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Joan’s Mid Mod Remod Do’s and Don’ts:

Most common mistakes of “remuddling” a Mid-Century Modern Home
By Joan Gand, Founder/Principal of Chicago Bauhaus and Beyond

If you are the new owner of a Mid-Century Modern home, congratulations! Now to the hard part…how to get the look you love. Forget what you see on HGTV/Martha Stewart/Oprah. Mid-Century modern has its own look and it will keep its value if you follow these simple rules.  I have come up with these thoughts after making many mistakes myself over the years. I hope that sharing my hard-earned knowledge will help you find your own Mid Mod style.

1. If it hasn’t been painted, don’t paint it.
Mid Mod style is all about the beauty of natural wood.  Many homes have amazing hand-crafted woodwork. Those with luan paneling, like Eichler or Keck houses, benefit by just restoring the wood rather than painting over it. If the house feels dark, use a light white or grey stain for a pickled effect.  Sandblast your ceilings and beams. For natural stone and brick on walls and fireplace– do NOT paint it over!  Clean it…sandblast it…come up with a creative solution to keep it natural. Do not listen to people who say “whitewash everything!” White walls are fine if they are sheetrock, not if they are a beautiful wood, stone, or brick that you are covering up. Covering your tongue and groove ceiling and wood beams with sheetrock - never, never, never!

This Mid-Century home looks magnificent with wood ceilings, dark posts and beams, but it doesn't feel and look dark. Lots of glass and bright colors keep it cheerful. The floor is a combination of slate and carpet.

2. Don’t “granitize” it.

Most granite countertops do not work with the Mid Mod look. What does work: Quartz tops, which are durable and stain resistant, like Caesar Stone and Silestone, natural marble (can be sealed against stains), concrete with terrazzo imbedded, Corian (solid colors) and of course, Formica.  Go as thin as possible with a square edge with quartz and marble – you have to specify this or you’ll get thick and rounded. Concrete can be thicker, and Formica looks good thick as well. For best results, look at vintage photos of Mid-Century kitchens and baths.

3. Don’t be too quick to replace old cabinet, door hardware, and light fixtures.
Live with it and learn to love it. Original hardware in modern homes has the Mid-Century look. Clean it, polish it or re-plate it if necessary.  You’ll be glad you did.  In the rush to “clean up”, many people have thrown out amazing hardware, only to realize later what they have lost. If you need retro hardware, here is a good source: http://www.rejuvenation.com/catalog/categories/hardware/mid-century-modern

4. Keep old plumbing fixtures if they still function.
Mid-century bathrooms are like classic cars. They have a special look often with pastel colored fixtures, amazing tile, and lots of chrome. Many times these bathrooms can be  restored to be amazing without spending a fortune to replace everything. Many old sinks, toilets, faucets are higher quality and much sought-after. Especially Crane. If you have pastel bathrooms with color-coordinated fixtures – live with them awhile before you think about tearing it out. You may find out that you love it.  Built in electric heater grates in bathrooms can be re-chromed and look fabulous. When choosing new bathrooms – go with timeless, not trendy. For example, remodelers are all in love with Vessel above counter sinks, but they scream “New Millenium!” not Mid Mod.

Here is an example of an original and elegant Mid Mod bathroom - if you have something special like this, it should be kept as is.

5. Don’t rush to put in a new trendy floorcovering.
The floor is a huge area in your home and makes a big impression. Mid-Century modern houses typically featured natural stone floors such as slate, terrazzo, bluestone, and travertine.  Cork is also traditional, and although beautiful, is not good in a sunny room (fades) or where it can get wet. Natural stained concrete is a fitting and durable choice. Wood floors are an option if you choose the right look to go with your home. The latest trendy (for example) bamboo floor may end up looking dated soon, and not fit the Mid-Century aesthetic. Carpeting is also important in the Mid Mod home. Shagadelic baby! Go with solid colors, Berber, Flor carpet tiles, and shag.

6. No Shaker Cabinets in a Mid Mod Kitchen.
If your kitchen and bathroom cabinets are original – do everything you can to save them. Refinish, rebuild, fit the insides with organizers to make them more functional. If you have to replace them, choose clean-lined cabinets with no panels, no molding, no trim.  Choose no hardware or simple Mid-Century style round knobs for new cabinets.


This untouched Mid-Century kitchen looks as beautiful today as it did in the late 50's when it was built. Original stainless steel wall ovens still work perfectly, and the stained concrete floor is original.   This updated kitchen in a Mid-Century home captures the aesthetic with warm wood, flat front cabinets, and clean lines. Note the original pass-through to the dining room has been kept.


7. Don’t make surfaces too shiny.
Mid-Century modernism is all about texture and matte finishes.  For example – tile: shiny glass tiles are OK in small doses, but matte glazed tiles look classic and timeless.  Paint – use matte or eggshell if possible. Textures and accessories like grasscloth wallpaper, nubby upholstery, shag rugs, and art pottery carry out the theme.

8. Don’t replace fixed pane glass windows with multi-pane windows.
Mid-Century modern windows are usually large panes with no mullions. If you have to replace windows, get the most accurate replacement available.  Never use vinyl wrapped, double-hung windows on a Mid-Century house. Stained glass windows are fine in Craftsman or Wrightian homes, but not in Mid-Century modern. Do not replace fixed pane glass with prefabricated windows. In warm climates, aluminum window frames were the standard. In cold climates, always use wood.

9. Front doors should be in Mid-Century style.
Your front door is the first thing your family and friends will see and touch. Keep it simple, no etched or stained glass, or ornate motifs.  Simple flat panel door painted an accent color is one easy way, like orange, yellow, or red, depending on your color scheme. Reproduction Mid Mod doors are also available from www.crestviewdoors.com.



10.  MOST IMPORTANT! Live in your new home awhile before starting work. 
You will begin to appreciate the functionality and look of the old. You will also quickly discover what works and what doesn’t. I can’t tell you how many people, including myself, regret updates that they made to their house before they fully appreciated the details. Start slowly and carefully and discover what’s great about your new Mid Mod home.

For fun and inspiration – check out the website retrorenovation.com
Magazines: Modern Magazine, Atomic Ranch Magazine, CA Modern Magazine, and Dwell are all good sources
Books: Vintage decorating books are great, as well as any book showing exteriors and interiors of Mid-Century homes.  Don’t be afraid to steal a great idea from someone else’s home.