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……

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