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Ye Olde Mid-Century Modern in the Upper Valley

Submitted 9 months ago
Created by
Anita Hamalainen

Recently the Valley News had an article about using modern decor to freshen up an older home. Specifically, the author encouraged readers to expand the look of their furnishings beyond the home's historic architectural style. For example, a Colonial-era home does not necessarily need Colonial-style furniture. Good advice, but the only problem here is the author assumes that homeowners with historically older homes want to display more modern furniture. What about when it's the opposite?

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For example, the Upper Valley has many beautiful Mid Century Modern homes, but some of them have been radically transformed to step back in time. To protect the local "innocent", I found a bizarre example in Stamford, Connecticut, that has been turned into a confused eyesore.

Like bad plastic surgery, the original facade is buried under heavy-handed interventions.

I haven't seen anything in the Upper Valley quite so adulterated, but some homeowners have invested a lot in altering their homes, both internally and externally, to reflect a bygone era. Modifications include Greek Ionic columns mounted to the facade, new kitchens installed with heavy cabinet crown moulding, entire rooms filled solely with Early American Colonial furniture, and other adjustments contrary to the Mid Century ethos.

Before the comments section below gets filled with sternly worded responses, allow me to first say, the real estate market in the Upper Valley can get cutthroat. For many home-buyers, you get what you get and you don't get upset. Mid Century Modern is not everyone's cup of tea, and for the homeowners who acquire such houses out of necessity, they make it their own by adjusting the space to fit their personal design preferences. (My Victorian home, for example, features quite a few Danish modern furnishings, and nothing Victorian... insert grinning devil emoji here.) But as a disciple of modernism, I admit, a wistful sigh escapes when I see the bones of a modern home peeking out from under the dressings of a Colonial-style makeover.

What can an ambivalent Modern homeowner do to modify the property without a massive change of style? On the exterior: 1) paint the facade a color scheme from the owner's favorite time period-- chances are it'll look amazing on the more modern home; 2) invest in lush landscaping, following the Modernists use of a rich, natural environment to soften the hard, straight edges their homes;  3) have fun with transient accessories around the front door. On the interior: 1) as on the outside, play with historic colors; 2) combine antiques and oriental rugs with modern furnishings, a technique also in the Modernists' playbook; 3) choose simple, clean-lined kitchen cabinetry, but warm it up with wood grains.

Any modernist converts? Tempting, isn't it? One could get used to this.

(photo courtesy of François Dischinger via Arch Digest)

If you're a fan of Modernism, there's a lecture next week, Tuesday, February 13 at 4:45 in Loew Auditorium, Dartmouth College. Sarah Rooker will talk about how modern architecture began in our area.

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