Mid Century Magic

Mid Century Magic

By Lee Ann Brown, Photography by Billy Brown, Styling by Mindi Shapiro

I first fell in love with Mid-Century Modern architecture when I was a kid, although I didn’t know it then. When I think back, my earliest recollections of being aware of liking a style of house was when I saw the father’s house in the original Parent Trap movie and, the iconic Brady house in the television show The Brady Bunch.

Whenever I watched The Brady Bunch, I always found myself looking at the house, the way it was laid out, the indoor planter, the exposed rock, and my favorite feature, the open staircase. These were features that I had never seen in a house before, certainly not in my own house or even in my neighborhood. Even though the houses were all based on the idea of MCM, sadly all the “cool” features were left out. I had no idea that it was a “style,” and in fact, I’m pretty sure I had probably never heard the word “architecture”, except on the show, since Mr. Brady was an architect. I certainly was not aware at that young age of the term Mid-Century Modern. But I was drawn to it and the way it seemed to play a role in the life of the family.

After years of living in several different styles of houses as an adult, I have found myself being drawn back to the Mid-Century Modern style house that I grew up in, particularly the Ranch– style house. I can hear the groans from here, and I can relate, because the ranch–style house I grew up in, is probably a lot like the ones most people my age grew up in—a one-level with no distinguishing characteristics, just a boring brick house with small rooms. And that is most people’s view of this type of home. But, I have come to appreciate that even in that small, plain ranch–style house I grew up in, there was an underlying feeling of ease, and a casual laid back style to living that you just don’t seem to get with a soaring three–story house,  with a sky–high deck off the back that keeps you from enjoying your yard, and Palladian windows that don’t open to let in fresh air. You are practically hermetically sealed off from the outside world in today’s homes, starting with the moment you pull into the garage and close the doors behind you.

I must say that I am certainly no student of architecture or historian of architectural styles. What I am is an enthusiast of the Mid-Century Modern style, and I have developed a strong interest in the casual, laidback lifestyle that this type of home seems to invite. In fact, there are many different variations on the MCM style—some ranch style, some more modern—but that casual feeling is what they all seem to have in common and what I remember most fondly about the house I grew up in. And that’s what I have found myself wanting to have in my own home now. Certain features of the MCM–style house offers this casual lifestyle.

First and foremost, the home is usually a one-level house, though there are styles with second floors, and even basements. The main goal is to have the main living areas flow directly to the outside, ground level. Ideally, most of the rooms would have access to the outdoors, but at the very least the kitchen, den/living rooms, and master bedroom would all open to the outdoor patio. Not a deck. No steps to have to maneuver down to actually touch the grass. Other features include lots of glass, sliding doors, built in planters, atriums, exposed stone, natural floors. It’s all about blending the indoors and out. Bringing as much of nature in as possible. And it’s about embracing an ease of living that closes out the workday world, and is all about enjoying time with family and friends, or a peaceful retreat to enjoy the peace and quiet surrounded by light and nature. In fact, a lot of these homes present a closed off wall to the front, but are almost all glass and open to the back.

What I loved most about the ranch–style house I grew up in is the sliding glass doors to the outside patio. Most of the time the doors were open to the screen sliding door, and my dad was always out on the patio grilling steaks on his built–in gas grill (we got the very first one when the gas line was available on our street), and always, always Frank Sinatra, Dean Martin, Sammy Davis, Jr, Nat Cole, and the rest of the Swing Set were playing through the house on my dad’s beloved stereo console.

Everyone was always welcome at our house. We didn’t even lock the doors. On weekend mornings  I can remember waking up to a party that had already started. That is another thing about this type of house, it is great for entertaining. And my parents enjoyed this feature very much.

But this type of house is great for enjoying family time, too. Backyard games are especially fun since you don’t have to go up flights of stairs every time you need to use the bathroom, or forget something inside. Favorites include grilling out burgers and dogs, playing badminton, croquet, ping-pong or tag. And a swimming pool is groovy cool, too.

To me, Mid-Century Modern represents a chic and sophisticated style of living that celebrates quiet time alone, surrounded by nature, as easily as it embraces the casual ease of family living. It is an indoor/outdoor lifestyle, shoes optional with no stuffy worries about dogs, kids, or dirty feet running in and out. There’s grilling on the patio or a game of charades in the family room; and sophisticated but cool and casual adult entertainment. Have your friends over for cocktails, with a well stocked bar, swinging tunes on the sound system and maybe a game of cards or dominoes and sparkling conversation. Here we can make room for sharing good times and plenty of laughter. Oh, the glamour of it all!

My parents were always getting my brothers and me to take them their cocktails: Bloody Mary’s, Salty Dogs, Tom Collins, and I must admit that I sneaked my fair share of sips when I got the chance. So, a good cocktail is synonymous with entertaining in a MCM Style House. Along with the classics enjoy this recipe for a “Rancher,” tastes like a Jolly Rancher. Cheers! 3 oz. Amaretto 1 oz. Cranberry Juice 3 oz. Watermelon Schnapps 2 oz. ice Pour into cocktail shaker with ice. Shake and pour into chilled martini glass.

Mid Century Modern | Magic City Modern

Luckily more and more people are starting to appreciate what this style of architecture has to offer aesthetically as well as functionally, and hopefully more are being saved from the wrecking ball to build another McMansion. However, MCM is not a style suited just for private homes. Some of the most iconic buildings in the world are Mid-Century Modern, and we are fortunate to have a few MCM gems tucked here and there right here in Birmingham. These are some of the coolest, and most architecturally interesting, buildings and homes built by some of our own architects. The artistry and vision of these architects come to life in these buildings and create that same sense of design and space for the people that work in them that the houses do for the people that live in them. Next time you are out and about in the city, take a few minutes to enjoy looking at these ultra hip Mid-Century Modern buildings that help define the skyline and character of our Magic City.

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3 Responses to “Mid Century Magic”

  1. Leslie Ellis says:

    Thanks for this article! I couldnt agree more! It seems, for some reason, the Birmingham area doesnt have very many REAL Mid-Century Modern houses. I saw some photos of a real gem in Bessemer that had been for sale a few years ago so maybe Metro Bham is not the place to look. In my opinion, the standard “ranch” house really ruined the whole concept here in the deep south.
    I lived for a time in Florence, Al, where there is a Frank Lloyd Wright designed home that is fabulous. I know this is considered more of the Craftsman style, it still has all of the awesome features that you mention in your article.
    Thanks again for expressing why MCM is such a great art form in home design. I certainly enjoyed it!

  2. Lynne says:

    We have a MCM home for sale in Mountain Brook. Designed and built by the original owner, my father was a local architect for35 years. There are no comps to compare to this house in the area, open concept, beams, great industrial foundation, low maintenance, character galore including a bridge and rock walls from property and major privacy in the heart of Mtn. Brook.

  3. Ed Acosta says:

    Hello! It your property still available? Love to get more information.
    Thank you,
    Dr. Ed Acosta

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