Mid Century Modern Makeover
Home Styling

Mid Century Modern Makeover

As a home stylist, I was excited to sink my teeth into this mid-century modern makeover project! This one needed to be done on an itty-bitty budget because the owner wasn’t out to create his dream home – he was selling the house.  The home was a former rental property. So the owner wasn’t interested in doing an amazing makeover or renovation, he just wanted the house market-ready. There is so much MORE we could have done with this place, to truly make it amazing, but that wasn’t within the scope of this project. Our job was to create as much transformation as possible on as small a budget as possible. (To be honest, I love that kind of a challenge. )

In fact, when he first called us in, he actually just wanted us to stage the house with furniture and accessories to help it show better. I mean, that was literally ALL he wanted us to do.  He was planning on selling the place just as it was. But we quickly talked him out of that!  Sure, our staging alone would have made the house look considerably better – but why stop there, when with just a small expenditure into a few basic improvements and upgrades (much needed!), the house could really be transformed into a space that would show so much better to potential buyers.  I knew the owner would literally be leaving money on the table if he didn’t address at least a few of the basics. 

Well, fortunately, he saw the merit in our reasoning, and with our design and styling help, this 1950s mid-century modern home was completely transformed prior to being put on the market. It sold in just 2 days (in the midst of a mid-January deep freeze, no less – the coldest January in decades!).

After this quick and inexpensive mid-century modern makeover was completed the realtor increased his recommended listing price by $20,000 over his initial market valuation – and it was sold 2 days after hitting the market, for just $2,000 under ask.  The owner spent only about $3,000 to carry our our recommendations and complete the makeover.  Being able to help a home owner see that kind of gain after some really simple and inexpensive improvements is part of what is so much fun about being a home stylist (that and getting to play with other people’s houses everyday  – my “play houses” as I call them 🙂

Let’s start with some (sad!) before shots….

This mid-century modern home had tons of potential, but needed some help in recapturing its former luster.  Over the years, this home had become tired and outdated, but we knew that with a little love it had the bones to look modern and on trend, even on a minimal budget of only about $3,000.

The owner had called us in to work our magic when he made the decision to sell the house. He was initially just looking for furniture staging and intended to sell the house in its existing condition. But we helped him to realize that he’d be unnecessarily leaving money on the table if he sold the house in “as is” condition, because with a few basic improvements we could significantly increase the appeal, marketability and the value of the house.

When we came on board, all that had been done was a fresh coat of white paint (and I do mean WHITE paint – it had very little tinting to it at all) on the walls throughout the house. And that was about as far as the home owner was planning to go.

If we had come in before he’d repainted the walls, we would have suggested creating a bit of warmth and contrast in the living room/ dining room by using a calm grey or an earth tone – at least on the front wall with the windows… this would have helped highlight the windows and play them up as a feature.

But since the place had just been re-painted before we were brought in, we needed to work with what was there because this owner was not interested in re-painting what he had just repainted.  Remember, he hadn’t been planning to do anything else to this house, apart from having us stage it with furniture and accessories. So he certainly didn’t want to pay to re-do things he just had just paid to do.

But we had a list of other suggestions for him. Simple things that wouldn’t cost a lot, but that would really take this potentially lovely mid-century home from dodgy to desirable.

  • We recommended painting out the wood-toned door trim and baseboards throughout the living room and dining room in white to freshen and modernize the look.  The window trims were already painted white, so it was a bit of a mismatched “hodge-podge” having wood toned baseboards and door trims in the same space.
  • We also recommended painting out the dark wood paneling to match the lighter colored paint of the walls. Yes, the wood paneling is a signature trademark of a mid-century modern design, and one could argue it should be left intact to be true to the mid-century design – but this stuff was really darkening up the space. At best it would have needed to be re-stained since it was looking a little tired and worn after decades and decades and decades, so we decided light and bright was the best way to modernize this space.
  • There were two ceiling beams running perpendicular to each other in the living room and dining room area. One right up along the vaulted ceiling, and the other free-floating between a wall and a built in room divider/ bookshelf. We recommended painting the free floating beam white (seen in its original state in the photo at right) to modernize and freshen up the look since it was considerably lower than the ceiling itself and just looked heavy. Our advice was to do away with the dark stain on this particular beam, and on the woodwork on the built in book shelf/ room divider. Typically we try to avoid painting out natural wood tones, but in this case a lighter, brighter look was desperately needed to give them room a more modern feel and tie in with all of our other design suggestions.
  • The dark wood closet doors also dated the look, and so we recommended moving to more modern style bi-fold doors in white for the closets. We also wanted to see the hardwood floors be refinished and stained a darker color – they looked pretty scruffy in person, and the light maple color was not as flattering to the space as a deeper darker Espresso stain would be. With the white walls that the owner had recently painted, the contrast introduced with the espresso stain would really create beautiful dramatic contrast and warmth.  The darker stain would also do a better job in covering some of the imperfections and scratches on the flooring. While the floors were going to be sanded, the owner needed this done on a budget, so the sanding was not likely to be as thorough as it could be. So definitely using a darker stain was key to ensuring the floors looked pristine.

Aside from painting out that dark paneling, we suggested freshening and modernizing the stain on the built in dining room cabinets with a more modern Espresso, and adding some sleek, elongated brushed stainless steel pulls to the cabinet doors. While we wanted to lighten up some of the woodwork, there were other areas of woodwork we wanted to re-stain one of the ceiling beams (shown above), as well as the dining room cabinetry and the original hardwood floors to a more modern, rich, dark espresso.

And then there was that dirty, dingy, tired looking brick on the fire place. It was just crying out for a good coat of white paint to freshen it up and breath new life into it.

Above:  Making progress!  With the dark wooden paneling now painted white, the room instantly feels fresher, newer, brighter – and much more modern.  Now we just need to re-stain that beam with a nice deep, dark, rich Espresso colored stain to create some stunning contrast which will continue the modernization.

The homeowner saw the merit in our recommendations and agreed to have them done. There were a few minor things that would have upped the wow factor of the home that he opted out of to save a few dollars here and there.  We’d have liked to have seen them done, because the details really do make a difference in design (and the additional cost was so minimal it was really a shame not to ensure everything was top-notch), but they weren’t essential as long as all our other suggestions were implemented (and they were!).

And Now the Big Reveal….

How It Looked Before Our Recommended Improvements….

After Our Recommendations Were Implemented (below):

There’s that beautiful espresso stain that we envisioned for the floor! Notice how striking it looks contrasted against our freshly re-painted bright white fireplace. Exactly how we pictured it – stunning!

Now See It Fully Staged! (Below)

The fireplace mantel, by the way, was stone. If it had been a wooden mantel, we would have stained it espresso to match the floor – the contrast of espresso wood against white brick would have been stunning.  But given that it was a stone mantel, painting it white, along with the brick, was the way to go.

The Dark Wood Paneled Wall, Floating Beam, and Closet Doors – Before:

After: So Fresh, Modern. Light. and Bright (Below)




Oh, what a mess – old, mismatched flooring in the living and dining room. Vinyl flooring in the dining room meeting up with honey colored hardwoods (in pretty rough shape) in the living room. Keep in mind the dining room was completely open to the living room, so having two different flooring types in this situation a huge design faux pas, and not something buyers would want to see.  The homeowner was going to put it on the market as is, but we strongly encouraged him to consider our suggested improvements…. Top of that list was to unify the flooring in the living room and dining room. That meant refinishing the hardwoods, pulling out the vinyl flooring in the dining room, and staining all of the floors with a rich dark espresso stain.

After (Below)

After we worked our magic!

And Now, Fully Staged! (Below)

Note, the vertical blinds above were not our idea! We wanted them gone, but the homeowner opted to keep them.

Continues Below…

More of the Story….


We recommended that the vinyl flooring in the dining room be removed – we wanted a consistent look flowing from the living room into the dining room, since the rooms are open to one another.  Having different flooring when two rooms are open to one another is not what you could call good styling… and its not something buyers want to see. Let’s be honest, sheet vinyl flooring just never belongs in a formal dining room.

We hoped to find hardwood under the vinyl (which we did) so that we could then re-stain all of the flooring in the living and dining rooms to be the same (an Espresso colored stain for a high-end look). If there had not been hardwood under the vinyl (you never know what you will find!) we had our back-up plan in place – we’d use a dark wood laminate for the dining room and then color match the hardwoods in the living room to it, still achieving a more consistent look. The plank size wouldn’t match – remember, these were narrow 1950s planks – but by getting the color and tone consistent all the way through the space, it would be a huge improvement.

The existing hardwoods in the living room were a light honey color – we recommended staining all of the hardwood throughout the living and dining room a more modern, sleek espresso (dark brown). Not only is this a very rich and contemporary look, but the added benefit was that the darker color would help draw attention away from the narrow floor boards used on the hardwood floors, which is a more dated and less contemporary look. The house was built in the 1950s when narrow hardwood floor boards were the style. Today, however, the look is a wider planks.  A light flooring color makes the narrow planks more noticeable. The darker color helps to minimize the narrow appearance of the planks (the plank size is not easy to see from the photos, but in person this would be obvious).

We also recommended the built in dining room cabinets be re-stained that same modern espresso color and suggested that sleek, contemporary cabinet door pulls be added.  It was our recommendation that the dark paneled wall to the right of the dining room be painted white, as shown below, to give it a bright, fresh modern look, and that the wood toned baseboards and door trims be painted out white to freshen and modernize the look.

And of course, we recommended a new dining room chandelier – it needed a statement piece.  We specifically hand-selected this bronze and brushed nickel Sphere Chandelier to complement the overall styling and achetecture of this room, and give the space a punch of contemporary WOW factor.

The home owner was on board! Our recommendations were carried out and the space was dramatically transformed.

I should note that we also recommended removing the vertical blinds to show off the large wall of windows – a terrific feature which really complements the architecture of the home. But the client wanted the blinds to remain (budget concerns!).  More modern, light filtering roller shades which can be purchased inexpensively from IKEA would have really been a huge improvement, but clients will do what clients will do!  Ultimately, he was awesome to work with and really followed our lead in transforming this house and completing a great mid-century makeover on a budget.

The client followed our recommendations to install the more modern, sleek, brushed nickel cabinet pulls on the lower cabinets – it gave a more sleek and contemporary look to the cabinets, however, we had also recommended that longer, sleek pulls be added to the upper cabinets as well. The shiny stainless steel would have helped break up all that darkness and add contemporary finishing and styling. It so easy to visualize how fabulous they would have looked fantastic against the espresso stained cabinets. The client chose not to incur the additional expense (only about $50) for the extra pulls, which was really such a missed opportunity (like I always say – its the details that make a difference in design!) — but ultimately, its always the client’s choice. Fortunately he did implement all of our other recommendations, and the room looked elegant and updated.

We pulled back the vertical blinds for our photos – to show off that beautiful feature wall of windows which is an important part of the achetecture and styling of this room.  Now you barely know the blinds are there, and look how the room comes to life!  As I said earlier, we would have preferred to play up this feature wall using a touch of color to create a bit of contrast and accentuate the window, but that wall had just been freshly painted in white before the client brought us in. This is why its best to consult with a designer before doing any work! Nonetheless, it was all still very workable.


And here’s how we staged the rest of the house…

Master Bedroom Before:

Master Bedroom After:

2nd Bedroom Before

2nd Bedroom After:

Bathroom Before

Bathroom After:

Office/ Third Bedroom

After the relatively simple upgrade suggestions we gave to improve the home at a cost less than $3000, the listing agent increased his recommended selling price of the home by a whopping $20,000!

The house sold in 2 days!
In the middle of January – the homeowner was very pleased 🙂

We had so much fun doing this inexpensive mid-century modern makeover! Just goes to prove that you don’t have to spend a lot of money to totally transform a space!

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