What Makes it “Modern?”

There’s a young woman we follow on the internet named Jenna Phipps. She’s a “maker,” and became popular on Instagram for knitting her own clothes and then posting “how-to” videos on how she did it. We only discovered her recently, as she bought an abandoned home, and is attempting to renovate it with her boyfriend – and NO CONTRACTORS!

  • We do not recommend this.

We were struck by her abandoned home because of the incredible architecture and bones. It’s what today we call a “Mid-Century Modern” home. The original owner bought the plans and had it built. The architect even designed specific pieces of furniture to go with the home – which Jenna also now owns. Now, the home is in West Vancouver, Canada, which means a good bit of rainy weather, but the home has amazing walls of windows that look out over the majestic vistas of that part of British Columbia.

It’s going to be an adventure for Jenna and her boyfriend, because years of neglect and the constant humidity have done a number on this jewel-in-the-rough. But it holds promise, and it came with a pool. You should watch an episode.

Watching Jenna’s adventures made us think of some of our own custom home builds. Many folks like a very traditional design, and often borrow from elements of Cape Cod, Craftsman, Colonial, Tudor, and other architectural styles. But we’ve helped several clients design and build homes with a distinctively modern flavor.

So, what makes it modern?

Fallingwater via Wikipedia by lachrimae72
Fallingwater via Wikipedia by lachrimae72

When you think of a “modern” home, the conversation inevitably turns to Frank Lloyd Wright. Often called “the greatest architect of all time,” he designed over 1,000 buildings – from homes to churches, and office buildings to hotels. A classic example of his work is Fallingwater in Pennsylvania, built for department store owner Edgar Kaufmann in 1935. In 1976, it was designated a National Historic Landmark.

There were a number of names given to Wright’s style of architecture: Prairie Home, Usonian, Arts & Crafts. But he considered all of his work to be “organic architecture.” His homes were designed to bring the lifestyle and daily goings-on of a building’s inhabitants into harmony with the external environment. His design philosophy helped to define the elements of what we consider “modern.”

What are those elements?

  • A connection to the outdoors.
    Like Jenna’s house, a modern home makes extensive use of windows and skylights. It allows natural light to constantly bathe the house, and those inside can view the natural art outside that changes daily, and hour-by-hour. It will also incorporate patios and balconies to invite outdoor living.

    The kitchen in one of our custom homes.
    The kitchen in one of our custom homes.
  • Open, ergonomic design.
    Wright called the kitchen at Fallingwater “The Workspace.” He considered the majority of the home to be a place of respite and relaxation, and the kitchen was the only place where actual “work” would occur. But using his cues, architects design modern homes to incorporate a more open floorplan, with a seamless flow from kitchen to living room, dining room to den. Many spaces within the home become multi-functional.
  • Clean lines.
    Much of the construction of Fallingwater is stone, and it seems to blend in effortlessly with the environment. It seems to teeter precariously over a waterfall (hence the name), and the stream is a feature of the design. But from the balconies and throughout the interior, the design is geometrically clean, with unbroken straight lines of walls and windows. Modern homes adopt this minimalism, with a rejection of the clutter of archways, curved window moldings, and anything distracting from symmetry.


The design of your home is entirely up to you. Your taste may dictate a modern take on the farmhouse. Perhaps your travels have inspired a Tudor design. A log cabin may be your idea of “home.”

Modern will always be an option for you, and we can help you make that happen. Contact us to talk about our design options for your dream home.