Midcentury Modest Manifesto

Knotty pine is among the sweetheart features of midcentury homes that I called out in my “Midcentury Modest Manifesto,” which was first published in 2009.  I had coined the term (during the housing bubble years) recognizing that while there has been a growing fascination for the edgy “midcentury modern” homes built in post-WWII America, respect for the much more common “Midcentury Modest” homes has lagged. And, while some observers today consider the vernacular, mass-market postwar designs all too “kitsch” and pretty much discount “tract” houses and all they stood/stand for, I say: Let’s celebrate Midcentury Modest, too – because this era of American housing and all it encompassed were really quite fascinating and special. So, here is my “Midcentury Modest Manifesto”:

The Midcentury Modest Manifesto

NO QUESTION, we love Midcentury Modern homes,
the high falutin’ designer kind.
BUT IN POSTWAR AMERICA, while we built
maybe 1 million mid-century moderns –
we built some 29 million Midcentury Modest homes.

MIDCENTURY MODEST:
Mainstream. Main Street. Mass produced. Middle Class homes.
ROYAL BARRY WILLS Cape Cods at one end of the architectural spectrum.
CLIFF MAY Ranches on the other.
AND YES,  a dose of Contemporary increasingly thrown in, too.
AND OVER THE NEXT 30 YEARS –
a gazillion prosaic, vernacular melting-pot variations in between.

MIDCENTURY MODEST HOMES ARE: Small –
1,000 square feet for many years running.
“SMALL” TODAY– but to their owners starting in 1946,
they were the culmination of the American Dream.
Following years of economic Depression and WWII,
these little homes were an amazing gift.

HOW DO WE LOVE THEE, Midcentury Modest homes?
Let us count the ways…

  • Built with love and immense gratitude.
  • Wonderful features – pastel bathrooms, fitted kitchens, livable layouts.
  • Knotty pine paneling – installed by Gramps.
  • Lots of ingenious Americana
    like Nutone exhaust fans, Hall-Mack Tow’lscopes, and Dishmasters.
  • Wallpaper and pinch pleats and pull-down kitchen lights.
  • Boomerang cabinet pulls and wagon wheel lights and braided rugs.
  • Indoor plumbing.
  • Unpretentious. Exuberant. The first taste of true material comfort
    for many millions of people.
  • Our houses have stories…
    Stories about the beginning of a new American era still playing out today.
  • Did I mention small? Yes. But small is — green.
  • Small is quite often: “enough.”

THERE IS MUCH TO APPRECIATE in our Midcentury Modest homes.
And certainly nothing to apologize for.
GRANITE countertops? Who needs ‘em, especially when they come with
a home equity loan that stresses our family finances beyond our limits.
What silliness. What Insanity.
SHHHH! Don’t tell anyone, but our Midcentury Modest homes,
because they are so unpretentious by today’s standards,
can be much more affordable to buy and to renovate.

RETRO RENOVATION is very much about the “Re”:
Reduce. Re-Use. Recycle. Restore. Re-Store.
Returning to the source of “The American Dream”…
And in the process, re-thinking what we want it to mean for us today.
OH YEAH, and Retro style has a happiness-quotient that is off the charts.
WE LOVE our Midcentury Modest homes
in all their glorious simplicity and optimism,
and cherish the opportunity to safeguard their history and heritage.
That’s the: Midcentury Modest Manifesto.

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