Celebrating Midcentury Modest

Talk to Pam Kueber, creator of retrorenovation.com, for five minutes and you'll never look at a suburban ranch house the same way again. When Kueber found herself in what she calls a midcentury modest home—one of the 29 million tract homes (shhh, she hates the term) built for the middle class in postwar America—she decided to remodel it in a style appropriate to the period. Soon, she was hooked on Atomic Age design and all it entails, including candy colors (think pink bathrooms), small square footage (but with livable layouts) and knotty pine. The corporate communications refugee created a website to document her remodel and provide resources to her growing community, a tribe bent on restoring the modest houses to their original glory rather than remodeling them beyond recognition. The result is a website that's wonderfully addictive and a following that's passionate about homes that have been overlooked or dismissed for decades. Their motto, love the home you are in, is their message.

Mary Jo Bowling
  • Photo credit: Courtesy Cullen Meyer, Photos by Paul Quitoriano
    Rooms for Living

    In a story posted on retrorenovation.com, Kueber calls 27-year-old Cullen Meyer the "crown prince of kitsch." His apartment illustrates the aesthetic perfectly. As Kueber writes in her manifesto, the style is "unpretentious and exhuberant—the first taste of material comfort for millions. "After World War II, these homes were so desirable that roads were clogged with people going to see the early models for sale," says Kueber. "It was the realization of the American dream. They loved their homes."

  • Photo credit: Courtesy Cullen Meyer, Photos by Paul Quitoriano
    Channeling the Past

    On her website, Kueber calls the process of restoring a midcentury modest home no less than "returning to the source of the American dream. She writes: "And in the process, re-thinking what we want it to mean for us today. Retro style has a happiness-quotient that is off the charts. We love our midcentury modest homes in all their glorious simplicity and optimism, and cherish the opportunity to safeguard their history and heritage."

     
  • Photo credit: Courtesy Cullen Meyer, Photos by Paul Quitoriano
    The Popular Kid on the Block

    When Kueber started blogging about her project, more people described the untouched midcentury modest homes as "hideous" rather than "hip." "I hate the word hideous," notes Kueber. "Millions of people loved and cherished these homes, who are we to say they were wrong?" But a funny thing happened as the years passed—people started to value the charm of the style. "It seems like baby boomers and young people are discovering them," she says. Kueber adds that the boomer generation is drawn by nostalgia and smaller spaces as they downsize, while young people are taking advantage of the still-affordable prices. But the attainable price tag may soon be a thing of the past. "They are becoming more desirable every day," she says. "Especially on the coasts."

  • Time Warp Kitchen

    The site so successful, Kueber recently hired her first employee, a managing editor. She discovered Kate after reading her blog, retroranchrevamp.com. Of kitchen remodels, Kueber writes: "GRANITE countertops? Who needs ‘em, especially when they come with a home equity loan that stresses our family finances beyond our limits. What silliness. What Insanity. Don’t tell anyone, but our midcentury modest homes, because they are so unpretentious by today’s standards, can be much more affordable to buy and to renovate."

     

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