Throwback Month

The One Thing You Should Preserve on a Mid-Century Modern Home, According to a Real Estate Agent

published Apr 4, 2022
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You’ve probably heard the term mid-century modern in reference to furniture and interior design, but it was actually the mid-century modern architectural style, which flourished in the U.S. following World War II, that gave rise to the now-popular decorating aesthetic.

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Today, anything in the mid-century modern category has wide appeal, and mid-century modern homes are in the midst of a major resurgence across the country. They are characterized by low profiles, wide floor plans, large windows, and a connection to the outdoors.

Bill Janovitz is a real estate agent and Vice President at Compass. He’s also part of a marketing partnership specializing in modernist houses in Boston’s western suburbs. While Janovitz doesn’t consider himself a preservationist per se, he believes that there are certain aspects of these types of homes that are key to the integrity of the style.

According to Janovitz, the main thing to preserve on a mid-century modern home is the slim-profile look of the exterior windows — although he’s not opposed to swapping out uninsulated glass for something more energy-efficient, particularly for homes in colder climates.

“Often, these homes had big sheets of uninsulated single pane glass. And they can be a tremendous source of heat loss and therefore bad for the environment,” says Janovitz. 

If you’re going to replace the windows on a mid-century modern home, he recommends investing in glass that’s eco-friendly but still has a low-profile look. “It’s going to be a very big cost usually, but you just want to keep the exterior sympathetic to the original profile of the home,” he says. “So, you don’t want to replace big sheets of single pane windows with double-hung windows with divided-light grills. In the ’80s and ’90s people were changing the look of these homes by replacing the original windows with cheaper ones.”

For the rest of the home, Janovitz suggests sticking with renovations that will add value. “The best way to preserve these homes is to make them livable by today’s standards,” he says. “What we see is people opening up the floor plans even more. These houses, very often, are post-and-beam construction, which means there’s very little in the way of interior load bearing walls. So, people open up the kitchen into the living room and things like that.”

Another idea: add a garage that can also be used for storage purposes. “Many of these houses didn’t have garages or real basements or attics, so there’s usually a storage issue,” says Janovitz. “Adding a garage that is sympathetic to the original design is usually a pretty good idea.”

He adds that it doesn’t hurt to hire an architect, especially if you’re making structural changes to the home. “It’s an expense, but it’s usually a worthwhile expense, especially if you’re going to do anything on the exterior that’s going to change the profile or an addition,” he says. “And if you’re going to hire an architect, you’re going to want to hire one that has an affinity and understanding of the history of mid-century houses.”

This piece is part of Throwback Month, where we’re revisiting vintage styles, homes, and all kinds of groovy, retro home ideas. Boogie on over here to read more!