Your Perfect Mid-century Front Door at 3 Easy Levels

11 min read Mid-century modern is so in right now, people are popping neutra type house numbers and modbox mailboxes onto just about any house type.

Sketch of Level 2: Power up. For a medium sized Mid-century front door intervention improve the pathway, highlight the door area with fence or bench and make a more generous front stoop or portico!

You are in luck, Ranch Owner, because the mid-century front door was made for your house.  I’ll break down how you can get or make your own perfect Mid-Century front door whether you are simply aiming for a spin through Etsy or planning major renovation.

I’ve been posting a lot lately about the specific transformations I’m making to my own home. Today, let’s step back and discuss the possibilities for easy mid-century ranch updates in a more universally applicable way.

We’ll begin with the three levels in infographic form:

You, too, can have a perfect mid-century front door with these easy level. Learn what accessories to buy, how to diy great projects and when to call in an architect!

If you want to skip ahead to the How-To portion of this post, feel free:

What is a Mid-Century Door: what are we talking about here anyway?

  1. Buy In: Tips and tricks for an eye catching front door
  2. Power Up: Medium sized DIY projects to add pop to your whole entry
  3. Call A Pro: when (and why)to get expert help for a dramatic change

My own Front Door Journey (ongoing)

I was instantly drawn to my sweet front door from the moment I drove up following the realtor.  That doesn’t mean I thought it was doing everything right.  It had a cohesiveness I could appreciate even though it wasn’t either my style OR the style I felt was most appropriate for a tuned up mid-century house. 

The owners of my house had defaulted to the traditional ranch. 

They had a white rail fence, a pair of carriage lamps – one on a dangerously leaning post and one next to the door above the faux hammered-iron mailbox.  The house numbers were also faux blacksmith style minimal traditional. 

The brightest thing about it – the red painted door – was rapidly fading to sad pink and hidden by a rusting half-lite storm door.  

Even the classic mid-century hedges were growing out of control (and filled with two generations of odd lost trash objects that had sifted down to the void over the years).

Note: This kind of sculpted evergreen hedge is SUPER high maintenance.  Absent their former owners’s pruning for just two months they were sprouting energetic little shoots trying to break out of their rigid boxes.  

I knew I had a lot of changes to make.

Here’s a quick run down of some of the things Ive done and still plan to do for my own entry that you’ll recognize from both the infographic above and the rest of the post below! 

My ACTUAL first step  towards improving the curb appeal of the house was huge and labor intensive; I scraped and sanded off the toxic peeling toothpaste green and painted my renewed wood siding in the medium grey. 

[Tweet “I painted my house that medium grey which is the universal signifier of “I am a millennial first time homeowner planning to take on a lot of mid-century style DIY on this house!“]

My first step toward fixing up a snappy mid-century front door was much more simple:

I bought the ModBox mail box I’d been obsessing about via Pinterest for a while popped it on the house. Over the next year I tackled the following:

Still on my to do list:

  • I have plans to replace the leaning fence (already pulled) with a new one in cedar slats.
  • I’ll use some cedar slat planters to create the illusion of a more generous set of entry steps (as a half measure to actually pulling out the concrete steps and replacing them with a wider entry platform in wood.

When all is said and done, I won’t change the roof line or build a generous deck over my front door steps (as I wish I could).  I had to promise myself and my handyman helper Dad that we wouldn’t go OVERBOARD with the work on this theoretically temporary house.  I think I will have taken an extremely modest 1952 ranch from tired to the trendy tip of modern mid-century styling.  

Note: I’ve noticed a slew of ModBox mailboxes popping up on surrounding blocks since I put mine up two years ago.  What is popular may not always be right (according to the middle school poster) but it can sure feel fun to be cool!

Alright, lets get down to brass tacks.  What defines a mid-century front door? Before we dive into the How, lets talk about What makes up that signature Mid-century look …

What defines a Mid-century Front Door?

There are a few key elements to employ to ensure your front door looks as mid mod as possible.  

Bold colors:

Color pallets shifted a bit through the mid-century decades, but this was not a bashful era.  For your front door you can go for color POP.  Pick your favorite lime, teal or butterscotch  and bold.

Asymmetry:

Unlike almost every era before, the mid-century house did not organize itself symmetrically around the front door with a matched array of one, two or three windows on either side. The Mid Mod designers were more casual. Just as they experimented with open plans on the inside, they were busy changing what a house had to look like on the outside. Feel free to throw symmetry out the window as you re-think your front door.

Variety of texture/material:

Most mid-century ranches have more than one material on their facade.  Some have stone base walls, others a dramatic brick chimney, and the most modest still tend to vary vertical siding against horizontal. Mix it up!  Feel free to add natural materials or fun manufactured ones – BREEZEBLOCK! – to add interest to the simple ranch form.

Level ONE: Buy In

Sketch of Level 1: Buy in. To start off your mid-century front door, focus on things you can add to the area around the door. Colorful mail box, door paint, house numbers or a planter will help it really pop!

If you are just dipping your toe into the waters of either Mid-century modern or updating your ranch house, start small.  

 

Try just two things.

Note: Don’t pick only one thing off this list.  Remember, Mid-century is all about asymmetry and keeping the eye off balance, so you need multiple elements in play.  

Pick out a mid-century style mailbox.  Here’s one I LOVE.  Then buy a quart of paint in the same color and make your front door pop.  

Did you know you can get an exact match at the paint store?  You can … and its a blast.  Here’s the post where I rave about how much fun it was when I gave my front door this one-two color punch. 

Further Note: I do not advise you to paint your shutters to match too … because I do not advise you to have shutters.  See this post on how Shutters on a Ranch house are the ABSOLUTE WORST. 

 

If you aren’t matching your front door to the color of the mailbox, feel free to experiment. Paint samples, or better yet, paint your door with a sample quart from the paint store. Then paint it again. Then again. My neighbor re-painted her front door four times before she found the color she LOVED to walk up to. Now she gets compliments all the time!

Want to keep going?  Here are a few more to do items!  

A few more dollars and some elbow grease will get you a lot farther. Update your house lights and house numbers.

With a fun door, light, mailbox and house number combo just about anyone notice and appreciate your house proud efforts.

When you’re thinking house numbers, why not go BIG? They will stand out from the crowd, make your neighbors jealous AND make it easy for your friends, guests, and Amazon delivery to find you when they drive along your street.  

You can make your own designer house numbers on the cheap by painting them yourself, cutting them from translucent stickers for your windows (as I have) or by attaching smaller numbers to a bigger element like a fence, post or placard.  

You can also add color or texture with oversized planters or seating elements.  Think powder coat metal, cedar slat or bright ceramic.  

Remember, the mid-century front door isn’t about matching every piece – its about balancing elements that talk to each other.  So while you might want to have a bright colored mailbox and the same colored front door, you don’t want to put that same color everywhere.  Mix it up with a (small) variety color or materials around the entry.

Level TWO: Power UP

Sketch of Level 2: Power up. For a medium sized Mid-century front door intervention improve the pathway, highlight the door area with fence or bench and make a more generous front stoop or portico!

For bigger mid-century moves, focus on asymmetry.  Play up any irregular elements in your facade.  Use new elements to “aim” your eye to the front door from the sidewalk, the garage door, any way you (or your guests) approach the door.  Keep the eye moving.

A good way to think about this is to create two (or three) visual blocks that stretch in different directions – one horizontal and one more vertical.

You can see it in the sketch above.

This was/is a great move for my own house because I had THE MOST SIMPLE MATERIAL PALLATE. It was literally just 8″ horizontal siding. No brick, no stone, not even an area of vertical siding near the door.

To fix this I have added in a square-ish wall of cedar slats that fills the front of the old breezeway. It’s great and I love it BUT the house won’t be complete until the spring when I can dig post holds for a new low, horizontal fence to run along the entry sidewalk.

For example

subtle mid-century front door in white and brick ranch house

Here’s a particularly subtle example.  This whole ranch is an exercise in understatement but it has the mix of textures, and asymmetrical un-balance we’ve been talking about.  The door offset to the right with covered walk way leading to the left, the differing heights of wreath and mailbox and the two different brick wall heights all keep your eye bouncing around, picking up more detail.  The white is so bright it might as well be a color pop.  LOVELY!

Here are some other DIY project you can take on to improve the mid-century character of your front entry.

Replace the front door:

You can infinitely improve your front door with a splash (or roller) of paint but if it is hopelessly colonial under that paint job … you might eventually want to step it up. The Diva of preserving mid-century houses, Pam Kueber over at retrorenovation.com, has assembled this great list of places where you can get an authentic mid mod style front doors.

If you have the DIY fever, or want to get really custom you can MAKE A MID-CENTURY DOOR YOURSELF with a kit from makeitmidcentury.com where Susan Halla, a fellow architect, helps people achieve their Mid Mod dreams. You can tell all the people who compliment your new door that you built it yourself!

They also provide kits to improve and adorn your garage door in marvelous mid-century style. Check out the options here!

Improve your steps and stoop:

Most vintage front stoops are too narrow. You want to have a place for multiple people to stand or one person to stand back and juggle a package while the door swings open. Note: don’t go to big. You don’t need to plan a space for a dozen carol singers to gather once a year.

Add Cover Overhead:

If you feel up to it, adding a portico, pergola, or extending your roof is a great project at this level. Some ranches come with covered porches and if yours doesn’t this is a marvelous way to make your guests feel more welcome and encourage you to stop coming and going through the garage!

Enliven the Landscaping:

If you have a green thumb, dig in with adding several varieties of texture and height to the area between your house and the street. Nothing looks homlier (not good) than a tiny ranch planted in a sea of bare lawn. Ranches are supposed to be low, horizontal, and connected to the surrounding landscape. Give yours a hand by transitioning between house and yard with plants.

Play with Planter(s):

Plants don’t only need to go in the ground. Raised planters are not only easier to tend but they have more visual punch as well. They can look good even when emptied out for winter or be left with some year-round shrubberies intact. Mix and match planters and fence elements to create a sense of privacy up to your front door.

Extend a walk way to the sidewalk:  

One of my pet peeves is a house approach where guests have to walk up the drive way – car space – to get to your front door.  Why not connect the house to the public way directly.  Pretend you live like a pedestrian. 

This is where you can really go nuts with Pinterest ideas. There will be so many great projects online to emulate that you’ll never have time to try them all. Remember to look beyond the Mid-century style for your How-To information.

 

I like to search FamilyHandyman.com whenever I’m taking on a mid-sized project. They have amazing step-by-step tutorials for everything from how build a window-well retaining wall to how to set a fence post. Even though their aesthetic is more traditional/cottage, I can follow their methods and then give my projects a mid mod twist!

Mid-century friendly materials to use around your front door: painted wood, wood slats, breeze block, concrete.

Level THREE: Call a Pro

Sketch of Level 3: Call a Pro. Sometimes you want to think BIG. To get a dramatic mid-century front door transformation, call in a designer or GC to help you change the roof line or add some key square footage!

To go all in, you will likely need to bring in a design professional and a contractor.  Options include building a deck or patio out from the door or changing up the roof line.  If you are planning an addition, make sure it works WITH your entry and strengthens it rather than ruining your whole aspect.  

Remember, the  ideal front door has a protected space to stand while you fumble with your keys or knock and wait to be let in.  

Take your ranch from dull to daring by adding a cross gable over the entry.  You can wrap over the garage and make that part of your entry statement.  

You can get a one-two punch of exterior face lift and interior re-design.

A big enough change can dramatically improve your interior spaces, too. Perhaps this is a chance to raise up the ceiling in your living area, improve your solar aspect, pull in more natural light or find a spot for PV panels on your roof.

The sky really is the limit here. Get inspired!

While you’ll never turn a midwest ranch house into a California Eichler (that flat roof would not be smart in the snow) you can definitely look for inspiration around you in both houses that have been remodeled and those with original design features.

I’m am particularly a fan of wide low-slope cross gables (like my level three example below) to DRAMATICALLY change the facade of a simple ranch. This doesn’t have to involve increasing your footprint – unless you want it to.

Note: all of these sketches are different versions of my house. Each of these levels of change are totally possible on even the most builder basic ranch!

Dream big.  This is how amazing transformations can happen!

Final thoughts

 

This is not an either/or situation. You don’t have to limit yourself to just one level of making a great Mid Mod Front Entry for yourself. Feel free to treat these as phases in an ongoing process. Start with a brightly painted front door and then see how far down the rabbit hole you’ll go!

How is YOUR front door?

Do you have a fabulous mid-century front door? Or a weird / problematic one you can’t figure out how to fix? Post about in the comments. I would LOVE to brainstorm with you or cheer you on!

2 thoughts on “Your Perfect Mid-century Front Door at 3 Easy Levels”

  1. Wonderful post! I have a builer’s model ranch (in Brookfield) designed by Ray Prell, another Wisconsin architect whose style was informed by FLW. The first thing I did after purchase was paint it a sandtone greige, to match the Andersen Windows ‘Sandtone’ casings I’d chosen for the replacement windows.
    Searching for the ‘Wright Red’ for the front doors, I settled on a rusty cedar. Wish I’d known about Cherokee Red!

    1. Well … doors can be relatively easy to paint. Its an idea you might test come spring! I don’t know Ray Prell but I’m always adding to my collection of Midwestern Residential Designers. Thanks for another addition to my research list!

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