If your heart beats a little faster at the thought of the Everly Brothers, cars with fins, and live broadcasts of “I Love Lucy,” you’ll likely be a pushover for Historic Charlotte’s Mid-Century Modern Home Tour on May 11.
It’s an eight-home homage to architects’ deliberate effort to bring modernism to America’s post-war suburbs.
First called California Modern, this residential design style was prevalent during the construction boom after World War II (1945-1965). It’s characterized by clean, angular lines and open spaces, simple shapes, unornamented facades and the use of new materials such as reinforced concrete, glass and steel. Roofs have only a slight pitch. The aesthetic could be described as almost aggressively un-fussy.
The home of Julian Clark and Robert Propst has all that and then some.
The house was built by a young, newly married couple in 1958 on nearly an acre in the SouthPark area. The single-story L-shaped house originally had 2,400 square feet.
The husband was a North Carolina native; his wife was from California. He promised her that if they moved to North Carolina, he would build her a California-style house with a pool.
Six months after the house was completed, the husband died. The widow invited her sister and brother-in-law to move in, and eventually her mother joined them. They all occupied the house until their deaths. In fall 2011 Clark and Propst bought the property from the estate of the original owner, who lived to be 97.
Updating and expanding
The new owners wanted to keep as many of the mid-century design elements as possible, but recognized the need to update and expand the space for their own needs. With the luxury of having a nearby house in which to live during the remodeling process, the men could oversee construction from off-site.
They loved the open plan of the public spaces – den, living-dining room and kitchen – but wanted to incorporate even more of the outdoors. So they added a screened porch accessed off the living room.
The living room received a vaulted ceiling with exposed beams, recessed lighting and a total fireplace makeover with a floor-to-ceiling white oak marble surround. “We wanted modern and sleek, but still keep the architectural integrity of the period,” explains Clark.
The marble is repeated on an accent wall on the porch, which overlooks the pool.
The original 1958 pool, situated in the sunny courtyard created by the house’s L shape, was replaced and enlarged.
Between the kitchen and living room was a small area used for dining by the previous owners. Clark, a fashion consultant and stylist, easily converted the space into his home office.
Renovation also included the addition of 800 square feet to the bedroom wing of the house, creating a master suite. Especially noteworthy is the 16-by-22-foot closet with skylights, extensive built-in shoe racks, a wine cooler and enough space to accommodate a men’s clothing store’s entire inventory.
In the center of the room are eight IKEA storage chests topped with a piece of custom-cut smoked glass. Pocket doors with mirrors on both sides lead into the space.
Custom sliding barn-style doors with reeded glass were hung to separate the den from the bedroom wing and to enclose the master suite at the end of the corridor.
The renovations were far enough along that the owners could move in by the end of last summer, but the overhaul of an artist’s studio on the back of the property is ongoing.
Since the men downsized from a larger home in the Craftsman style, the move enabled them to recycle many of their older heirlooms and go shopping for mid-20th century furniture and accessories. They found a treasure trove at Mid-Century Salvage of Monroe, a firm that specializes in finding and refurbishing items from that era. Craig’s List, Habitat’s ReStore and IKEA proved to be three more good resources.
Their finds included numerous dining and incidental tables, chairs and storage units, all in the uncluttered style of the era.
For decorative finishes, Clark and Propst chose to keep the original light fixtures and kitchen hardware, but added some of their own touches. They replaced the old kitchen countertop with decorative concrete, and laid formica in a 1950s boomerang design on the breakfast bar. Vintage canisters and a set of vertically stacked TV trays also lend a ’50s feel.
They added slate to the floor in the foyer, and had the original wood floors throughout the remainder of the house stained black. Pops of color are found everywhere against this neutral pallet: red front door; red barstools; a red Ben Owen vase; purple, blue and yellow accent walls in the three bedrooms; and brightly colored paintings collected over several years by Propst, a native of Salisbury who is a banker with Wells Fargo.
Clark, a Chicago native who took the lead in assuring the overall design was cohesive, eschewed curtains in favor of sliding privacy panels in the bedrooms. “I like as much natural light as possible. The panels keep things discreet and minimal at the same time.”
Live orchids, one of Propst’s hobbies, give warm accents to the home. “We think of our style as minimalist, but eclectic,” he says.
The exterior landscape follows that same simple, uncluttered theme. Look for no frilly annuals. Instead, the focus is on a single, mammoth cactus – the legacy of the original owner who yearned for a reminder of her beloved California.
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