Tag Archives: Modern Home Tour Austin

Define Design: Mid-Century Modern in Austin (Part One)

11 Jun

mid-century-furniture-chartGoogle mid-century modern furniture and you’re likely to find pages and pages of results.  If you’re at all in to interior design, the trend is hard to miss, and it’s especially the rage in Austin (see another chart at the end). But Mad Men aside–is it the chicken or the egg?–we’ve wondered why MCM has had such a resurgence in the last several years. So we found some experts around town and got their thoughts.

The simplest answer came from Jean Heath, proprietress of Uptown Modern and a mid-century modern maven.  “It’s time” she said.  Meaning, styles have cycles, and mid-century modern’s time has come.  Just like Happy Days in the ’70’s and the dreadful (though thankfully brief) resurgence of stirrup pants, things just come back around.  Many of us who are in the furniture-buying stage of our lives had grandparents with ’50s and ’60s furniture, and it’s natural to feel nostalgic for that time.  Amy of Remixologie had a similar perspective, “I think people are simplifying their lives. For many its is a reminder of a less complicated lifestyle. Less is more.”

The Jetson's

The ultimate mid-century modern living room, complete with robot.

The less is more is a hallmark of the broader Modern movement, begun in the ’20s as a backlash to Victorian excess (see more history on the Modern movement in our post on the Modern Home Tour).  But as the decades progressed, it became less of a political statement and more mainstream. Over coffee with Emily Belyea of Crestview Doors (also champions of mid-century style) we postulated that the prosperity and renewed focus on home life in the ’50s allowed many people for the first time to discard the hand-me-down furniture of their parents and grandparents and start fresh.  There was also a general feeling of relief and wellbeing after the war, and this probably let to the lighter colors and lighthearted designs. Major events like the moon landing seeped in to our everyday lives as well, leading to fun, “spacey” themes, and of course, the Jetsons.

So what are the hallmarks of mid-century modern furniture design, both vintage and new?


Barcelona chair

Iconic Barcelona chair (image courtesy of MoMA).

Back to the “backlash”,the original modern designers sought to be functional in all things, escehwing doo-daddery.  So MCM furniture is usually very clean-lined and functional.  Early modern furniture could sometimes be seen as stark, but as it gained acceptance by the middle class it necessarily became a bit softer and more comfortable. Also, for some reason, low backs were very popular.   Not sure exactly why, but most pieces from the day (and their current successors) are low-slung.

Natural Materials

Teak inlaid table

Inlays were also popular.

While plastic was having quite a heyday during this time, the current interest in MCM often focuses on the gorgeous wood pieces.  In the ’50s birch and maple were especially popular, trending toward teak and walnut (with some rosewood and mahogany) in the ’60 and ’70s. The best pieces are a celebration of the natural wood grain; lightly finished with not a lot of shine or deep stain.  Fabrics were meant to be durable, synthetic or boiled wool.  Nowdays we usually celebrate the aesthetic with modern materials, and probably a bit more pattern than was common back then.


Uptown Modern teal sectional sofa

Epitome of mid century modern.

In the 50’s and 60’s, much of the original upholstery was in neutral colors; black, white or brown, for practicality’s sake.  But color was added in accessories In the ’70s things started to brighten up, leading to the orange and gold many of us may remember.  Today, these colors are often tweaked to look a bit more contemporary, turquoise is becoming a deeper teal, mint is more emerald-y and harvest gold becoming more of a mustard.

So, now you’re intrigued.  But how to go about hipping up your place without making it look like a movie set?  Stay tuned for Part Two, in which our experts give you some tips and local resources.  In the meantime, check out the Market for some MCM finds!

Be sure to connect with us so you don’t miss out!

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Secrets of the Modern Home Tour Austin

28 Jan

The Modern Home Tour Austin is this Saturday! We’ve got some behind-the-scenes scoop for you direct from the curator of this year’s Tour.  Read on for a little history on Modern design plus a list of “Don’t Misses” to take with you.

Photo: Patrick Wong

1868 Drake – Photo: Patrick Wong

The Modernism movement started as a backlash against the perceived consumerism of the early 20th century. The excessive formality and ornamentation of the Victorian era (tassels anyone?) was stifling, and many artists, writers and architects began to create works that were simpler and more functional. At the time there was much gnashing of teeth over the departure from tradition, but the movement persisted through the 20th century and has inspired the architects and designers who are being showcased on this Tour.

I had a chance to chat with Ingrid Spencer, the curator of the Modern Home Tour Austin (among others).  As the former managing editor and current contributing editor for Architectural Record magazine in New York City, she has some chops.  I figured she would be a great person to give me some lessons on what Modern means today, plus I could ply her for some insider secrets to share with you.

Doodaddery: Not Modern

Doodaddery: Not Modern

Ingrid was quick to say that Modernism has many definitions. However, there are a few key elements that guide most Modern designs today. “Architecturally, Modernism is really more of a philosophy than a style.  It’s about letting the spaces speak for themselves and not crowding them with lots of doodaddery (OK, that’s my word) and adornments.”

Coming in to this discussion I had some preconceived notions about Modern style; the walls had to be blinding white, all the couches had to be low and black, and there had to be at least one very shiny lacquered surface that would immediately smudge with little fingers. But it turns out that I’ve seen a few too many ‘60s movies.

1615 Garden Street

Ingrid explained that one of the foundations of modern design is the desire to live more simply and resourcefully with less stuff. So Modern homes are designed to be exceptionally functional and any adornment also has a purpose.  Also inherent in the philosophy is a connection to the natural environment. This leads to lots of open spaces and windows, but also to the use of natural and common materials in uncommon ways.

Given that Modernism is an international style, it was interesting to hear how Austin has its own unique spin.  Integrating indoor and outdoor spaces presents a different challenge than in say, Boston, as anyone who has lived through the last few summers can attest.  Architects here have to be especially careful how they site a home so that the sun doesn’t blind the dinner guests. They’re likely to use native limestone as opposed to granite in Dallas, and they have to take in to account our voracious bugs.

So enough of the architecture lesson, on to some real examples.  This year’s tour features 16 homes that represent the soul of the Modern style. Ingrid gave your intrepid reporter the super-secret insider scoop on some of the elements you might miss if you were just casually tramping through, but are details that really make these homes special. See the list below (we’ve also provided a PDF if you want to print it out and take it with you).

Here are the details:

Modern Austin Home Tour 2013

Saturday, February 2nd  – 11-6

Buy Tickets Here

Note that unlike most tours, you can take pictures at this one (with a few exceptions).  So bring your camera to record some of the brilliant ideas for inspiration.

Can’t get enough Modern? The Launch 787 team puts on tours all over the country; consider a road trip up to Dallas for the next Tour on March 2nd, or maybe even plan a short vacation around the Tour in Seattle. If you like to mix up your styles but keep it local, they also put on 5 more tours in Austin, from the Lake Homes Tour to the Outdoor Living Tour; join their email list for details.

Download a pdf version to take with you! Secrets of the Modern Home Tour Austin 2013

Secrets of the Modern Home Tour Austin 2013

504 E Annie

Don’t Miss: The control deck

Check out how the office space looks like a control deck for the main house. Working in the office the owner can really feel part of the action of the house, yet at the same time secluded.

5002 Dolores

Don’t Miss: Garage door as art

“The glass garage door is backlit; the owners can change out the bulbs to celebrate the seasons.  Also check out the drawer microwave and countertop air switch for the disposal. ”—Michael Thurman, Thurman Homes

300 Academy Drive

Don’t Miss: Multiple opportunities to bathe outdoors

Check out the jumping platform from the roof in to the pool and three outdoor showers.

902 South Center

Don’t Miss: The balance of community and privacy

“This unit is the first of three residences in an enclave strategically positioned to allow privacy while still being part of a community. It fronts the street offering interaction with the south Austin community. The entry to the house is pulled back creating an urban front yard with a side screened porch to relax in the shade with a southern breeze running through—a modern day nod to a Texas neighborhood.” –  Cass Cheesar Architects

1868 Drake Ave

Don’t Miss: A hidden door and room

“See if you can find the hidden door in the bookcase that leads to a hidden room!”—Murray Legge, LZT Architects

2105 Goodrich Ave

Don’t Miss: Hidden power in the kitchen

“The kitchen features hidden plug strips beneath the upper cabinets, allowing for a sleek, continuous backsplash. Plus audio runs throughout the house. There are even built-in speakers in the master bath!”—Scott Turner, Turner Residential

1715 Giles

Don’t Miss: A surprise creek view

“The sliding doors lead to the most surprising element of the house—the framed view of the creek in the back. People expect to see a typical urban backyard, and are always surprised to face a view of untamed nature—as if the house is actually a portal to a little-known urban green belt.”—Francisco X. Arredondo, North Arrow Studio

212 W Live Oak

Don’t Miss: The rooftop fire pit

“Above the garage we put a gas firepit in the middle of a large but cozy roof top deck…this space becomes this luxuriously hip hang out during parties…hanging out by the fire, sipping cocktails and enjoying the downtown views.”—Tom Bates, Austin Modern Living

1615 Garden St

Don’t Miss: Custom touches on a very tight budget ($115/sf)

Inexpensive and sustainable, this house is study in economy, but the resourceful design makes it feel very high end. Notice the custom-poured and polished concrete counters, polycarbonate shelving in the bathroom and architectural shelving.

502 Riley Rd

Don’t Miss: The influence of International Style

The design was inspired by a Modernist movement called “International Style,” which originated in Europe back in the ‘20s and ‘30s. The style was defined by three elements: the expression of volume rather than mass, an emphasis on balance rather than what you might think of as symmetry, and the lack of ornament.

6502 Grover Ave

Don’t Miss: The unique paint in the studio, full automation 

“The walls of the studio are “underpainted” with a metallic paint and then overcoated with conventional paint so the owner can use the studio walls to hang her work.  The home is also fully automated with technology that can be controlled from anywhere.”—Jonathan Chertok, Universal Joint

700 W Monroe St

Don’t Miss: The design for aging in place

It was designed for a family of multiple generations, so notice how accessible it is. This is really a house designed for people to age happily in. There are no stairs, and there is a suite designed for a live-in caretaker.

1844 Logans Hollow Dr

Don’t Miss: Sleek recessed baseboards

“Make note of the floor base that is recessed within the thickness of the drywall. I use this detail throughout the house. This detail is very clean, and in my opinion, very beautiful.”—Erik Gonzalez, Sago International

2008 Rue de St Tropez

Don’t Miss: The engineering marvels

“Aside from finishes, the entire house is made from recycled materials, including a light gauge steel stud and joist system, and there is an intricate engineered, heavy steel structure hidden inside the walls which is why we were able to achieve an open floor plan, and a solid stairwell which seems to float effortlessly. Because of this, the house had to be erected with a hundred foot crane.”—Jair Gonzalez

1801 Riverview

Don’t Miss: Impactful finishes

Notice the use of dark steel for structure and elements in this house. It’s not just structural….it echoes the exterior cladding and unites the design. And the red accents throughout really add a pop, without diminishing the Modern feel. Modern doesn’t mean you have to have a white box!

355 Cortona Dr

Don’t Miss: The secret kids’ space

“There is a have a hidden ladder inside the entry coat closet that goes down to a basement for an extra kid’s playroom. This room is ideal when you have three young boys who can go down there and wrestle and roughhouse.”—Mark Carlson, Cornerstone Architecture

The GoodLife Team Office

Don’t Miss: The mini-campus layout

The offices incorporate small Modern structures as conference rooms and outbuildings, but this type of structure is perfect for Austin. There’s long been a trend in Austin of having small cottages behind a house to use as a den or guestroom. The GoodLife Team incorporates them for their office use, and they work perfectly.