Cindy and Gary Wolfe had a hobby of looking at midcentury modern homes.
They’d never lived in one; they had always gravitated to traditional architecture. But after going on the Charlotte Museum of History’s “Mad About Modern” tour one year, they began to envision themselves living in a home with big, picture windows; clean lines, and a smooth union of inside and outside.
Two years ago, they became more than hobbyists. When they bought a 1955 ranch on Cloister Drive and began a year-long renovation, they became midcentury modern evangelists. At press time, they were putting in the final touch—a pool—and they’ll be ready to invite Charlotteans inside their remodeled ranch during the 2018 tour on Sept. 29. The Wolfe home is one of at least seven on the tour.
This year’s tour features homes built between 1955 and 1968. But tour leaders point out that midcentury elements are included in many newer homes. “A lot of midcentury modern ideas have been incorporated into more recent architecture,” said John Kincheloe, an architect with LS3P, a Charlotte Museum of History Museum board member, and former president of Historic Charlotte, which started the Mad About Modern Tour.
“I’ve even seen spec homes that use some midcentury elements—clean lines, open space, lots of glass, a living/kitchen/dining combination and an overall ‘less is more’ approach.”
“Formal living spaces continue to shrink,” he added. “People are realizing the benefits of living in a smaller footprint that makes better utilization of space. Having a dedicated home gym is great if you use it.”
Designed by B. Atwood Skinner, the Wolfe home remains true to its roots. The original cantilevered facade is textbook MCM.
The distinctive orange front door is a cheerful entryway for owners and guests. It’s also the first hint that the owners were unafraid to go bold. “This house is just fun,” Cindy Wolfe said. “That starts with color. We have a vintage red boucle sofa we bought online and recovered; a bright yellow chair; and whimsical light fixtures.”
“There are almost no curves in this house,” she added. “It’s all straight lines and right angles. I think that’s why we opted for light fixtures with a curve.”
Other elements to look for: massive concrete fireplace caps (you can’t miss them; they were one of Cindy Wolfe’s favorite exterior features), solid cherry doors and a wood-paneled study that’s been converted to a media room—a decidedly current touch.
The Wolfes were thoughtful in the changes they made. A period-sensitive cantilevered addition is in harmony with the original and creates valuable space for a master bath and closet. As with any renovation, what gets subtracted is as important as what gets added. The Wolfes added a bedroom and remodeled the kitchen but removed a dropped ceiling in the hallway and a pantry that allowed the kitchen and living areas to become more open.
Cindy said their home is a combination of their vision—and that of Jim Owen of DIGSdesign, who drafted the plans and had input into nearly every design decision. “It was important that our contractor love midcentury modern,” Wolfe said. “Jim’s fingerprints are all through this house.”
“He looked at this as a refresh—not an overhaul,” she said. “He respected and improved upon what was here.” But he didn’t want the house to look like a time capsule. “I found a pair of turquoise lamps from the ’50s, and Jim convinced me they were too much. He’d nudge me back when I started to venture into kitschy.”
“I discovered during this renovation that I’m a little more Dwell and a little less Atomic Ranch,” she said. “I love both styles, but you can’t easily have them both.”
Another standout home on the tour is David Edwards’ Sharon Hills Road home. It’s had only a little cosmetic work done since it was built in 1968.
The original owner, architect Murray Whisnant, designed the home and won a 1970 AIA Merit Award for it. The front of the house offers owners complete privacy while the sides and rear focus on the outside forest. There’s plenty to see from those oversized windows—deer, red-tailed hawks, red foxes.
Midcentury modern homes were designed to showcase the view from nearly every room. With MCM, Kincheloe said, “There’s little to no unnecessary ornamentation. Nothing is arbitrary.”
Cindy Wolfe’s current home is her favorite she’s ever lived in. She hopes a few people on this year’s tour become so enamored of the simple, clean aesthetic that they’ll want to go from MCM hobbyists, as they did, to homeowners.
The home tour is one day only—Sept. 29—from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. Tickets ($25 in advance, $20 for Charlotte Museum of History members and $30 on tour day) are limited and generally sell out. Learn more or buy tickets at madaboutmodern.com.
Photography by Dustin Peck