble tile look great, but just aren’t right for that time.
Naturally, those will be out of fashion one day, too. On an older home that still has its architectural style, a 21st century kitchen just looks wrong. All those things that are supposed to improve a home’s value don’t necessarily work if the home is vintage and buyers walk in expecting to see a taste of yester-year. Home built circa-1950 can now be considered historic. Historic homes with that vintage atmosphere become rarer every year, and buyers looking for the “old” quality will be willing to pay more for a house that actually has it. Do your homework and you can still find “vintage” materials that are actually brand new, and probably better than the original.
2. Pastel and Vinyl
Today’s trends are also toward warm, neutral color schemes that have wider appeal to prospective buyers, according to Danish Modern L.A.. But America, having bounced back from the war to find itself a world power, was more upbeat and exuberant. The Art Deco style of the 1930’s fell out of fashion and people wanted more color. Not bright or dark colors, but gentle, peaceful pastel hues. Pink bathrooms were not unusual and not considered effeminate by male occupants. It was a common choice for the time, but hardly the only choice. Gentle blues, greens, and purples were just as typical. Plain pastel tiles, or even borders and highlights added to pastel tiles, can immediately create an old-time feel the second you walk into a kitchen or bath.
Most countertops were Formica, which was then new. Sinks and tubs were porcelain-covered metal. Flooring tended to be vinyl, usually linoleum or vinyl tiles. But they were different then. They didn’t have the self-adhesive, inexpensive designs that fill hardware and home improvement stores now. They were more durable and required glue, which made installation trickier but more permanent. But they also tended to contain asbestos. If you can find retro “vinyl-composition” tiles, great, but quality linoleum that fits your color scheme might be easier and cheaper.
3. Full-house Midcentury Modern
One of the chief features of 1950s-era homes is that they were modest. There was no excessive decoration or flamboyance. Pleasant and functional was the primary goal, not bold design statements. Where there were artistic elements, they tended to be drawn from nature – gentle images and organic shapes that went with the color scheme and contributed to a cheerful ambiance. However, in keeping with the atomic age and the Cold War, you did see suggestions of technology in UFO-shaped fixtures or cosmic patterns of stars.
Then there’s appliances if you really want the whole-home feel. Of course there were no LED displays or lighting. In some areas they were lucky to have indoor plumbing at the time. Even electric stoves, dish washers, vacuum cleaners, refrigerators, and, of course, TVs, were still new. Dishes and laundry were still tedious chores for the average housewife.
How deeply you want to go into the retro-look depends entirely on your tastes. Homes then were certainly less safe and energy-efficient. But you can still shop a wide range of retro-look products and materials from the mid-century era, or locate actual antiques that look great. The point is, you don’t have to sacrifice modern conveniences to get a retro look.