WRITER | PATTI EDDINGTON
PHOTO | HETLER PHOTOGRAPHY
Does your pulse quicken when you catch a glimpse of a cantilevered roofline? Do you pull to the curb at first sight of a carport or brake for breeze blocks? If so, you’ve been hit with MCM (Mid-Century Modern) fever, and your life, your furniture, and, especially, the home of your dreams won’t ever be the same.
While never losing favor with its myriad enthusiasts, the clean-lined crisp aesthetic of the MCM movement popular in the U.S. from the mid-‘40s to the mid-‘70s is enjoying a huge resurgence in the 2010s. Interestingly, some of its biggest fans weren’t even born during its heyday.
Grand Rapids residents Bridgette and Brad Snyder, parents of two young daughters, fell in love several years ago – first with each other, then with a 1960 tri-level with floating staircases (think The Brady Bunch) and a slate foyer.
The property was in such demand the couple stood in line for a showing. Then, fearing they could lose it, they wrote a “love letter” to the homeowner, who chose their offer over those more lucrative because she wanted the home to be in the hands of people appreciative of its vibe.
Many aspects of the house — tongue and groove ceilings, blonde brick fireplaces, ceramic windowsills, built-in desks or vanities, and closet drawers — had been lovingly maintained for more than five decades. Still, there was work to do.
Acting as their own general contractors the young couple first tackled a few smaller projects, reworking their backyard, the centerpiece of which is a sprawling, concrete “La Costa” pattern breeze block wall. They then turned attention to their kitchen/dining room. For that, they called in an expert, Grand Haven resident Aletha VanderMaas, who is known for her popular Mid Mod Mich Facebook page.
VanderMaas, who coined the “I Brake for Breeze Blocks” motto and even made bumper stickers, owns True Home Restorations and travels the state helping aficionados with her period-appropriate interior design.
Though she rides the cusp between Generation X and Millennial, her love of MCM everything was firmly ingrained as a child visiting her grandparents in the modernist mecca of Palm Springs, California.
“I’m a huge fan of working with what is already there and making it look fresh,” she says.
For the Snyder home, that meant reconfiguring a smallish kitchen with a difficult traffic pattern and reworking a sunporch — likely once an outdoor patio — into a sprawling dining area. VanderMaas helped the couple select wood floors, teal and orange accents, minimalist lighting, cabinets, and hardware.
The Snyders couldn’t love the finished product more.
“A lot of our friends say it makes them want to wait to buy their first house until they find something that is absolutely perfect for them — just like we did,” Bridgett says.
Looking for your own MCM project?
If you’re in the market to do an MCM renovation, be aware that there will likely be costs involved that you wouldn’t face with a newer home. The Snyders, for example, had to do testing on ceiling tiles to make sure no asbestos was present.
“If you really want an MCM, you can’t worry about costs of things like rewiring and plumbing, says VanderMaas. “If it’s original, it will be time for a change.”
What do the experts look for?
We asked VanderMaas and Elin Walters, who owns interior design firm Exactly, based in Ann Arbor, what would convince them to purchase an MCM home.
Walters: “An interesting roof line! Windows: clerestory, picture, linear. Geometry and asymmetry — I love it both inside and out. Interiors that echo the exterior, often in things like an asymmetric fireplace.”
VanderMaas: “An interesting roofline, including my favorite, the Butterfly, or a Hyperbolic Paraboloid. Terrazzo flooring would stop me dead in my tracks. Breeze block used outside is a showstopper; Roman brick, outdoor living spaces that flow easily from the inside, and a carport!”
A few places to shop in the mitten
Once you’ve found the perfect showplace, it’s time to shop for either vintage pieces — many antique stores around the mitten have MCM stalls — or period-appropriate furniture and furnishings. Here are a few haunts the experts adore:
Trystcraft – Kalamazoo
Modrn GR – Grand Rapids
Ciseal – Troy
Three Chairs Co – Ann Arbor and Holland
Tom Gibbs Studio – Ferndale
Le Shoppe Too – Keego Harbor
If this type of project appeals to you but you need help, don’t think twice about contacting an expert in MCM design. And remember, basic tips can be shared in just a few hours if you don’t want to hire a pro to undertake the entire project.