Real Estate: Mad Men and Mid-Century Modernism

My business partner and I have been asked by Docomomo’s New England chapter to make a presentation to its members next week regarding the marketing and selling of New England’s mid-century modern houses. This is an area that I have specialized in, setting up the popular blog in 2007 or so. Docomomo is “a non-profit organization dedicated to the documentation and conservation of buildings, sites and neighborhoods of the modern movement for nearly 25 years.”

With the looming presentation, we have been reflecting on how we market these houses. The reality is that it’s easy. We love it. The homes usually photograph very well because of an abundance of natural light and crisp, clean lines. They are usually not the high end of the price range. And, there is a story for us to tell, a great story about true intellectual mavericks and artists working in a region that was at the leading edge for post-war optimism and the belief that technology and scientific advancement was going to improve life in general.

We are lucky enough to live and work in Lexington (we market these homes all over the Boston area), which along with Lincoln and some other towns in the western suburbs, has a significant history of mid-century modern homes, beginning with The Architects Collaborative and Six Moon Hill; Walter Pierce/Danforth Compton and their Peacock Farm neighborhood; and modernists like Henry Hoover and Hugh Stubbins design in and/or living in town. As I discussed in one of my first Boston Daily blog posts, the Boston area’s modern homes and neighborhoods are kind of like well-kept secrets. But that is changing rapidly as younger buyers with an appreciation for the well-designed, efficient, and stylish homes enter the home-buying market. And these homes generally offer a great bang for the buck. Often, for the price of a Cape, buyers can get a three-bedroom mid-century mod with two-and-a-half baths. Sometimes it seems that such an appreciation for these homes skipped a generation or two. But really, there has always been the resistance around New England for non-traditional styles, and not just with architecture. I mean, people from outside of Boston always pictured people in L.L. Bean duck boots, or perhaps J. Crew on Newbury Street.

But as with clothing fashions, trends change. Don’t get me wrong; more people still want the 3,000 square-foot neo-Colonial with granite, stainless, and a great room wired for the big screen television. But the commercials on those TVs are increasingly showing happy people living cool lives in mid-century modern homes. Mad Men offers stunning eye candy of sleek mid-century Scandinavian design. Buyers that come to us from the city neighborhoods are finding they can get a piece of that cool vibe and don’t have to sacrifice style as they make their march out to the ‘burbs. Very often, they find themselves as only the second owners of these houses. Kendall Square and Route 128 are still (or again) humming with the optimism and intellectual energy behind technological advancement. The torch is being passed.