Mid-Century Goes Modern

by Kacey Larsen
Mid-Century modern home living area

When a dated and run-down home in an unique mid-century modern neighborhood was put on the market, Architectural Workshop saw an opportunity to preserve and reimagine a mid-century modern home as a continuum of architectural history and next-generation environmental design. Restoring this hidden gem while embracing modern technology and environmental objectives created an exciting challenge of balancing preservation and innovation by the design/build team. 

Spaces for living—Placing daily family interaction at the center, the design began with creating a heart of the home—an epicenter from which all activity and interaction flowed. Opening the home’s potential meant creating a large airy volume of central living space by extending the kitchen into a large family room. The original hidden north entrance was moved to face the street, creating an inviting gesture to the neighborhood. Now, front to back sightlines across the core of the home impart a sense of connectivity from the first step inside the door to the back of the home right into the yard.

modern kitchen and dining

Connection with the outdoors—Great care was taken in preserving the backyard while adding sensible square footage to the home. The new, taller addition creates a second perpendicular wing framing the backyard while enhancing the connection to the outdoors with floor-to-ceiling glass walls that allow for a beautiful indoor/outdoor connection to the new patio. Multiple access points to the backyard are offered through the living area, guest suite and master bedroom.

Historic character—The contentious marriage between meeting today’s building codes and affordably preserving the existing historic architecture required an intense design introspection. Exterior materials of the house were preserved, including a triple-layered wood fascia that highlights the horizontal lines of the home. Maintaining the load-bearing window mullions while incorporating new high-performance glazing into an all-glass wall called for steel vertical reinforcements to comply with today’s building standards. Highly articulated design detailing was required for all windows, doors and trim to maintain the historic character. Careful selection of interior finishes was imperative to reflect the 1950s origin of the home. Soft hues for surfaces and paints throughout were all deftly complemented by period-appropriate style lines resulting in a crisp, cohesive aesthetic.

backyard of a modern home

Embracing natural materials—Mid-century modern homes embraced the use of natural materials, frequently using wood panels and beams, block and brick, and natural fabrics in home design. The Architectural Workshop design team selected a material palette with a warm, rich foundation of woods for the floors, ceilings, cabinetry and millwork in the main living space. Interior block walls were preserved, and wool carpets were selected for flooring in bedrooms.

Environmental and smart technology—The goal was to achieve a net-zero carbon footprint for this home. Geothermal technology, using a ground-source heat pump, was incorporated to heat and cool the home and provide hot water, while an extensive photovoltaic system on the new addition provides all electrical needs of the home. An enhanced exterior envelope combined hyper-insulation strategies in the walls (R-30) and roof (R-52) with low-E coatings on high-performance windows to reduce heat gain/loss and thermal loads. Lighting—both natural and installed—plays a significant role in establishing ambiance throughout the home, namely with LEDs illuminating spaces at a hospitable, human scale. Energy Star appliances, an electric car-charging station and automated, remote-access smart-home technology all make this historic home many years ahead of its contemporaries. Careful placement of the addition, divided into two angular segments built out to side-yard setback lines, preserves the backyard’s full volume while leveraging the sun’s southern arch across the property in pursuit of a net-zero footprint.

In designing to meet these goals and challenges, the design team was able to preserve a historic gem while achieving a truly sustainable home that holds continual interaction as a core value of healthy family living. |QR


Mark Bowers, AIA, LEED AP, NCARB, is the owner and founding partner of Architectural Workshop (AW). He has more than 29 years of experience at nationally and internationally recognized design firms, and has practiced in the Denver-area for 21 years. Bowers has a structural and illuminations engineering degree from the University of Colorado Boulder and a Master of Architecture from the Illinois Institute of Technology. He is LEED accredited and is an active member of Denver and Colorado American Institute of Architects (AIA), as well as SCUP and NCARB.

Bowers is committed to taking ordinary projects and making them extraordinary, to “Enrich Lives through Design” as per the AW moto. Since its inception in 1999, AW has grown to a staff of 12 and has received 32 local and national design awards.

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