5 Key Elements to Mid-Century Modern Design

by Denise Mason 04/21/2021

Photo by Expect Best from Pexels

Mid-century modern is a style of architectural design that first became popular in post-World War II America. It’s a style that remains popular to this day for homebuyers, designers and home builders. The key features of mid-century modern design can apply to both interior and exterior design. You can also find these elements combined with other styles for unique and contemporary looks.

It’s easy to spot a particular style once you know what to look for. Here are the 5 basic architectural elements you can use to recognize a mid-century modern style home:


Bold angles and geometric shapes are a staple of mid-century modern architecture. The most obvious examples are the shapes and orientation of roofs these homes have. Purely flat horizontal roofs are iconic mid-century modern, as are those with multiple “steps” of roof levels without gables. Diagonal lines are also common in mid-century modern roofs, but you’re not likely to find perfect symmetry. Angled roofs usually shallow even for split-level homes and are most often asymmetrical.

Large Windows

One of the leading philosophies in mid-century modern design was blurring the line between indoors and outdoors. The most noticeable result of this is the prevalence of floor-to-ceiling windows. Following the roof design, windows are rectangular or asymmetrically angled to provide a clear, expansive view of surrounding environment and capture lots of natural light. Mid-century modern homes have multiple points of access, usually as sliding glass doors, to the home for an easy transition between indoor and outdoor lifestyle.

Changes in Elevation

While most mid-century modern homes are a single story, they typically contain multiple levels of elevation inside. Shallow steps up or down are used to signal transitions from one area to the next. There may be short staircases between levels or a single step, sometimes accompanied by partial walls or partitions, also referred to as pony walls or knee walls, to add depth to the space while preserving the open floor plan view.

Juxtaposition & Contrast

While forgoing embellishment and ornamentation, mid-century modern architecture does creative visual interest by using contrasting materials. Common exterior materials include stucco, concrete, brick, glass, stone or wood. Often multiple materials will be used together and while contrasting combinations are a key aesthetic element, they rarely stray into the realm of pure decoration.

Functionality & Simplicity

Above all, mid-century modern style values functionality over pure aesthetics. A mid-century modern home will have very minimal embellishment in interior and exterior features. When not covered in windows, facades and walls are often completely flat, creating bold geometric shapes without siding or paneling. Paneling or siding, when used, is typically understated and homes with “accent” walls made of a contrasting material are still relatively simple. This design element carries into the layout of the homes as well: open floor plans with efficient multi-functional spaces are key. Using half walls and different floor elevations to separate and define spaces still allows for an efficient flow of air, light and contact within the home.

About the Author

Denise Mason

Hi! I'm Denise Mason. WELCOME to my Website! Being a full-time REALTOR® gives me the opportunity to assist in achieving your wants, desires, needs, and priorities in selling or finding a home. My goal is to take care of my real estate clients by providing an exceptional, no drama experience that you not only deserve but should demand in the hectic and competitive marketplace of today. I work closely with you throughout your entire real estate transaction. I work to be your family REALTOR® for life. Success begins and ends with good communication. I love what I do and do what I love! I am positive, enthusiastic and truly enjoy people and the real estate business. My commitment to you, my client extends far beyond a single transaction. My goal is to communicate, educate and exceed expectations! As the daughter, wife, and mother of active duty and retired service members, I've had numerous relocation experiences; renting, buying and selling a home. I grew up in Arlington County, VA and lived there for more than 20 years. Upon my husband's retirement from the Army we could think of no better place to call home than Virginia, the place of our childhood. I have been a Prince William County resident since 1997. We have raised and educated three children in the Prince William County School system. My family is my pride and priority which makes me no different than you or any other individual who wants a safe and comfortable environment for yourself, family and friends. I look forward to helping you achieve your real estate goals. Call me at 703-283-0969 or email me so we can meet over tea or coffee & I can get to work for you!