There’s been a cheerful resurgence of mid-century style of late. Teak legs give footing to every base imaginable, color-blocking and geometric shapes lend interest to the simplest structure, and the landscape of home design is generously sprinkled with atomic pop. A peak of taste that I find, personally, delightful. Something about that era’s aesthetic, with its sleek lines, jazzy pallets and relaxed decor – conjures images of swimming pools and bossa nova in some distant eternal summer.
I just love it.
Our little house was quickly constructed among thousands of other cookie-cutter homes, in 1951. The area was experiencing a sudden flux of population and many single-family homes were plopped on new roads that paved newly manufactured neighborhoods. At the time, our home was a standard construction home – utterly unremarkable. Now that several decades have past, however, I find what was once merely “standard” at the time, absolutely charming at present. Original chrome accents pepper our kitchen, the whole house is floored with wood, and living spaces enjoy plenty of over-sized windows. Aesthetically, it’s comfortable and very much – a home to be lived in.
We’ve been prudent, throughout our repairs, updates, and salvaging – to respect the integrity of this, once common, aesthetic. Careful not to abate the original era in favor of modern-day sterility and flashiness, we’ve gently tailored anything “new” to the timelessness of the home’s design. It’s not as if its a work of art, or some heritage home that necessitates preservation – in fact, it’s not much of an imaginative home to begin with. But, the fact remains, we wouldn’t dare compromise it’s simplicity.
But more than its neutral openness, quaint kitchen, and covered patio – I love what this house, and most of the homes from this era, represent:
This home was marketed to some working-class couple with children, in a time where men provided, women nurtured, and family life flourished in its own security. A large fenced backyard assumed there were children that would need to play, a kitchen window faces the back so that, naturally, the mother in the kitchen could supervise said play while she worked, bedrooms were small and intended for sleeping – not isolation, and open living spaces permitted more community without the former restrictions of heat retention. Every part of this house was designed to elevate family life from the labor of centuries past to a dazzling future that promised convenience and luxury all within your living room.
What a golden moment of history it must have been too! On the other side of the traumatic first half of the century, darkened by depression and global conflict, the 1950’s must have glittered with hope and imagination as a nation reached for a future capable of overcoming decades of suffering. From the other side, it was a window that would briefly glisten before the onset of a new ideology would descend, cheapening all that was once glorified. The 1950’s was a last hurrah before the culture of the Sexual Revolution polluted feminine virtue, at a great expense to family life.
I’m perfectly aware that I’ve romanticized an entire era – probably unfairly. I’ll admit, I’m an unabashed Mad Men fan. I love the fashion, the art, the music, and I ache for a time untouched by the digital age. But I’m also aware that real families never resembled those Technicolor ads. Marriages fell apart then too. There was oppression, cruelty, and pain, and moms hollered at their kids through the window just as I do now.
I’ll never know what this house meant when it was new, who inhabited it, or how their reality compared with my fantasy.
I wasn’t there.
But at the end of the day, as I hang up my apron in the kitchen – in a built-in closet just for aprons – I wish I had been.