CIRCA School: Mid Century Modern and the Birth of the Open Floor Plan

The Kaufmann Desert House, designed by architect Richard Neutra in 1946 for Pittsburgh department store owner Edgar Kaufmann, who had previously commissioned Fallingwater. Source: Library of Congress

Grab your No. 2 pencils, everyone! It’s time for CIRCA School, where we uncover the fascinating facts behind everyone’s favorite old house styles and details.

The Mid Century Modern decorative aesthetic has an incredibly enduring appeal. Clean lines, natural woods, lightness: it lends itself to wide popularity in its pleasant neutrality. MCM furniture has been reproduced to the extent that you can love it specifically and not know what “it” is.

On the other hand, I think period-perfect Mid Century styled architecture has grown to be seen as a bit kitsch, superfans aside. Perhaps it’s too old to be trendy and too young to have sprouted timelessness in the public mind. The thing is, though, those homes inspired (hands down, change my mind!) the most radical revolution in how we consider home architecture thus far: The Open Plan. That’s what we’re going to focus on today.

The Open Plan came about soon after World War II when the desire for a better future was craved after more than ever. Designers and architects made living spaces that could evoke harmony and foster togetherness as a response. The idea of reserving rooms for certain occasions felt stale. Large, wide open and multifunctional spaces entered. The barriers between indoor spaces and outdoor spaces were broken down a bit.

The Scandinavian countries had been at it for decades, I’ll note. (Seriously, why are they so advanced in living well?) Soon, Pandora’s box had been opened wide. We can very well credit MCM with popularizing the gut remodel, I think. Remove the walls! All the walls! Open plans are now the default. Will it stay? It’s fun to consider how we change our built world to reflect who we are, and in the end it goes on to change us right back.

Fabulous Mid Century Homes Currently For Sale on CIRCA:

The Gattman Residence, 1959. $1,795,000

Designed by William Kesling, 1950. $929,000

Jonestown dream on 5 acres, 1960. $400,000


(And there’s more, click here for the full list!)



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Alix is CIRCA’s Properties Manager. She relishes working directly with homeowners and real estate agents to track down new stewards for homes with secrets to keep and stories to tell! On a lifetime mission to visit every great flea market in the world, she’s probably going to need a bigger old house soon.

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