The Mid-Century Modest Manifesto

“Mid-century Modest.” I coined this new term in 2009, recognizing that while there may have been 1 million “mid-century modern” homes built in postwar America, there were about 29 million “Mid-Century Modest” homes. 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 Mid-century Modest, too – because this era of American housing and all it encompassed were really quite fascinating and special. So, here is my “Mid-Century Modest Manifesto”:

The Mid-Century Modest Manifesto

NO QUESTION, we love Mid-Century 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 Mid-Century Modest homes.

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.
a gazillion prosaic, vernacular melting-pot variations in between.

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, Mid-Century 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 Mid-Century 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 Mid-Century 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 Mid-Century Modest homes
in all their glorious simplicity and optimism,
and cherish the opportunity to safeguard their history and heritage.
That’s the: Mid-Century Modest Manifesto.

Copyright © 2009

Hey, see me talkin’ about it all on this cool video:


  1. Deborah says

    I have one of these houses! Very Modest at 923 square feet, but pretty much all original structurally with solid oak floors and woodframed windows. It was what we could afford to buy at the time and we raised five kids with three bedrooms and one bath.

    After browsing this website, I no longer feel like my house is the poor cousin to my friends’ newer, bigger and fancier homes.

    I have a friend who just bought a huge 1800 sq foot MC Modern that is completely ungutted with original light fixtures even. She loves it and I will point her to this website.

  2. Peter Gillis says

    I have just retired and am investing in 1950-1970’s homes in need of saving. I have experience as a general contractor. My son an electrician and my sister an architect.
    No matter what I am going to save homes.
    Your web site is a great connection.

  3. Lillibridge says

    I recently purchased a charming house of 987 square feet built in 1950 that I wish for more than anything to restore to it’s mid-century modest glory. The kitchen was almost left completely preserved with the original appliances (SCORE). The kitchen resembles a diner with black laminate counters, white cabinets and red diner table set. However, the living room is another story. I am struggling to understand what the decor was (i.e. sofa, coffee table, light fixtures, etc.) is for mid-century modest. Everything I find is MCM and seems like an odd fit for a house that has knotty pine walls for every interior and exterior surface. Yes. even the bathroom! Where can I find more details to help me furnish and decorate the living room?

  4. Linda says

    So nice to read about someone who appreciates style with liveability and a small footprint, the way life used to be and still should be! You go girl!!!

  5. hideeho says

    We bought our mid-century modest in 2005. I think it has the original 42″ GE range and I just love it as well as the kitchen. Thankfully, the cabinets are original. The counter tops are Formica. For 10 yrs I have been pushed to “up-grade” my kitchen. Its so nice to know there are others out there with the same passion. Thank you so much for all the wonderful info on the blog and web page.
    I just love chrome! :) My GE range is gleaming with chrome.
    I love our 960 square foot home. It’s cozy. :)

  6. Renee says

    We bought our 1959 ranch 11 years ago. I knew it was ‘meant to be’ because it was built the same year I was born. While we have toyed with the idea of ‘opening it up’, and redoing the kitchen and bath per today’s trends, we have thankfully not done so – reluctant to borrow so much money. After a tour of period homes in our area over the weekend, a light bulb went off. The best homes were the ones restored to their original charm. While my home is ‘newer’ it is still period- with salmon and root beer bathroom colors, ledge rock fireplace, Armstrong linoleum kitchen floors, and push button range top. And thoughtfully built with doors between living spaces to mitigate noise (and optimize heating/cooling efficiency). As empty nesters no downsizing required for us – 1500 sq feet is more than ample – and on one floor. I am thrilled to have found your website and can’t wait to start researching for restoration needs. Awesome!

    • pam kueber says

      Welcome! Yes, just think of all the money you’ve saved! Beware modern marketeers whose job is it to dissatisfy you with what you have and buy what they are selling — only to have the cycle repeat, insanely, ever onward!

  7. Julie says

    Mid-century is not so modest in price at the moment. It’s having a moment and the demand far exceeds the supply in my community. I’m about to pay significantly more than has ever been paid for a house in my neighborhood to get a hold of one of these treasures. Not too happy about the price, but LOVE LOVE LOVE the house. It’s stunning! What’s a soon-to be-poor Mid-century geek supposed to do? Why spend more money to cover my three 10×12 foot bedroom windows glass walls. Let the money pit games begin!!! I’m new to your site and love all the info. It’s great to have a source for all things Mid-century!

  8. KC Bencs says

    My husband and I just purchased our dream retirement home in paradise……It’s about 3000 sq ft single story plus 1000 of a sun room overlooking a private lake….built in 1949 on 17 acres with a fabulous setting of 30 oak trees now at a soaring 60-70 ft….
    The home is original plaster walls and ceiling and has had damage from bursting pipes…..No one had lived in it since owner moved 12 years ago……I am grateful to find your blog because I want to restore this beautiful to its former glory. I started with the roof which should be completed in a few days and so far the response is that the new roof looks very vintage… a diamond copper clip…..exactly whAt I was going for!
    Monday the new casement windows are coming to replace a poor replacement job……so excited…..from there it will be slow moving on the kitchen and concrete floors waiting on my contractor….but that is good so that I can do research……

  9. 1940sCrazy says

    Hi, I’ve been reading your site for the last few days and love it. My grandson is 25, a single dad, and I’ve been helping him raise my beautiful great-grandson. He’s in the process of buying a 1941 half cape/bungalow (the only way to describe it!) with a half-finished basement (which he wants for his BR/entertainment center) and a finished attic with dormer windows and hardwood floors and cute little storage cubbies, but, alas, w/no heat or A/C we could see, so I know it was done yrs ago. The original house is about 950 sq ft with a small addition on the side for dining and laundry w/stairs to the basement. Alas, only a pull down for the attic, but he intends to remedy that so it can be utilized as a loft space for the 5 yr old w/stairs. He loves the house, even though it’s the same age as his granny.

    This house has been pretty much preserved, in the original part of the house: hardwood floors, brass and glass doorknobs and original doors, light green 4×4 tile and medicine chest in the bath, although a half bath was added to one of the BRs, shrinking it so that only a twin bed can go there (for the 5 yr old now). Otherwise, it’s 4 main rooms around a small square hall. The kitchen has the original wood cabinets and there is lino on the floor ( not original) and someone put in a SS sink (horrors!). I think there was a gas stove in there originally, but over the years, it’s been changed to electric (has one of those horrid ceramic tops now). The addition and half bath were sort of kept to the style, with a pedestal sink in the bath, and wallpaper in both rooms. There is also a sun room added later, with, of all things, parquet wood flooring and tall windows on 3 sides that slide open side to side (that will be my lair!).

    But, we both love the house for its small footprint, even though we may never get it back to all of its originality. I’ll try to do that through decorating, etc, just to create the effect. I find lots of interesting stuff in the thrift stores, such as ReStore and expect to find even more in the new location, since it’s a small city with an aging population and sadly, a lot of flipping going on (imagine putting in granite and stainless steel double fridge in a 1000 sq ft or less house!). My decorating style tends to the eclectic/homey and I’ve collected some decent items over the years, including some from my mother and grandmother. No MCM in this house, though, it’s more of a holdover from the late ’30s, I think, when the economy was finally picking up a bit, and built just before we went to war. On the same street, closer to downtown, there are the 2 story, large older houses of the wealthier of the day, all very well preserved. The current mayor lives on that street.

    For those who like the 50s, this little town is awash in 1,000 sq ft little brick ranchers, since it was once an active industrial center and had a population boom in the 50s with people looking both for work and for housing.

  10. Victoria says

    Hi Everybody!
    I just found you, and I feel like I have come home to Mid- Century heaven! … Lost in a sea of granite counter tops and everything
    H U G E! I stumbled onto your website by trying to find where to buy a Formica counter top, in particular, an Irish Linen, tan, Wilson Art, Formica counter top. I was thrilled to find you and a site that sells retro style Formica. I wrote and asked about the Linen Formica, but unfortunately they stopped selling it in the 80’s.
    I grew up with a red linen shiny countertop, and later, built a house with the tan linen…. But that’s just one thing, We live in an old house and were fortunate to find the old kitchen still in tact with a gray and white Formica countertop.
    There were about 4 layers of replaced flooring, we couldn’t find linoleum, so ended up using alternate black and white tiles, We are now in the process of trying to find another old house, one that hasn’t been flipped… It breaks my heart to see all of the fine old fixtures, tile, knotty pine, radiators, and built -ins, torn out and replaced with granite, aluminum fixtures, and cheap looking plexiglass windows.
    I am so excited to know that mid century is becoming more popular! Somebody, please tell the realtors and the flippers!! Realtors give me a strange look and think I am crazy when I tell them I am looking for an old house that hasn’t been updated…. I really can’t understand this trend of having kitchens with stainless steel appliances that look like something you would find in a morgue.
    Maybe if we can keep building up “Mid – Century” it will become a “new trend” that catches on and people will treasure these old houses as they are, and more manufacturers will then begin to bring back the old products like shiny Irish Linen Formica….
    I am so excited to find you and hear about what you did and are doing to preserve and restore these wonderful houses!
    Thank You so much!

  11. Amy says

    We bought a mid-mod (late ’60’s) rancher that had NO upgrades – thank goodness! We bought “vintage,” but the real estate agent and owners apologized for the “dated” look. Tee-hee – we got a lower price – and less to do/UN-do! We love our Formia countertops, colorful tile bathroom and low horizontal lines. What a gem we got!

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