How to Plan a Mid-Century Renovation you’ll Love

10 min read When you’ve just bought a house, the new responsibilities can be overwhelming. Don’t worry. All you need is a great plan!

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!

The right plan can help you figure out what will make you happiest and what is the best solution for your home.  You are in the driver’s seat with a road map, once you roll up your sleeves to fully plan a mid-century renovation.

Be confident you’re making the right choices for the right reasons!!

Why you need a Mid-Century MasterPlan to Remodel Well

Starting a home renovation can leave you feeling drowned in the details.  With a strong Renovation Master Plan, you can be confident you’re making the right choices for the right reasons.

Invest the time to really plan a mid-century renovation. Clarify what you want and help steer a path to your ideal future home.

Remodeling can be overwhelming.

Decision fatigue is real.

The home remodeling industry  was worth 99 billion dollars last year. It wants to sell you every darned thing and is coming at you – full volume – across all channels. Instagram, Pinterest and HGTV can feel like they are yelling in your face about how perfect your home … isn’t.  

Homes should help people live better, not be a burden and added source of stress!

But … You can get it all under control right now.

I know what it is like to be a first time homeowner and to feel overwhelmed by the choices and responsibilities of a new house.

As a residential architect, though, I’ve helped dozens of home owners create their own master plan. With a vision, navigating the complexities of a remodeling project becomes easier. Now they all have revitalized, more valuable, and beautiful homes that they love living in. 

With a complete masterplan to your house remodel in hand, you will have peace of mind. Know that you’re making the right home-remodeling decisions for the yourself and your house.

Set yourself up for the Mid-Century Remodel of your Dreams with a MasterPlan.

To get the home you want, you need be the person with the strongest vision for your home before you bring in contractors, suppliers or other industry experts. 

If your team is not familiar with mid-century design, they could unintentionally erase the character of your home in ways that can’t easily be recovered.

You can plan a Mid-century Renovation to create the home of your Instagram fantasies that is really comfortable to live in, easy to maintain … and can fit within your budget. 

How to MasterPlan a Mid-century Renovation

Your Masterplan should Include:

  1. a list of your biggest remodeling priorities
  2. a full understanding of your house’s current status
  3. a clear vision of the mid-century style of the house
  4. rough floor plans of the house showing the changes you’ve planned
  5. the collected mid-century oriented choices – details, materials, and design ideas – all easily accessible so you can make confident decisions

Step 1: Focus your Plans

I hope I’m not the first to tell you that we can’t have it all. No home remodel contains every idea that ever crossed the homeowner’s mind.

The good news is that if you focus on what is most important to you in life, you can often have THAT.

When you plan a remodel, the key is to know what your (three to five) biggest priorities of the remodel will be. Especially if you have a limited budget for your project (and who doesn’t), you’ll want to put money where it matters most to you.  

For a medium sized remodel or DIY update this may involve some soul searching and triage. You don’t have to let go of the whole wishlist. Break your project into phases and focus on the smaller or most important parts this year. Circle back to catch the rest of your bucket list in a later project.

Remember to keep your Remodel Personal

Don’t just focus on what the Home Remodeling Industry says is most important. Think about yourself and your lifestyle first!

If you are a kitchen wizard, focus your resources on a full update to a modern functional kitchen.  On the other hand, if you hardly cook, restrain yourself to a few cosmetic updates to the kitchen. Focus on the bathroom where you need a soothing morning ritual, or the den where you host kick ass pizza and movie nights every Friday.

Figuring out what is necessary for your best life  AND what your home needs most is half the battle in a successful design process. 

Take time to focus on your needs

Figure out what you really prize about your home and what you most want to get from your renovation.  Are you:

  • desperate to add square footage?
  • screaming for a new kids bedroom?
  • growing your home business into its own office? or just
  • eager to improve flow and elegance while keeping things modest? 

Hint: the tax assessors office won’t care if you make your layout more open and effective; they don’t charge based on how much you love your home! However you will hike your property tax if you double the house’s footprint in the remodel!  Small is beautiful!

While every home is unique, here are some common areas that need a little loving care in a mid-century home:

  • The front entry: unless your home was designed by an architect, it can likely use an infusion of pizzaz at the front entry;
  • The garage entry: the typical “mudroom” drop off area wasn’t as common in mid–century homes and most lack a good transition from outside (or garage) to the heart of the house;
  • The kitchen: the mid mod kitchen was designed to keep the women’s work of cooking out of sight and out of mind from the rest of the house. Today most families need a kitchen space that works for more than one cook and welcomes the whole family in to join the party;
  • The bathrooms: in the early post-war period, there wasn’t a lot of room for luxury in residential bathrooms. Many mid-century houses need a tune up in this area;
  • The basement: either unfinished or “finished” most mid-century builder grade basements don’t meet a modern standard for technology or comfort. Give your home a MAJOR boost by bringing the basement up to the style standard of the rest of the house.

Some more great news is that most post-war homes were designed with additions in mind. The early ranches, with sturdy structure and simple linear layouts, were INTENDED to get little branching additions. Pushing out to the back, side or front with a snazzy master suite or cosy play room is easy to do when the house was designed to grow.

Step 2: Know where you – and your home -are starting

Any time you chat with a salesperson in a showroom, a potential contractor or another home expert, it’s best to give them a quick and clear background on your house.  Be ready to identify key features and don’t get stymied by questions like these:

“What’s the square footage of the house?”

“When was your home built?”

“Do you know the pitch of your roof?”

You don’t need to keep all these details in your head. Take a little time to get acquainted with your own house. Put all the data down on paper (or in your phone) and keep it with a targeted set of significant photos. Now you’re ready to take on any expert’s question and ask the difficult questions yourself!

Here’s what you should know:

  • home type, build year, and previous renovations and other fun history
  • catalogue of your home’s existing midcentury features
  • rough existing plan with key dimensions
  • have a collection of the key photos
  • have a collection of materials-to-match
  • know if there are any unsafe materials: Safety first. 

Don’t forget to consider the condition of your home and what system updates it may need when you start planning.

Many of the mechanical, electrical or plumbing systems of your home may be in need of a tune up or a replacement. If it takes forever for your hot water to reach the tap, or your electrical panel is full and can’t handle a new appliances, that’s something you want to know as you plan!

Likewise, you may need to increase insulation, switch out windows and make other updates. These changes can affect the cost of your renovation without affecting your cosmetic or design plans. Being aware of these things will help you set your budget and scope for other work you have in mind. 

The good news is that fixing these systemic issues will create noticeable improvements in comfort and daily convenience (faster hot water delivery, lower heating bills) when you take care of them. 

If that sounds like a lot, don’t worry! I’ve prepared a handy workbook to help you get all your ducks in a row:

Step 3: Have a strong (Mid-Century) Design Vision

When you are remodeling, especially on a budget, it is all too easy to let contemporary products and design conventions erase the mid-century character of your home.

With the best of intentions, you can end up eliminating some of the features that make your house most interesting! You’ll need to have a very clear sense of the style you’re going for.  

I’m going to assume mid-century modern is what you are into, since you’re here on this site. But within that general umbrella category, there are a lot of distinct variations. Have a clear sense of what mid-century means to you!

Take some time to brainstorm what the most important factors of preserving your mid-century house might be. Do a little research into the period. Hop onto Instagram and Pinterest to research what other people in your situation have done. Decide where you fall on the spectrum of preservation to modernization.

Mid Mod Style does not have to mean living in the past. 

Note: I’m no purist.  I totally respect the work of the retro renovation crowd and of historic preservation groups. However, I’m a big believer in doing what suits you.  A home is not a museum. There are aspects of mid-century home design that just don’t suit a modern lifestyle very well. .

The Kitchen is a perfect example of this:

A kitchen built in the 1950’s was a command center for one person – mom – to spend the day in: cooking, organizing the household and supervising kids. It was meant to be high tech (filled with the latest labor-saving appliances), efficient and attractive.

A modern kitchen has very different DNA, plywood panelling or teal backsplash notwithstanding!  The kitchen has transformed from mom’s command center to family social center.  Everyone in the household will be in and out of the kitchen through the day, from breakfast and packing a lunch to sneaking a midnight snack.  The modern kitchen does double duty as a hangout and gathering space.  It needs to support homework and working from home while serving as the go-to spot for any party.

For more more on this, check out: Internet “MidMod” kitchens are more Modern than Mid-Century

Do try to preserve (or even enhance) your home’s Mid-century character

I am all for updating your home to match your own needs.

I also advocate for preserving the mid-century character and features of your house wherever you can.  The mid-century feel can make your home more valuable and fun. Make sure your update doesn’t accidentally strip out the character of your house.  

Mixing and matching styles can be fun. Do it cautiously though. A mid-century house filled with shaker cabinetry will have an unsettled ambience.

Enjoy your research.  Comb through Pinterest, Instagram and magazines like Atomic Ranch. You’ll eventually collate a strong vision of the Mid-century house you want to create.

Step 4: Make A Blueprint for Success

Whether you are going to plan alone OR work with anyone else on your project, you’ll need at least a rough floor plan.  Don’t worry, it doesn’t have to be pretty. Pen on graph paper will do just fine.

I’ve included some grid paper in my Mid-Century Remodeling Home Assessment Workbook that you can use to create a basic layout of your house. Once you have worked out the existing plan (the “before”) grab a pencil and start roughing in some changes.

Remember to hang on to both the “before” and “after” plans when you talk to remodeling experts. Seeing the full transition will help them better assess what you need and how easy or challenging it may be!

Step 5: Pull together all the (Mid-Century) Details

With everything you’ve already done, you can create a great plan (and keep on developing it as you go!

Gather a laundry list of fun (or funky) mid-century features of your existing home (collect these for your home assessment workbook). Do your best to preserve or salvage those parts of the house as you work.

If you can’t save something, take heart from this advice in Atomic Ranch’s on “How To Survive The Renovation Of Your Mid-Century Home: 9 Tips From The Experts.

Sadly, not everything can be preserved. When worn condition or vital updates cost original details, don’t be hard on yourself. Instead, thoughtfully incorporate new items alongside salvageable retro treasures. The end result will be a balanced home that is both beautiful and livable.

This is where your Mid-century details list comes in. Both you (and the contractors and suppliers you partner with) can do with a regular reminder that you want to be true to the period in the little ways as well as the big:

  • Preserve and add beautiful wood built-ins
  • Let in natural light and create visual connections between indoors and out
  • Keep trim and cabinetry simple: Focus on the materials and leave fluting, edging, and out-of-period details for other house styles
  • Choose a Mid Mod color pallate you love and stick to it

Make a list of priorities and back it up with a well stocked board of Pinterest examples to keep you on track for Mid-Century Modern Building details!

Bonus: Choose a Theme to keep you on YOUR Path

It is essential to communicate clearly about your design style goals for the project and then respect that vision. (This is especially true when you are remodeling with a partner!)

As an architect, I’ve been a de facto couples councilor many times. Helping to diffuse tension that comes up when two people disagree about their design priorities or style choices is part of the job. There is usually a middle ground. Find and stick to it.

But keeping your design mottos in mind can help even if you are remodeling alone. Take time to come up with a couple of mottos or mantras for your remodel and SAVE YOUR STRESS later. You’ll thank yourself when you find yourself at sea between 100 similar but distinct faucets in the Home Depot plumbing aisle the night before the plumber is due to come install things.

Combat decision fatigue and uncertainty with a personal rallying cry.

When you remember that your overall ideal for the house is “small but beautiful,” you can turn down the general contractor’s offer to “be more efficient” by adding 8 extra feet to your new den addition.

Whispering “vintage vogue” under your breath can stop you caving in at the Big Box home store.

Write your vision(s) on an index card or post it, stick them in your wallet or save them on your phone background. Don’t lose sight of what you know is important.

Set yourself up for success when you Plan Mid-century renovation!

So there you have it: everything you need to masterplan. Transform yourself from lost in the overwhelming options of an out-of-control remodel to a proud homeowner ready to dig in. With a strong and personal plan, you will be making the right choices for yourself and your mid-century home.

If all of this seems like a lot to take on, relax. I’m here to help. Check out my Mid-Century Masterplan package. I will:

  1. Meet you to analyze your home and outline your needs and desires
  2. Prepare a masterplan package to give you the tools
  3. Stick around with advice throughout your remodel process!

Click through to learn how we can work together to create a plan for your Mid-Century dream house.

What are the parts of a remodel that seem the most overwhelming to you? Let me know in the comments and I’ll see if I can help out!