The “You Know it When You See it” Test

While it’s true that every Mid-Century Modern home was built in the 1950’s (or thereabouts), it’s decidedly NOT the case that every home built in the 1950’s is a “Mid-Century Modern.”

In fact, in real life, very few are.

On MLS, for every home that I see billed as being a “Mid-Century Modern,” perhaps only one in four (25%) really qualify.

The rest are more properly described as “inspired by Mid-Century Modern design,” “Mid-Century Modern style,” “Mid-Century Modern influence,” and other adulterated adjectives.

Not-So-Telltale Sign: Name Brand Architect

So, what qualifies as the real thing? (apologies to Coke).

If the home was designed by an architect famous for their Mid-Century Moderns, their firms, or by one of their disciples . . . it probably is.

That list includes Joseph Eichler, the Keck brothers (George Fred and William), Henry P. Glass, Ludwig Mies van der Rohe, and Frank Lloyd Wright.

Of course, if any of those architects designed the home, the listing agent would loudly trumpet that fact — and the home’s list price would likely include an extra zero (or two!).

Test: “Perpendicularity”

Assuming that’s not the case, however, how else does one identify a genuine “Mid-Century Modern?”

It’s more of a feel than any particular list of attributes, but I’d include such things as: sleek, spare design; horizontal, almost Prairie-style lines and spaces; 90° angles and what I’ll call “perpendicularity”; a flat or barely pitched roof; recessed lighting; and lots of glass and windows, especially transom windows that show off the tall ceilings.

And while I suppose it’s possible for a Mid-Century Modern to be two stories or a split-level, the classic version is just one, albeit with the aforementioned high or lofted ceilings (excepting those by Frank Lloyd Wright, whose homes famously have low overhead).

Finally, Mid-Century Modern homes typically have Mid-Century Modern furniture, sometimes custom-made for the home (however uncomfortable — another hallmark of Frank Lloyd Wright homes).

P.S.: Memo to listing agents: if you say a home is a Mid-Century Modern and it isn’t, it’s worse than simply not saying it at all.

Discriminating Buyers know the difference, and will feel misled once they’ve seen the home (if the pictures didn’t already give it away).

About the author

Ross Kaplan has 19+ years experience selling real estate all over the Twin Cities. He is also a 12-time consecutive "Super Real Estate Agent," as determined by Mpls. - St. Paul Magazine and Twin Cities Business Magazine. Prior to becoming a Realtor, Ross was an attorney (corporate law), CPA, and entrepreneur. He holds an economics degree from Stanford.

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