Midcentury Marvels

Mad About Modern Home Tour on Sept. 9 celebrates natural materials, open floor plans, and good design.

The thing that sold Amy and Jim Langdon on the midcentury modern home they bought a decade ago was the brick. Specifically, the exposed brick.

“It’s everywhere,” says Jim, of the brick inside their quietly stunning Old Foxcroft home. It’s along the wall that lines the back of the house—although that wall is mostly made up of sliding glass doors. The doors don’t have mullions, so there’s nothing to obstruct the gorgeous patio view. Brick is on the front wall that lines the living room, dining room, kitchen and den—they’re all in a neat row, like a wide, open version of a railcar-style house.

There’s even a brick fireplace wall at the end of the living room that extends outside. It’s very Frank Lloyd Wrightian.

The built-in planter by the fireplace is typical of the period. (Remember the groovy built-in planter by the floating staircase in “The Brady Bunch”?) Built-in cabinets and drawers allow for plenty of storage hidden in plain sight.

The Langdon home is one of seven homes on the sixth Mad About Modern tour, an annual event featuring properties in the midcentury modern architectural style, sponsored by the Charlotte Museum of History. Tickets for the one-day-only event on Sept. 9 cost $25 in advance and $30 the day of.

Midcentury design has been hot since AMC’s hit series “Mad Men,” and our love affair with the era shows no sign of cooling off.

“Midcentury modern homes represent the best of good design,” said John Kincheloe, an architect with LS3P, a Charlotte Museum of History board member and former president of Historic Charlotte, which started the Mad About Modern Tour in 2011. “As workstations get smaller and urban spaces become denser, we search out design elements of midcentury homes that include large, open spaces and the connection to the nature often lost in our daily lives.”

The Langdon home makes the most of its wooded lot with lots of big windows—a hallmark of midcentury modern design, which is known for blurring the lines between indoors and outdoors. “Large expanses of glass and courtyard designs create a connection to the outdoors,” says Kincheloe.

Architects’ work from the 1930s to the 1970s often left a home’s structural elements—like the brick inside the Langdon home—exposed. The open floor plans benefit from column-and-beam construction, Kincheloe says, and when rooms are less defined, they become multi-use and multi-purpose spaces.

“One of my favorite things to discover in a midcentury modern home is the creative use of small spaces,” Kincheloe says. “Look for the built-in cabinets that might line a wall.” Some homes even have blenders built into the counter.

In a neighborhood where older ranches have been replaced by mansions that look as if they executed a hostile takeover of the lot, the Langdons’ home is a tribute to the neighborhood’s original design. It’s also something of a landmark.  Prominent Charlotte architect Louis Asbury designed the home in 1955 for the Gates Kimball family.

Asbury also designed the old Mecklenburg County Courthouse, Myers Park Methodist Church and homes in Myers Park, Dilworth, and Eastover.

Previous owners renovated the home in 2001. With the help of local interior designer Barrie Benson, the Langdons added their own touches—hardwood floors and built-in bookcases (both in a gorgeous Brazilian cherry) for Amy’s always-expanding collection of books—without disturbing the home’s original footprint or aesthetic.

With four bedrooms and three bathrooms, the 3,151-square-foot home is big enough for the family of five, without frittering away space on rooms that rarely get used. “The home lives larger than it is,” says Amy, 46.

Asbury also added some magical touches: The transom windows in the front were designed to make the roof appear to be floating.

Jim, 47, who has become an expert on the home’s history, can tell you about the “floating” coat closet that used to stand sentry at the front door. That closet is long gone, which allows for the airy, open feeling you get when you first enter.

Just up a small staircase are the kids’ rooms. Two teenage daughters share a bathroom, but each has her own room. They also share a sitting room, complete with a turntable for vinyl records, an unintended yet period-perfect detail.

Jim and Amy’s 8-year-old son has his own suite, which includes a sitting area—and his drum set.

The private master suite, updated recently by Kate Newman and Kim Moore with K. Interiors, is tucked away downstairs. Amy and Jim have a bricked-in courtyard just outside their bedroom, which is also accessible from the bathroom. The house had a six-foot Roman sunken tub/shower, which the family kept —mostly because the kids liked it. And who wouldn’t?

There’s a lot to love about midcentury design: smart use of space, harmony between interior and exterior, a sense of openness. And a sense of history. On Sept. 9, expose yourself to nostalgic good design. madaboutmodern.com

Photography by Dustin Peck

Want to go?

The “Mad About Modern” home tour is from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. Sept. 9. Tickets cost $25 in advance and $30 on the day of, but it’s recommended that you purchase early—they sell out fast.

The Charlotte Museum of History also has planned a pre-tour lecture and panel discussion on midcentury design on Aug. 30 at the museum, 3500 Shamrock Drive. It’s free to attend, but registration is required at madaboutmodern.com. UNC Charlotte architecture professor Peter Wong will be the keynote speaker.