Mid-Century Modern is having a moment. Join Historic Columbia’s Palladium as it goes behind the scenes in some of the city’s most stand-out Modern structures during its Fall Tour on Sunday, November 3. Stops include private homes staged with contemporary and original mid-century furniture and art, and the iconic Seibels Insurance Building. Each stop highlights innovations in historic preservation, adaptive use, and exemplary design.
What exactly is Mid-Century Modern? Nowadays, designers, retailers, and savvy Instagram influencers use “Mid-Century Modern” as a catchall term for architecture, furniture, and graphic design from the middle of the 20th century. When the “middle” of the 20th century falls is up for debate—some say it’s from 1930-1980, others restrict it to 1949-1969.
Generally speaking, “Mid-Century Modern,” as we know it, emerged from the post-World War II period. In the mid-1940s, technology advanced at a rate previously unseen in history, new building materials were available, and the middle class boomed. Mass production kicked off a host of new opportunities for architects to create easily repeatable home designs that could be built in any region for low cost.
When we talk about Mid-Century Modern on Palladium’s Columbia Modern tour, we’re really talking about three distinct home types: Contemporary, International, and Ranch. Here’s a quick reference guide to spotting each style:
Contemporary houses are what you might think of as “stereotypically Modern.” They have asymmetrical facades that feature contrasting materials and textures. A Contemporary’s front door is often set off to the side or recessed. Windows and sliding glass doors play a significant role in the design of Contemporaries, which often feature entire walls of windows. Their rooflines have a low pitch or can be totally flat. Open terraces, balconies and decks, pergolas over shaded porches, decorative grilles or screens to enclose carports, roof openings over flower beds, and broad, low masonry chimneys are all features of Contemporary homes.
International style houses are what architectural historians would refer to as Modern with a capital-M. Pioneered by French architect Le Corbusier, the International style can be boiled down to five signature points. First, it uses columns (known as piloti) to elevate the building off the ground. Second, it features a flat rooftop terrace. This allows for folks living in the city to cultivate a private green space. Third, it is constructed using a steel frame (a new 20th century technology) to allow for greater flexibility in design. Fourth, it has a continuous strip of windows (called ribbon windows) running about the exterior of the building to light the home continually throughout the day. Fifth, and finally, International homes have an open floorplan.
Ranch houses are the third key player you’ll see on Palladium’s Columbia Modern tour. An architectural staple in the 20th century, Ranch houses embody a Modern design for the everyday. Popular with middle-class families living in the growing suburbs, Ranch houses tend to be one story. They feature attached garages or intricate car ports. Like Contemporaries, the front doors of Ranch houses often are set to the side or otherwise obscured. They also commonly feature a “family room” at the front of the house with an accompanying picture window. There are many iterations of the Ranch, which make it appealing to a wide variety of homeowners across the United States.
For even more insight into Mid-Century Modern, join us on November 3, from 12 – 4 p.m. for Palladium’s annual Fall Tour. Advance tickets are $25 for Palladium members, $30 for Historic Columbia members, and $40 for the general public. Advance ticket sales end Friday, November 1. Any remaining tickets will be available day of at the Historic Columbia Gift Shop for $40. Tickets include a map of available tour locations and access to the exclusive afterparty at the Hunter Gatherer Hangar. Save on admission and take advantage of the many benefits of Palladium membership by joining today!