Mad About Modern

Fifty years ago the architects of mid-century modernism pioneered a fresh vision for domestic life that is still going strong in Charlotte today...

Built in America from 1933 to 1965, mid-century modern homes were based on the simple, accessible layouts developed by architects in Scandinavia and continental Europe. Fifty years later the functionality, ease, and modern simplicity of mid-century design are sought after in Charlotte, which has the third largest concentration of mid-century modern homes in America.  Charlotte experienced much of its population growth during the period when modern architecture was becoming mainstream.  John Kincheloe, architect leader of LS3P Envision Studio and past president of the Historic Charlotte Board, explains that as the city grows, it is attracting a young, diverse population with an interest in modern design. “There is a renewed appreciation for the unique design  qualities of mid-century modern homes, which have found a new audience of people who value and appreciate good design and look for that in all areas of their lives, including their homes,” he says. The Charlotte Museum of History is working to preserve this important part of the city’s history and keep interest in mid-century modernism alive through its Mad About Modern Home Tour, now in its sixth year. This one-day self-guided tour takes you inside some of the city’s best examples of mid-century modern style and architecture. This year’s tour, held Saturday, September 9, from 10 am to 4 pm, will feature seven homes. To prepare you for Mad About Modern, we’re providing a snapshot of three of the amazing homes on the tour.

The Natural Light House.   6827 Folger Drive.  With its trellis entryway, custom brick detail, and planters framing the front, this home caught Tammy and Alan Baker’s eye when they relocated to Charlotte four years ago. Once inside, they saw past its current condition, which was that it had been rented for years, and fell in love with the natural light from the wall of glass windows and oversized sliding doors that open to a full-length deck.  Then there is the large, open living area with its massive fireplace and concrete geometric block façade, which was painted in a bright red glaze when they first saw the home. “We repainted it and put in a gas line with cut glass instead of logs,” Tammy says. The house also has some Frank Lloyd Wright characteristics, including the cantilever of the deck and the deck’s roofline with no supporting columns.

The couple renovated areas of the home to complement its modernist exterior. They installed white oak wood floors throughout the living and kitchen area and turned a vintage dresser from the ‘60s into a vanity in the hall bath renovation. Furniture from Mid Century Salvage and estate sales completes the look. The home still has its original vinyl terrazzo floor and exterior can downlights on the eaves of the roof. “Everyone knows our house,” Tammy says. “It glows red at night!”

The Fun House.  5322 Finsbury Place.   “Adulthood can make you too serious,” Jonathan Adler says in his book, My Prescription for Anti-Depressive Living. If that’s true, Emily and Hunt Allen found their antidote in this sleek, California-style ranch.  The Hunts purchased the home from its original owner, Charlotte architect Gene Warren, who designed and built the home in 1963. While they enlarged and remodeled the kitchen and refreshed the interior, which they described as very traditional, the new owners were careful to preserve the home’s mid-century modern character.  Two examples are the original white enamel Malm freestanding fireplace, a focal point in the home’s main living area, and the tubular skylights throughout the home that bring in natural light by day and moonbeams by night.

“We loved the high ceilings and the exposed wooden beams,” Emily says, who made all the design updates herself, purchasing kitchen cabinets at IKEA and collecting treasures that met the mid-century aesthetic at flea markets and consignment stores. “But the surprise of this house is that it’s a lot larger and more open on the inside than it appears from the outside. The owner added on a playroom and master suite in the ‘70s, so the house offers more than meets the eye.

The James Bond House.  3517 Johnny Cake Lane. Leslie and Alan Sykes prefer homes with a lot of history that are untouched, with all or most of the original elements present. In search of a larger home for their growing family, they were thrilled when the Andrew Hearn house came on the market. Andrew Hearn was the designer, contractor, and original owner of their unique home, which was built in 1964. Inspired by the architecture of Frank Lloyd Wright, Hearn incorporated many unique elements in the home, from its entrance bridge straddling a small koi pond to the round kitchen and floating staircase.  The Sykes fell in love the moment they saw the home and bought it in August of last year. They have been carefully rehabilitating the home since, repairing water damage and making necessary electrical and plumbing updates.  Except for the master bathroom, which had to be renovated due to damage, all bathrooms in the home are original. The basement bathroom has its original 1960s James Bond wallpaper with images from three Bond films released in the mid-60s, which is still in remarkable condition. “Our goal is to keep the mid-century feel of the house intact in all our renovations,” Leslie says. “We don’t want to strip away what made the house unique in the 1960s.” One of Leslie’s favorite updates was actually a retro-renovation. She removed the 1990s-era ovens and replaced them with a pair of 1960s electric Chambers ovens, which were the Vikings of their day. She was able to track down a matching pair of working electric Chambers ovens from the 1960s – a true miracle since the company made mostly gas ranges and not electrical.