The post about Madison Sarah and her hunt for a 50s or 60s home drew lots of comments, including a lovely note from Sumac Sue, aka Judi, of Lexington, Kentucky. Her comments were really moving, so I asked her if I could make a post out of them – and asked if she could send pictures to go with. She kindly did, and even added some more info at my request. A long post – but well worth the time to read and think about. Sumac Sue is a former newspaper reporter – so the girl can turn a phrase! Maybe other readers have similar stories about their neighborhoods that they would like to share? Send in your stories and your “walking tour” photos and I’d be happy to make this a regular feature. Thank you, Judi (Sumac Sue), for getting this started!
With so much emphasis on gizmos and gadgets and other facets or retro interior decorating, I really hadn’t thought much about how simple the facades are on most mid-century homes. I find our house, and the houses in our neighborhood of modest, mostly one-story brick ranches, to be sort of sturdy and cute, like freckle-faced boys. It’s a look I find appealing.
But, if someone like Madison Sarah wants a bit more oomph, then maybe she could try an approach such as looking for a house with a really pronounced modern style, such as Anne and Gary’s house, which has been mentioned on this site. Sure, it has some flatness to it, but, it has angles and overhangs and lots of glass, which makes it cool.
If Madison Sarah can’t find a house like that, then, my only other suggestion is to try to think of the mid-century houses not as a look, but, as a way of life. Sounds cliched, I know, but, we have found that living in our ’59 ranch, in our ’59 era neighborhood, to be really pleasant.
We weren’t really looking for a mid-century house when we found this one. We were looking for a house that was well built, of good materials, one that would be pretty easy to maintain, and one that was in a neighborhood that would be a pleasant place to walk with our dog in the evenings. And, we had a tight budget, but we wanted at least 1.5 bathrooms. So, we found our house in a nice neighborhood of 1,000 to 1,500 square-foot houses, most with carports or garages. Some have basements, but ours has a roomy, dry crawlspace — either way, they are all easy to get under to work on plumbing, the furnace, etc. (A previous house had virtually no crawlspace, and we had to scoot on our stomachs in the damp dirt. No more of that!) Houses this size are pretty easy to care for, and the utilities aren’t outrageous.
Like many such mid-century neighborhoods, ours includes a shopping area with a grocery store, bank, post office, and some other stores. We have enjoyed being able to walk to this shopping area, and now that gas prices have risen so much, we like it even more.
I can’t speak for other such neighborhoods, but ours is really stable. People buy these houses and hold onto them. We still have four people on our little street who are the original owners of their houses! They are all in their 80s. We bought our house last summer from the original owner, who was 86. We joke that these houses are good for your health, because people live so long in them.
But, maybe it is no joke — they really are nice places to live. We are in our 50s, and there are other middle-aged people on the street, and there are a few young couples with kids. The ones we have met have said the same thing as us — they moved here because they were looking for a well-built house. They also say they didn’t want to buy a cheaply built new house way out on the edge of town.
Our neighborhood is called Gardenside — doesn’t that just sound like a nice place to live? Madison Sarah, I hope you find a nice place to live, too.
I know I’ve gushed on about our neighborhood like a real estate agent with too many houses to unload. The thing I want to stress is, like you, we really weren’t looking for a mid-century house, but it has worked out really well for us, much better than expected.
We once lived in a quaint 1910 era frame house, but it was hard to maintain, and closer to downtown and the university, so traffic was terrible. We then bought some land in the country with a mobile home on it. We wanted to build a farmhouse or cabin. But traffic was terrible there too! All of those other city people moving to the country just like us, causing so much traffic on the winding rural roads. We just couldn’t commit to building a house there and putting up with the traffic forever. It seemed pretty nutty — so wasteful of time and resources. When Wayne changed jobs and his commute got even longer, that’s when we decided to move back into town.
I had once lived in a 1970s era suburb, and it was OK. I admit, we were a bit like Madison Sarah when we started looking at houses in the suburbs. We thought of them as being sort of boring. But the main thing we wanted was a well-built house — after living in an elderly cottage, and then a mobile home, we wanted a house that didn’t have something breaking every other day! A mid-century house fit the bill. And you know, we have not found one other house in the whole neighborhood just like ours. So, it’s really not boring, it’s unique!
I just wanted to let Madison Sarah know that living in a mid-century house was more than just about the facade of one particular house — at least that is what I am finding out. We love living here not just because of our particular house, but because the whole neighborhood is a nice place to be. Our house, and the entire neighborhood, is built on a scale that seems so liveable.
When we walk our dog, in a few blocks we get onto some streets of bigger houses, from about 1,800 to 3,000 square feet. (I was a bit incorrect when I said our neighborhood was 1,000 to 1,500 sf houses — that’s the size of most of the houses on the streets right around our house. But there are many larger houses within the Gardenside neighborhood.) These larger houses, ranches, split levels, Cape Cods, and two-story Colonials, were built in the late 50s to late 60s. We have crushes on several of these beauties. They still are built on a scale that seems right.
THEN we can walk into a neighborhood of brand new homes — some over 6,000 square feet, with half-million to million-dollar price tags. We feel like the Monty Python knights approaching a castle when we venture into that neighborhood! We always are happy to walk back to our street.
Hope this extra information is helpful, and doesn’t bog you down. I know you are busy…. knowing you also have family, career, and your house to tend to. So, I am happy to pitch in with some material for you. Maybe you could start a semi-regular neighborhoods feature, and others can send in photos of their communities. I think it would be a hit. But you know, we love it all, whatever you do!
I hope I got the right descriptions with the right photos — I’m having to hurry because I need to go get some pine mulch from a neighbor who offered it to me. Another reason it is nice to live here. I think because the place is on a nice scale, people actually see each other and visit and share things.
This post originally ran on April 28, 2008