Mid-Century Modern Design And Why It Works In the Okanagan Valley

 

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What Is Mid-Century Modern Design? As defined by Wikipedia, Mid-century Modern is an architectural, interior, products and graphic design style that encompases mid-20th century elements in modern design, architecture and urban development from roughly 1933 to 1965. The term, employed as a style descriptor as early as the mid-1950s, was later reaffirmed and celebrated as a style now recognized by scholars, museums, architects, designers and builders as a significant design movement. In the Okanagan, there are a reasonable number of homes in this style, or close to this style. As well, there are homes here that either can be remodelled to match a variety of design elements or employ versions of the designs to update and improve how they can enhance the lifestyles of the homeowners.

Mid-century modern homes were typically one story affairs with low sloped rooflines which then allowed for vaulted ceilings in the rooms below. The sloped ceilings also allowed for clerestory or transom windows over solid walls which allowed for privacy but also brought light flooding into the house.  Structural beams or rafters were often left exposed inside and out, giving a clear idea how the building was assembled.

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Mid-century homes were constructed in a time when personal budgets were tight, so the size of the homes were not large. They were also placed on small lots, making the distance between them and their neighbours only a few feet away.

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To overcome these negative site elements, mid-century homes made use of expansive walls of glass on the front and rear elevation and open floor plans inside the walls. The open and flowing spaces that were popularized in mid-century modern houses combined living, dining and kitchen areas to make the smaller home seem larger.

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Using post and beam construction, mid-century homes were able to achieve increased room volume with vaulted ceilings. This spectacular room example highlights the airy and spacious feel of the space, the transparency to the outside patio – further enhanced with the gable glazing, a clear view of the dining area and through the glass doors, the side yard greenery. Looking down and around the patio, the kitchen is open to the living area and the patio.

Image by Klopf Architecture

This image shows the view from the patio back into the living area. Note how you can see right through the space and out into the yard beyond. There is also access on each side of the patio to either the bedroom areas on the right and the kitchen on the left. The genius of this great design is that it uses the openness of the area to overcome what really are small spaces. For me, so very well done.

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Here is another image of the same patio, only taken at dusk. Just magical!

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The two images above are just 2 more examples of the “transparency”, showing how mid-century designs blur the line between indoor and outdoor spaces.

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Creativity was needed to create privacy with the adjacent houses being so close. Tall garden walls were built, using a variety of materials and when well done, turned the negative into an advantage. The two images above are excellent examples of this. One wall has an outdoor fireplace placed in the wall with seating in front of it and the other one has a fire pit with seating all around it.

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A large number of these homes were built in southern climates, and so pools were very common. Mid-century homes, with their walls of glass and patio doors facing the rear yard and patios, were perfectly styled to take advantage of indoor/outdoor lifestyle. The transparency to the outdoors and the blending of these two spaces is an element I advocate for almost every home I design. This is a feature that, whether it is a new home or renovation, should at least be considered for every project.

Great new home or renovation projects start with great design. The purpose of this blog is to illustrate how the goal of great design can be achieved through the application of design elements from all over North America and even other continents. Below are 2 examples of this idea.

Image by Stevenson Design Works

The residence above is located in West Kelowna, not far from my home. It was likely built in the early ‘70s, as mine was and, again like my home, was simply designed and built using inexpensive materials. It sits on a larger lot and although not shown, it does have a fabulous view out of Gallatly Bay from the windows on the front of the home.

With the size of the property and proximity to the bay and the beach, a 5 minute walk, it is borderline as to renovating it would be worthwhile or just knock it down and build new. I’m only going to use the renovation side of the discussion and give a couple examples of how the homes can benefit from the application of mid-century design elements.

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This first example shows what could happen if a post and beam addition was added to the home. First, the object that is the addition adds a dynamic element to the structure and makes it much more interesting. All of the glazing would provide a fabulous view and the deck out in front would allow for a fabulous outdoor space. Certainly a lot more could be done but this is a simple example.

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Here is another example illustrating what could be gained by throwing a pile of money into a project. This home is a whole house renovation located in Wisconsin. Although this example looks nothing like the home above, I can tell you that the house it was built from was almost a clone of the brown one above only perhaps smaller and uglier. So, when I say anything is possible in a renovation, this is a good example.

Image by Stevenson design Works

The house above is also located in West Kelowna. It has a post and beam ceiling over the living room with simple glazing and a prow front extension over the floor below. The windows look out to the view of houses below them and to Okanagan Lake.

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This house is an offshoot of mid-century design and was built in the Eastern USA. The company that designed and built this home and many others like it was The Deck Company and incorporated elements in their designs that were re-used over and over. What can be taken from this house is how they used the transom window over the patio sliders to allow for more light to enter the room. And, although the railing design is dated, the Kelowna house needs some work done to add some life to it.

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