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Diamond in the Rough: The Possibilities of a Mid-century Home

13 Mar 2023

By Cumulus Architect / Associate Jet O'Rourke.

The mid-century home has experienced a steady rise in mainstream popularity across many Australian cities over the past 10 to 15 years. These distinctive homes, often modest in size and built with robust materials framing large expanses of glazing, have become increasingly ubiquitous in architecture websites, coffee table books, and Instagram posts.

In the context of the current affordability crisis, these homes, often located in hills suburbs (and touted by real estate agents as development sites), have become the last frontier of ownership for some prospective homebuyers who could only dream of renting a cottage, villa or bungalow in our inner ring suburbs.

Despite the growing awareness of these modernist homes, many still perceive them to be inflexible, abstract spaces that are too difficult or costly to renovate — places to demolish rather than ones to invest in.

Although mid-century houses present unique design challenges, they are distinctive spaces that even with small, considered changes and modest investment can be reimagined as homes accommodating every part of modern life.


Much of these homes’ potential can be revealed in stages, at a low cost, and in many instances by the owners themselves. This is where engaging an architect or interior designer — even for initial guidance — can provide real value on a project that can seem intimidating to buyers.

When looking to buy or renovate a modernist home, there are a few key things to consider.

Heritage. Just like pre-war homes there are some distinctions between early and late mid century styles. Early modernist homes, for example, tended to promote cleanliness and modernism through white finishes to external timbers whereas later period modern homes tended to celebrate the warmth of timber and maintain clear finishes. It's a small but important distinction that ensures any changes preserve the home’s historical narrative.

Asbestos. One of the major hesitations for most potential buyers of these homes is the likelihood that asbestos sheeting may have been used in its construction. Although not a major hazard if left undisturbed, the material must be removed by a licensed professional should more extensive renovations be part of your vision.

Maintaining original features and fixtures. Due to their age, many modernist homes have only had one or two owners, which has allowed them to maintain well made, enduring features like light fittings and finishes. Beyond the sentimental value that these may have, adding new features that align with the original aesthetic, or restoring existing ones, can significantly add to the value of the property.

Avoiding a “white on white” renovation. The first spaces to be earmarked for renovation within a home are often bathrooms and kitchens. Because of the unique nature of many mid-century homes, renovating these areas requires a more nuanced and creative approach — one that embraces the need to be playful, consider colour that pushes boundaries, and maintain texture in many of the materials that make up the space.

With the right vision and guidance from a design professional these often unusual homes can be reshaped to celebrate a unique history and accommodate contemporary living.

Find out more about Jet or explore the restoration of his own modernist house via the links below.

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