Wood and Exposed Structures are Highlights of this Midcentury Home

Midcentury modern

This is a rehabilitation of a midcentury home in Little Rock, Arkansas. HH Architects were brought in to bring this home back to life. We spoke with the Jennifer Herron, AIA, at HH Architects to learn more about the project.

Do you have any details on the client brief?

“The current owners are Elisa and Clayton Belknap. The home had been owned by just one other family: Elisa’s grandparents. Her grandparents were a huge part of her life and this house was a constant in her life growing up. 

Her grandfather, Dr. Eugene Towbin had the home built in 1960 for his family after he took a job as chief of staff with the local VA hospital system. Apparently, he enlisted Hollis Beck, a draftsman with a nearby lumber company, to design the home and he designed the landscaping himself.”

What mid century influences did you want to include?

“I wanted to preserve and carry through the original, clean lined and timeless crisp details typical of these homes, so I looked to influences like my grandmother’s beautiful 1956 home designed by O’Neil Ford in Texas outside of Dallas, who was a contemporary of Cliff May, as well as Richard Neutra who is, in my opinion, the best architect of the time period.

Cleanly detailed mahogany cabinetry, a vanity cabinet created from a Danish console, classic Heath tile in the baths, and discrete mono-point lighting attached to the beams together carry through the mid century ethos.”

Midcentury modern

What do you think was so special about the midcentury period in American design?

“I love the connection of the interior spaces to the exterior spaces as well as the wood materials and exposing the structure.  Sometimes, you can also find beautiful tile work and wood built-ins for storage or desks.”

What were your challenges for this project?

“Challenges for this project included converting an existing small bathroom and closet into a larger bathroom to accommodate a separate shower and bathtub.  Another challenge was to design the new kitchen complimentary to the midcentury design.”

What was the house like previously?

“Although the house was open to the outside, it still was closed up a bit with the interior. The appliances and cabinets in the kitchen were outdated; however, the spaces had a lot of natural light and good
materials. The house was a bit dark inside but you could tell it was a beauty.”

Midcentury modern
Midcentury modern
Midcentury modern
Midcentury modern
Midcentury modern
Midcentury modern
Midcentury modern

What in your opinion are the best features of the home?

“In my opinion, the best features of the home is the kitchen/living/dining room area that extends out onto this wonderful outdoor back porch which is the full width of these spaces.  The windows in the living/kitchen/dining areas look out to the rear yard, side yard with a fountain and front part of the house – always viewing outward.  Another cool feature is the stairwell which has a wall of glass to the rear yard and the railing is so simple and beautiful.”

Last but not least, do you have any tips for people interested in buying a midcentury house?

“My tips for people interested in buying a midcentury house or building a new home with midcentury design elements – pay attention to the site and the orientation of the site to the solar angles.  Especially important when incorporating the feeling of expansiveness to the exterior. Sometimes we have requests for this on a steep slope, and it is difficult. 

Also, pay attention to the structure, exposed beams, screens consisting of concrete blocks, bricks, wood, any fireplace features, and tilework.  We try to keep it simple and implement these design characteristics in a way that is not overwhelming or too distractive to the eye. 

Midcentury modern design has clean lines, muted tones, a combination of natural and manmade materials and integrates the indoors and the outdoors.  Keeping with these elements is key. 

Our client really wanted the kitchen to be updated to accommodate updated appliances and they wanted it to fit right in with the house, almost like you wouldn’t be able to tell if it had been renovated.

Also, if renovating an existing midcentury modern home, check with local state to see if there are state historic tax credits.”

Midcentury modern

Photos by Mellon.Studio