Midcentury modern is a term that broadly refers to modernist homes that were constructed between 1945 and 1975. Architects and builders used new materials and new construction methods of the time period in the creation of these customized homes, combining beauty and function for everyday living. Frank Lloyd Wright and Ludwig Mies van der Rohe had an influence on the architects who designed the following properties for sale. Some even had a personal connection to the two modern masters with Ed Zisook and Alfred Mell working and studying with Mies at Chicago’s Illinois Institute of Technology, while Don Erickson — the architect of the last home in this list — was an apprentice at Wright’s Taliesin between 1948 and 1951. Their homes exhibit Miesian steel and glass simplicity and Wright’s Usonian aesthetic of blurring the relationship between natural interior spaces and the outdoor environment. Let’s step back in time and check out five distinctive midcentury residential designs currently on the market.
On the market for the very first time since it was built in 1973, this home designed by Louis Huebner and James Henneberg in Park Ridge has an obvious Japanese influence with its shoji screens, rock gardens, traditional Tatami room, and a Buddhist prayer room. The original owners Noboru and Ayako Yamakoshi were Japanese Americans who commissioned the contemporary ranch design of glass, wood, and poured concrete. The main rooms are built around an internal courtyard, creating a peaceful oasis. Floor-to-ceiling windows take in seven private gardens, while a moat-like bridge over rock gardens leads to two children’s bedrooms. Another cool vintage detail is the sunken living room next to a sculptural concrete fireplace.
Crossing the border into Wisconsin to share with you a lakefront home designed by local architect Hans M. Geyer in 1956. Geyer was responsible for a number of residential and commercial properties around Racine through the 1950s and 60s, but is best known for his MCM-style buildings at the Gateway Technical College campus. While the brick exterior of this three-bedroom, three-bathroom home looks like a typical modernist design of its time period, the inside has a number of Usonian elements like the banded windows, brick fireplace, Philippine mahogany trim, and built-in cabinets. It’s great to see retro details survive in this midcentury modern design, like the breezeway, curved metal kitchen cabinets, and slate floors. But the home has been recently renovated with two new full baths, a five-year-old roof, and updates to its insulation, electrical, plumbing, and HVAC.
Flossmoor is home to a number of significant modern designs by architects like Keck & Keck, Paul Schweikher, and Bertrand Goldberg. So when I came across this great MCM home on Zillow, I wasn’t surprised it was located in the suburb. Full of 1960s details, it’s already contingent after just hitting the market. The son of a real estate developer, the home’s architect Edmond N. Zisook grew up in Chicago’s Kenwood and worked as a draftsman for Skidmore Owings & Merrill after his graduation from IIT in 1952. Zisook’s work as an independent architect, starting in 1956, followed the Miesian philosophy of rational order, sensitivity to materials, and a structuralist aesthetic, which you can see in this L-shaped design of brick, steel, and glass. With an open concept floor plan, the updated kitchen fits perfectly with the MCM style.
Located on a half acre in suburban Itasca, this 1952 residence was designed by architect Alfred L. Mell, a graduate of Chicago’s Armour Institute of Technology in 1931 before it was reshaped into IIT. He served as both an instructor of architectural design and Mies van der Rohe’s translator at the school. Seller Mike Galvin has kept vintage details, mixing old and new to create an updated MCM home. The original metal kitchen cabinets work well with the new walnut countertops and backsplash. The sun porch with a freestanding fireplace is a nice retro touch. But the best part is the bamboo-spindled staircase with brightly colored carpeting that takes you down to a cedar-paneled lounge in the basement. Galvin’s addition of a shiny red concrete floor perfectly matches the trim of the bar.
Returning to Park Ridge for a Don Erickson design originally built in 1962 that’s been on and off the market for the last year and a half. In the 1990s, the architect came back to add a second story, creating a six-bedroom, seven-bathroom residence with more than 7,000 square feet of living space. An apprentice at Frank Lloyd Wright’s Taliesin for three years before starting his own practice in 1951, Erickson was a completely original architect whose designs have been described as living works of art. You can see it in the custom-designed railing in the two-story foyer — a truly one-of-a-kind piece. Located on a private cul-de-sac, this home has southern exposure with an expansive multi-level patio and terrace overlooking a private beach.