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Tips for a Mid-century Modern Make-over

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If you like the mid-mod look but finances are tight, try these easy and affordable ways to boost curb appeal. By Patty Warren.

The Fontenot Door courtesy of Crestview Doors.

If you’re partial to a bit of retro style, chances are we’ll see you on the Tucson Modernism Week home tour next Sunday.

And if seeing all that mid century glamour leaves you frustrated, worry not. There are ways to get the mid mod look without breaking the bank.

Tucson is heaving with ’50s, ’60s and ’70s homes  – many of them standard red brick ranch houses – that with a little bit of tweaking can have serious curb appeal.

The mid century era was all about simple, sleek and streamlined, says Pam Kueber of the blog Retro Renovation. “You weren’t going to put in a lot of frou-frou. It was about less is more.”

The exteriors of mid century homes were uncomplicated, with simple roof lines. Added to that, their modest size – 1500 sq ft tops, when it came to standard subdivision houses – means that present-day tweaking is a manageable job.

Pam is not a purist when it comes to retro-renovating. She says she uses a mix of period pieces – scouring yard sales, eBay, Craigslist and her local Habitat for Humanity store – and brand new pieces with a mid-mod style.

Mid century has become so popular these last few years, she says, that the avenues for buying are “many many more alternatives” when it comes to sourcing your accessories.

Urban Mailbox by Box Design.

1.  The Mailbox In keeping with all that is mid century modern, these have clean, simple designs, are often two-tone, and with numerals in a retro-style font.

But remember: the US Postal Service has guidelines on positioning and placement of mailboxes. So before you install a new one, make sure you’re doing it properly.

Metro letterbox by Box Design.


Postino wall box courtesy of Crestview Doors. Price: $77

Wall mailbox by Box Design. Prices hover around $250

2. The Doorbell 

Sometimes it’s a benefit to go mid-mod 60 years too late. Today’s LED technology means there are modern interpretations of retro doorbells – the mid-mod look with a 21st century spin.

Square door bell by Spore. Photo by Craig Warren

True blue door bell by Spore. Photo courtesy of Spore.





3 Story’s own Patty Warren chose an LED product from Spore  with a custom finish for the front doorbell to her remodeled ’70s home on Tucson’s west side (prices start at $90).

“Classic Square”
by Rejuvenation.

by Rejuvenation.

by Rejuvenation.







Or you can stick with a classic doorbell that doesn’t look like it’s changed one bit, with prices from $30 each.

3. The Front Door Modding your front door doesn’t have to mean replacing the whole thing. The Doorlite Kit from Crestview Doors offers ‘lites’ in clear or textured double-pane glass that you can install in your old door.

3 Lite Doorlite Kit from Crestview Doors.

Doorlite Kit by Crestview Doors.

All you need are basic DIY skills and a few hours for the revamp. Add a retro shade of paint like this one opposite and you’ve got yourself a new door for a fraction of the usual cost. Price: $60 to $300, depending on the number and size of ‘lites’.

Or if you do want to splash out,  Crestview Doors provides energy-efficient mid century designs with insulated reeded glass panels. The reeded glass provides pattern and texture as well as privacy.  Price: from $500.

For the finishing touch, replace your door hardware with period glam. Check out these styles below from Rejuvenation, with prices ranging from $185 – $280.

Samba Door hardware.





Titan Exterior Door Set






4. House Numbers

There’s not a lot of room for whimsy in the clean, simple lines that define mid century. But when it comes to your house numbers, you can have a little fun. Choose from the bright primary colors that were popular in the mid-20th century, get funky with the positioning of the numbers, and use some rounded period fonts to make a striking statement. Price: from $20 per number.

This Richard Neutra design is from Design Within Reach. Prices range from $20 to $40 a number. Photo courtesy of Design Within Reach.

Metropolitian Retro house numbers by Atlas Homewares.






Avalon house numbers by Atlas Homewares.

5. Lighting

Wrought iron and carriage-style lamps were the two main features found in doorways in the middle of last century, says Danny Levkowitz, owner of Sun Lighting, which opened its doors in Tucson in 1953. The fixtures he’s selling today have the same look but are better quality, he says. They can also carry LED bulbs and they meet Tucson’s dark sky ordinance requirements.

The modern movement abandoned the use of wrought iron in favor of  new materials ,aluminium, stainless steel and chrome for a forward and futuristic look.

Vida exterior wall sconce by Rejuvenation. $ 260

Otis Wall Sconce by Rejuvenation. $212

Enterprise Exterior Wall Sconce by Rejuvenation. $215

Double Bullet Sconce
Photo Courtesy of Stardust Modern.$225

Geometric Laser Sconce by Euro Style Lighting. $170

















If you do want to go authentic and source a period sconce or outside light, Pam Kueber of Retro Renovation suggests having it rewired or at least inspected by an electrician before you install it.

What is Modernism anyway?

The middle years of the 20th Century in America sparkled with optimism, hope and visions of a bright future. A new style of architecture and design developed, using bold colors and materials like concrete, chrome and plywood.

Here in the desert Southwest, the mild climate and the mountain views inspired a local version, Desert Modernism, with horizontal lines, use of natural and native materials, deep overhangs and indoor/outdoor spaces.

You can see examples of Desert Modernism in the sub-division of Indian Ridge Estates, located Southwest of Sabino Canyon, and throughout central Tucson.

For more, visit Tucson Modernism Week’s Home Tour, Sunday November 11, 9am-12.30pm.

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