There are upwards of 15 million mid-century ranches houses in America. There is just no need to re-invent the wheel looking for MCM Remodeling ideas.
When you run into a knotty design problem … or a knotty pine siding problem, look to what others have done before you. Sorry about the pun.
When you’re at a loss for how to solve some particular problem area of your mid-century house, your go-to resource should not be HGTV, and it should not be whatever they are pushing this week at Home Depot might be. Those are solutions for non-ranch houses.
The key is to play to your home’s strengths. Mid-Century Houses are great! They don’t need much to take them from a bit tired and looking their age to the very peak of retro modern vogue.
But there are some ways that homes built for mid-century people don’t fit our modern lives. If you need some MCM remodeling ideas to solve your style or layout problems, you’ve got two great resources at your finger tips.
You can dive back into the origins of MCM design or you can just check out what other people have done to solve the same problem in their Mid mod houses.
Here’s a handy collection of great MCM Homeowner Instagram accounts you should be following if you want more ideas in an Instagram Guide …
Listen in for more!
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Read the Full Episode Transcript
When we’re working on remodeling mid-century homes, we don’t need to reinvent the wheel because there are so many similar houses out there that have been updated by so many other homeowners who have the same problems. The challenges of an MCM home are common and so are the solutions. So today I’m going to talk about where to find great MCM remodeling ideas. Hint, it’s not on HGTV.
Hey, there. Welcome back to Mid Mod Remodel. This is the show about updating MCM homes, helping you match a mid-century house to your modern life. I’m your host Della Hansmann, architect and mid-century ranch enthusiast. You’re listening to season 6, episode 6.
There are probably upwards of 15 million mid-century ranch houses in the USA. There’s just no need to reinvent the wheel when you run into a naughty design problem or a naughty pine-siding problem. Oh, sorry about the pun. The key though is to play your home strengths and know what its weaknesses are going to be.
As you know, from listening to the podcast, I’m no preservationist; I don’t think we all need to be living in museums, but I think we should work with the houses we have. If you don’t love MCM style homes. Well, why are you listening to me talk right now? Mostly. I want to congratulate all of you who are listening on picking out a style of house that’s so closely aligned with modern life. I mean it, you don’t have to do much to bring it from kind of tired and looking at age to peak, retro modern Vogue, but your house will go better if you stick to the MCM period and don’t try to turn around into a cottage.
The first place you should turn when you’re facing a challenge and updating your mid-century era home and looking for MCM remodeling ideas is to what other homeowners like yourself have tried. And the second is to go back to mid-century first principles and see what cool MCM design ideas could have been incorporated into your house when it was first built, but weren’t. Then add them. So when you were at home and you’re feeling at a loss as to what to do in some particular area, your go-to resource should not be HGTV and it should not be whatever they’re pushing this week at Home Depot. Those are solutions for non ranch houses.
As always, you’re going to hear me suggest strongly that you lean into the mid-century style of an MCM era home. This will help you in three ways. One. When you’re working within your home style, you can feel confident to defend it against all comers. Don’t let a kitchen designer, a big box store employee, or your own contractor push you into changing your home’s essential character. Two. When you know and love what you’re dealing with. You can keep an improve on the good things and still feel free to make changes that you need to fit your own life. But the baseline of your house is already great for you. And three. Before you start banging your head against the walls, look around someone else has had the same problem with their MCM home, and they have solved it with MCM remodeling ideas that you can steal.
So because there are 15 million ranch houses in the states, they have many common features. The chances are if your kitchen or your garage or your bathroom is bugging you, you’re not the first person to feel that way because there are a few key ideas around mid-century houses that just don’t align that well with modern life. And the good news is we can fix them.
By the way, if you want to dive a little deeper into this topic, then I can get in a single podcast episode. You will want to check out the free live masterclass I’m giving a week from next Tuesday. I’m going to be spilling the tea on planning an MCM remodel to fit your life and your budget.
Don’t miss that class. Get your name on the wait list by going to midmod-midwest.com/waitlist and I’ll make sure you get invited to the live class as soon as registration opens. It won’t be long now. I’m also going to be doing a little teach-in specifically on mid-century kitchens next week in a Facebook live. So getting on the mailing list, we’ll make sure you know about that too. If you’re driving and can’t remember URLs, you can find the show notes with the links to the waitlist and the outline of the conversation we’re about to have on my website at midmod-midwest.com/606, or, you know, just look under the blog category.
Alright, let’s get into this. If you are in a builder grade, mid-century home that needs an update, then you have two really helpful wells of ideas to pull from when you improve on it. The first is the solutions to common mid-century house problems that other owners like yourself have already attempted successfully. And you can go a lot of places to find those one might be right here in the Mid Mod Remodel podcast, or joining the Mid Mod Remodel Facebook group to find out what other fellow listeners of the show are up to. You can find so many ideas on the wonderful world of mid-century Instagram. There are so many people taking on projects, large and small to breathe new life into mid-century homes. That’s your first start.
The second is just to return to the first principles of mid-century design that may or may not have been incorporated in your home when it was first built. What are the great mid-century concepts that your house doesn’t include or only does in shorthand?
Here’s an example of what I mean. The picture window; standard in a builder grade, 1950s ranch, just like mine. This is the conceptual child or cousin to the floor to ceiling glass windows, sliding door/California-style Modernist house. The kind where the roof is supported by post and beam structure so the barrier between indoor and outdoor living can really begin to dissolve. It’s a magical effect and a picture window doesn’t quite capture it.
But if you’re in a position where you need to replace some or all of the windows in your house, you can consider replacing your traditional picture window (the kind with a square of glass flanked by two narrow, double hung windows) with something more mid-century. That might be a triple panel of fixed glass, panes above and small awning or hopper windows below. Or if your picture window looks out at the backyard, replace the window with a sliding glass door.
If you’re learning from what other people have done before, let’s get into a couple of specific examples. For one, if you’re short on bathroom space, this is a hugely common mid-century house problem. Most builder grade MCM house has had one shared bathroom for the whole family and guests. People today don’t love that as much. So if you’re short on bathroom space and looking for MCM remodeling ideas to help you address the problem, you might want to do what a lot of other people have done by adding one in the basement, it’s actually the easiest place to add a bathroom is in an unfinished basement. It’s counterintuitive, but jackhammering up a concrete floor and then reporting the concrete after you add plumbing is actually easier than working around finished space on main levels, and then having to connect piping through a basement below.
This is exactly what I did in my own home. The original basement was unfinished. It had, what’s known as a diaper toilet in the laundry area. This toilet, um, you often find freestanding and an unfinished basement space. Other people will say the origin is because it was the easiest, cheapest plumbing fixture that could be put in so that the plumbing system could be tested for code. But I’ve heard that it was used often for the lady of the house to rinse and flush the contents of cloth diapers before loading them into her modern washing machine. You can tag off of that plumbing.
I do this on so many mid-century renovations that I plan when we are finishing part or, all of the basement: creating a den; adding an egress window for a guest or teenager bedroom, we also want to get a functional bathroom in on that lower level. So by connecting to the plumbing of the washing machine and the diaper toilet, we can easily introduce a new bath pretty much anywhere that suits us within the basement and easily increase the resale value of the house and its usability with one quick move.
Here’s another example of learning from what’s come before. Let’s talk about kitchens. The problems with mid-century kitchens are so universal. Before the mid-century home, as we talked about last season, the kitchen was still largely a standing affair. There would be a range, a sink, and a refrigerator, but no counters or wall-hung cabinets. Instead there would be a storage unit like a Hoosier cupboard and a table with chairs that served as both prep and dining surface.
The idea of the efficient kitchen was coming along before the mid-century ranch. If you remember that book and movie cheaper by the dozen, the mother in that story, Lillian Galbraith was an industrial psychologist and engineer. At first, she worked with her husband, but she continued to work and invent long after his death. And she coined the term, the work triangle, that functional space between the fridge, the stove and the sink. The work triangle defines a space where no leg of the triangle should be less than four feet (too cramped), or more than nine (too many steps).
And this idea at the time was revolutionary. It was intended and did reduce the workload of the cook, usually mom. It isn’t as applicable today though, as it was when Galbraith invented it. The way we cook has changed a lot. We no longer start from an unplugged chicken or a basket of tomatoes. Meal prep takes less time and it’s more likely to be undertaken by more than one person than it was in the past. Breakfast used to be eggs, bacon hash Browns. Now it’s a bowl of cereal and a coffee and a bar grabbed on the way out the door.
The way we cook is also more individualized. Some families really like to make meals from scratch as a recreational activity. Others just want a place for the Keurig to stand in glory and an oven to keep the pizza box warm. These two hypothetical extremes want very different kitchens, but the mid-century kitchen is incredibly consistent. In nearly all cases, an MCM kitchen, whether a galley or a full room is a space where the three basic elements: the fridge, the range and the sink, are set into base cabinets against walls with upper cabinets above them anywhere there isn’t a window or a door.
This usually means that every work surface and a mid-century kitchen requires you to turn your back on the room and probably look at a cabinet door less than 12 inches from your face. It’s not great. Not great for lighting and not great for work surfaces. And if anyone else is in the room with you, you’ve got to turn your back on them to get things done.
So what can be done about it? Depending on the dimensions you’re playing with, you can remove wall cabinets and slide in a narrow island. You can expand the kitchen with a small addition, or you can blow out an interior wall between the kitchen and the living space in order to set up a peninsula style double-sided counter. I’m going to be teaching more about solving specific kitchen problems in a Facebook live next week so follow me over to camera three for that fun then.
Let’s see, uh, here’s another common mid-century ranch problem. Despite the concept of indoor outdoor living, most ranches, aren’t very well connected to their yards. They often have just one door at the front and one near the kitchen on the side or the back. But this problem has been solved since with a nearly infinite selection of additions out in all directions. In an early mid-century neighborhood like mine, you can read the story of homeowner creativity in the Google maps. So when my neighborhood was built, each house was a very slight variation on a 28 foot by 40 foot rectangle. There was house with maybe a single car garage, either attached or nearby.
They all have the same rough interior layout: kitchen, dining room, living room on one side, family bath and two to three bedrooms on the other. Today a flyover view shows a few untouched examples of this layout and countless variations of L shape, U shape, and Z shape additions projecting out. Garages have been expanded, living rooms and master bedrooms added off the back. Breezeway is converted to three season deck additions. The list goes on the sturdy simple construction of a mid-century ranch actually were intended to make it really easy to add on to. The best effect can be achieved by pushing out towards the back to either add a more generous master suite or a backyard connecting family space, but really the possibilities are infinite.
So if you’re puzzling over how to add onto your ranch, you’re looking for MCM remodeling ideas for your home. You don’t have to figure it out on your own. Just switch to Google earth view on your map app.
To recap. If you are looking for MCM remodeling ideas to solve the challenges of your mid-century home, you’ve got two great resources at your fingertips. You can dive back into the origins of mid-century design, or you can just check out what other people have done to solve the same problem for their mid mod houses. And don’t worry, you don’t need to go knocking on the doors of random strangers to ask about their best MCM remodeling ideas to share. I have got you covered. I’ve been putting together a collection of my favorite mid-century homeowner led remodel accounts on Instagram. I’ve organized them all into an Instagram guide where you can see them each in one place and then go follow each one individually.
As I’ve said before on the podcast, you can train the inscrutable algorithms of social media to show you what I assume you want: lovely mid-century inspiration and MCM remodeling ideas. You do that by following accounts that are full of just that. So head over to my Instagram at Midmod Midwest and tap on the guides icon to find that list or get the link in today’s show notes.
An even more hands-on resource for MCM remodeling ideas and layout troubleshooting is Facebook groups. I’m not wild about Facebook itself, but the topics specific groups can be amazing. Check out the Mid Mod Remodel Facebook community, and the plethora of other great mid-century homeowner groups out there. You can post pictures of your house with questions that you need answered and get them answered by other people who care as much about mid-century design and homes as you do what fun.
And thirdly, if you want a compilation of the type of design solutions I’ve been talking about throughout this episode, great mid-century design solutions I’ve workshopped over five years of working exclusively in MCM design, then you’ll want to get your hands on my collection of design guides for mid-century spaces. This is only available inside my head or inside the ready to remodel course, that is going to be live again in October. The design guides for mid-century spaces are a series of video lectures and quick design workbooks for each space in your mid-century home: living, cooking, eating, sleeping, bathing, indoors, and out. Pop in there to get the goods on all that inside the ready to remodel course, they are a pretty excellent source of MCM remodeling ideas and my humble, but correct opinion.
Speaking of which we’ve been working our way through the five D design framework all season, I’ve talked about how to dream up an unconventional model, that perfectly suits your own lifestyle. How does smash the patriarchy by discovering what you need to know about your house in order to lead a remodel like a woman. How to distill your scroll time into a style guide in the last episode. And now in case you didn’t notice, we’ve been talking about the draft phase where you explore options to love the challenges that your home style and layout has presented you with.
If you want to get your hands on the whole framework in PDF form, you can get one sent right to your inbox. When you sign up to get on the wait list for my masterclass planning a mid-century remodel that perfectly fits your life and budget. There’s no risk in signing up so put your name on the wait list, which you can do at midmod-midwest/waitlist.
Meanwhile, next week on the podcast, we’ll be talking about how a master plan for your remodel can save you both time and money. See you there.