Almost the minute it went away, the mid-century modern style was poised to make a comeback. Sleek lines, transparent livable spaces, an abundance of natural light—for homes, mid-century modern is the equivalent of the iPod; less being much, much more. In an age where form doesn’t follow function—think of how many separate functions our phones are capable of—function is now the sole operative word, and what better than a style that makes use of conceptually open (and limitlessly functional) spaces?
When designing the trendy sanctuaries homeowners increasingly desire in their rush to decompress from the lighting-fast speed of the modern rat race, the mid-century modern style has never seemed better. Never has this been more true, either, for custom builds across Texas, in homes where an “Atomic Age” light fixture, a bronze metal sun mirror, and Don Draper deposited in an Eames Lounge Chair would not look out of place.
“Across the board, that’s what we get asked for,” says Dallas-based designer and builder Tom Greico, of Greico Modern Homes. With the mid-century modern style “just about anything goes,” including dressing them with everything from modern to traditional and antique furniture, and all kinds of artwork.
While traditional homes are itemized and structured—a living room here? check; a kitchen there? check—they can also be stuffier and far less visually pleasing as a result. The newest trends make use of big, gorgeous, livable spaces; as well as fluidity between indoors and outdoors, says Greico.
“Things have changed in the last few years—we’re doing more open spaces,” concurs Dallas builder Saad Chehabi, president and CEO of S&R Development. “We’re also doing a lot of oversized floor-to-ceiling windows with very dark frame colors. Saad confirmed that in the last few years his firm has exclusively constructed for clients in a neo-classical style that he calls “clean-line contemporary.”
“Nobody wants busy, nobody wants traditional,” says Saad. “It’s a lot cleaner, and a lot of bigger open spaces.” That includes clean white walls with no moldings, linear rectangular fireplaces and energy efficient spaces (such as fully sealed attics).
But what’s all this added efficiency without the cherry on the top? Namely, complete automation that rivals the Jetsons. “Home automation is becoming more affordable, and more mainstream,” says Greico. “It used to be you spent $20,000 to get your house automated. Now you can get it for a couple of thousand dollars.”
Mainstreaming Green Building
Peter Pfeiffer, of Austin-based Barley|Pfeiffer Architecture, first got into “green” energy, in the 1970s. Earth Day had just become a nationally recognized concept, and the oil embargo had sent gas prices skyrocketing. When he eventually settled in Austin a stint at the University of Texas made him see the light: but not the one you might expect. For the past 36 years, Pfeiffer has led the charge towards “high performance design,” derisively referring to solar panels and geothermal pumps as “gizmos” that get more play than they really should.
Honored in 2003 by The National Association of Home Builders for his lifelong achievements in “mainstreaming” green building, Pfeiffer’s fundamental question is simple: “Rather than relying on these things that break, why don’t we just design our buildings to need less energy in the first place?”
Pfeiffer’s approach formed the basis for a national energy program. After being tabbed by a think-tank formed by the Austin mayor and city council to look into alternatives to the building of another power plant, the group looked into energy saving techniques that could be implemented citywide. Their efforts laid the groundwork for what would come to be known as Energy Star (the Environmental Protection Agency program’s star is a reference to the Lone Star State), started in Austin 35 years ago, which designs and subsidizes energy efficient appliances.
There’s still a lot of work to do to spread the word that a common sense approach can be a lot less expensive to implement, says Pfeiffer. “Design the building to use less energy in the first place,” he says. “Once you get that dealt with, then you can see if it’s worth it buying solar panels for your roof.”