My colleague Edward McClelland has a reflection on how Chicago’s northern suburbs have come to define what America thinks of as suburban (and, in a very suburban nation, itself). In a lot of cases, that’s well-heeled and well-designed — most famously the Highland Park glass house from Ferris Bueller, designed by Mies pupil A. James Speyer, very much in the grandly minimalist style of his teacher.
As it happens, I was looking at midcentury homes around the Bueller house at the same time. (Maybe it’s the season, it’s a pleasant place for summer drives.) Don’t let that one fool you: modernist houses, in keeping with the relative modesty of the aesthetic, tend to not be enormous, and as a result, they can be fairly affordable, particularly when they’re surrounded by styles that tend to scale up.
For example: MCM doesn’t have to be expensive and it doesn’t have to be a house. In this case, it’s a townhome, with no HOA besides. It’s small—1,000 square feet with two beds and two baths—but efficient, squeezing in two beds on the second floor so that what could be a below-grade bedroom serves as a rec room instead. Outside is a patio along a neighborly rear sidewalk and deeded parking. Which you might not need: it’s a short walk to the Metra.
If you like split-level ranches, you’ll love this split-split-level ranch: three levels centered around a big, bright living room, with green trees right outside the windows, and a stylish in-wall wood-burning fireplace. It’s been recently renovated, but with just the essentials, so there are no bad decisions to undo. Stretching across those three levels are four bedrooms and three bathrooms over more than 1,729 square feet, enough but not too much for a family, and another few hundred square feet below grade for good measure.
1976 might be pushing mid-century a bit, but it’s hard to argue with the square, floor-to-ceiling windows of this lakefront condo, and the clean wood lines in its handsome home office, with glass doors that open out to the sunroom. It’s the kitchen and main bath that reflect the louche mid-70s with their curvaceous walls and counters. They work well together, and mirror how the modernist building curves to meet the water. It’s not cheap, but it’s big: two beds, two baths, just a hair under 2,000 square feet, so plenty of space to relax.
This subtly odd 1956 home looks almost more like a small apartment building, or maybe an outbuilding for a church or other institution. Inside it’s a nice, big SFH, four bedrooms and three bathrooms, with a pleasant layout that puts all four well-lit bedrooms on the second floor, one of which has a walk-in closet and en suite bathroom. On the first floor, the living room has a minimalist in-wall fireplace and opens out onto the one-acre yard. The finishings are very basic, but it’s a lot of space, a lot of flexibility, and especially a lot of yard.
This Highland Park home was designed by Highland Park architect (and former Miss Detroit) Greta Lederer, aka “the Blonde Builder of the Suburbs.” It’s a handsome, stout split-level, centered on that muscular double set of front doors, that looks and is bigger than a lot of homes in its fashion: 5,000 square feet, with five beds and 4.5 baths. Inside it has been… very designed, in a contemporary sleek-chic style (save for the extremely pink kid’s bedroom, which, I’m a parent, I get it). Even with all the beds and baths, there’s plenty of space to go around: big laundry room, big mudroom, big downstairs rec room. The master suite is 1,000 square feet alone. There’s also a sauna. But the MCM style wears the size well, bringing modesty to McMansion-y amenities.