Mid Century Mod | You’ve Heard the Term, but What Does it Mean?

Mid Century Mod, or Mid Century Modern, is a period of design that started immediately after WWII and lasted until the early 1970’s. It was seen in architecture as well as interior design. The primary focus of the movement was clean, flowing lines and an emphasis on functionality. It needed to do its job first and foremost, then it needed to look good. Some classic images of mod century mod are the popular Eames chair.

In architecture, the style was personified by sleek, one story dwellings with open spaces and large expanses of glass. In fact, architects of the period enjoyed playing with vertical planes and experimenting with simple lines. Unfortunately, by1970, the style began to fade quickly and was soon considered out of fashion. Recently, there has been an emerging group that appreciates the simplicity of its design aesthetic. Websites, furniture stores and architects are now specializing in what was once out of style. The award-winning TV show, Mad Men, has also added to the resurgence of this architectural style because the show is set in the 1960’s, during Mid Century Mod’s heyday.

Atomic Ranch by Michelle Gringeri-Brown is a great coffee table book chock full of information and drool-worthy pictures of ranch homes of the period. From pictures of interiors that reflect the epitome of Mid Century Mod to page after page of architectural gems. The long, low lines of ranch homes throughout the country that, luckily, remain unaltered from their original, simple beauty are preserved in this great book. Anyone that enjoys Mid Century Mod will like this little book as well.

Where Can I Buy Cheap Architecture Books?

If you love architecture books, you probably know that they can get a bit expensive. Sure, they're worth every penny, especially when you get one filled with glossy photos and elaborate blueprints, but it never hurts to save a few bucks, right? That's why I'm going to let you in on a few of the best places to buy cheap architecture books.


Last time I checked, Amazon.com had thousands of architecture books. You can find textbooks, books filled with beautiful pictures, and everything in between. Many sellers offer free shipping if you spend more than $25, so fill up your online shopping cart with everything that captures your eye. They accept credit, debit, checks, and gift cards.


If you don't know about Craigslist already, now is the time to check it out. Craigslist has kind of a bad rep when it comes to, ummmm, online dating – I guess we'll call it that – but they have tons of great prices on everything from books to cars in their For Sale section. Use the search box to narrow down your hunt for good books, because people post hundreds of ads each day.


Have you ever been to a used bookstore? Not only can you find cheap books, you can usually trade your old stuff in for store credit or cash. Grab any old architecture books that you don't want anymore and take them to your local bookstore. Come home with a stack of new books.

Did I forget any places? Where do you buy cheap architecture books?

The Small House Book | Part of a Big Movement

I’m not sure if it’s because I grew up in a 6,000 square foot house back when that was very abnormal or if it’s the architecture lover in me, but I love small houses. Not 1,500 square feet small or even 1,000 square feet small. The tiny house movement in America refers to houses 500 square feet or less. Much lees. Like 120 square feet. No. I am not kidding.

Spurred on by the collapse of the housing market, a crappy economy and a desire to leave a smaller footprint, this movement is gaining strength and numbers. Jay Schafer’s book, Small House Book, is like a beacon to everyone. Not just a coffee table book to collect dust, but an idea book to pore over during every available second, daydreaming of the opportunity should it come. Featuring over 22 plans for tiny houses, it’s great for determing how small you can realistically go and what you give up in a small space. Some plans call for a permanent foundation while others allow you to build on a trailer axel frame and make the entire house mobile. Think of it as build-your-own-RV-week.

Jay is an unofficial, yet eloquent, spokesperson for everything small. His book is fabulous, His designs and floor plans are even better. In fact, complete strangers can connect with him or his staff on his website or Facebook page and ask questions as needed. If you are unsure about compostable toilets, ask away. Have questions about solar panels, they can help.

First and Foremost: Palladio


I do not really think you can have a blog about architecture without mentioning Palladio. In fact, I would go around insisting that this be the case but I (unfortunately) have too many other items on my plate right now. Nonetheless. It’s important.

Sure, if you ask the average Joe on the street about architecture the names Michelangelo and possibly even Bernini will cross their lips before that of Palladio. It’s a shame because Palladio was probably one of the greatest influences on the architectural style of America.

He worked in and around Venice during the Renaissance, but it was his travels to Rome that changed architectural history. He studied the Roman architecture and ruins intensely, sketching out every minute detail and brought those influences and ideas back to incorporate into his designs.

This strong Roman style was revived and embraced by Thomas Jefferson when he wanted a new architectural language for the new country he was helping to plan, the United States of America. In fact, the arched window pictured to the left is called a Palladian window, not an arched window, or an eyebrow window, or even a Venetian arch. Sure, Palladio didn’t invent it, but he is responsible for bringing it to everyone’s attention. He pushed the architectural envelope with it a little further in his designs and laid the groundwork for future designers to tweak it as well. Without Palladio and his influence, none that came after him would have succeeded.

So, nope. No blog about architecture would be complete without paying tribute to Palladio. Pick out a book, any book, text or coffee table, on Palladio and get to learning.       


Cabin Porn Features the Best of the Smallest Structures


While most of us wouldn't practically be able to fit into a home with a footprint about the size of your average living room, the fully-outfitted shed sure is nice to look at. It carries with it a primal fantasy, one that we all perhaps nurture somewhere, of giving up all our worldly excesses and venturing into the woods to subsist on the bare minimum. It's the secret hippie in us, the part that's tired of all the junk we have to lug around every time we move, the part that loves nature but isn't quite dedicated enough to truly live within it. While we may not be able to act on that desire, we can at least stimulate it with the gorgeous selection of architectural photos curated by the editors of Cabin Porn.

This endlessly scrolling Tumblr features all sorts of tiny houses, some with uses you may not even have imagined before. For example, I just found out that there's such a thing as an ice fishing shack in Canada. It's a tiny house on a giant sleigh. You can pull it around on its runners so you have immediate shelter while ice fishing. Most of them are brightly colored and look like tiny Lego dwellings against the solid blank of snow and gray winter sky. They seem like one of those Canadian myths that are just good to be true in the real world, like socialized medicine or reasonable crime rates. I can't imagine living in one for any period of time but they are houses on sleds and that is just awesome. 

Also in the mix are tiny lookouts, quaint Dutch beach houses, and secluded ski cabins. Some seem more livable than others--small and rustic, but with indoor plumbing and electric lights. Some seem hardly more than a lean-to in the woods. Either way, the shapes of some of these buildings are incredible. Among the collection you'll find sauna houses built into rock walls and masked by exterior mirrors, well-furnished safari tents, and precariously perched tree houses. From the most polished to the most cobbled-together, these dwellings make up marvelous conjunctions of form and functionality. 

I'm probably not going to be retreating into the woods anytime soon, no matter how nicely my potential shelter might be designed. I'd miss the internet and hot showers and I don't like to be damp. But at least I've got collections of lovely images documenting all the various ways we humans nestle ourselves into the wild. 

Ghostly Ruins visits America's abandoned places

I’m obsessed with abandoned structures.  The churches with the tilted steeples and crumbling walls when you drive out in the country.  The forgotten pilings hulking in the water's edge, ships long unmoored. Cars parked in deserts to rust and mildew for decades.  Where did all the people go?

Ghostly Ruins: America’s Forgetten Architecture by Harry Skrdla reminds me that I’m not alone in my wondering. From a ship graveyard in Staten Island to the Danvers State Hospital in Massachusetts, Skrdla takes a haunting and beautiful photographic chronicle of the forgotten structures in America. He also asks why, in our constant quest for innovation and technology,  we are so quick to throw these beautiful creations away.    

Drennan's book sheds more light on multiple murders at Wright's Taliesin


I went to college in Wisconsin and one of the big tourist attractions in the state is Frank Lloyd Wright’s personal home, Taliesin, in Spring Green.  It’s quintessential Wright, boxes on top of boxes in his iconic “prairie house” style, and anyone who sees it recognizes it as Wright's design.  What most people don’t know, and what most Wright scholars inexplicably skip over in his biography, shaped the rest of Wright’s life and career—seven Wright-affiliated people were killed at at Taliesin in 1914.  William R. Drennan details the events that led to the deaths in his 2008 book, “Death in a Prairie House: Frank Lloyd Wright and the Taliesin Murders”.

By Christmas 1911, Wright had left his first wife and moved with his mistress, Mamah Borthwick Cheney, to their new home, Taliesin. Wright met Cheney when she and her husband, Edwin, were his clients.  The affair caused scandal in Chicago, Wisconsin and across the country, especially when the unmarried pair moved in together.

In August of 1914, tragedy struck. Wright’s recently-hired, Barbados-bred manservant, Julian Carlton served dinner to the people of the house and then asked the foreman of the house for some gasoline.  With it, he set fire to the living quarters of Taliesin.  As the people of the house tried to escape the fire through a window in the living room, Carlton hit them with an axe.

In all, Carlton murdered seven people and destroyed much of the Taliesin home. To this day, the Taliesin event is still the largest mass murder ever perpretrated in Wisconsin. Mamah and her two children, John and Marth were killed, along with caretakers of the house, foreman Thomas Brunker, draftsman Emil Brodelle, landscaper David Lindblom and the carpenter’s son, Ernest Weston.  

Carlton survived the fire, despite attempts to kill himself by swallowing acid. He was almost lynched on the spot. Carlton died seven weeks later of starvation, despite medical attention, and never gave a concrete reason for committing the murders.  Carlton’s wife Gertrude also survived, but denied any knowledge of her husband’s plans.

Wright was in Chicago on business the night of the murders.  Along with Bothwick Cheney’s husband, Edwin, Wright returned to Taliesin to bury Mamah in the graveyard of the nearby Unity Church. Edwin returned to bury his children.  Soon after, Wright published a letter in the Spring Green paper thanking the community for its support, but also saying that he would not leave the area, despite the murders and his bad reputation.

Wright was true to his word. He rebuilt Taliesin in memory of Mamah, naming it Taliesin II. Taliesin II caught fire in 1925, so the house that stands on the spot today is offically Taliesin III.

Surprisingly, biographers of Wright have largely ignored this pivotal event in his life. In this book, Drennan talks about Wright’s scandalous love affair with Mamh Cheney and how Taliesin was built as a “love cottage” for Mamah and himself, despite  the pair being married to others at the time of the house's construction.  Drennan was particularly interested in positing theories about why Carlton would commit such a horrific crime, seemingly out of the blue.  In addition to being a murder mystery,  Drennan creates a portrait of Wright and his unconventional and controversial life choices.

This pivotal event is long past due examination from scholars and Wright biographers, so Drennan's book fills a welcome gap in Wright histories.

Sources and further reading:





The Hand-Sculpted House

Merge art and life by building a cob cottage

Compartmentalization has become an essential part of modern living. The biggest separation is between work and play. We keep what we do for pleasure separate from what we do for survival. Our pleasure activities are often undertaken at a financial expense, while our productive activities typically aren't pleasurable. Creative activities, like painting or writing poems, typically count for a loss, financially speaking. But even in the modern day, we don't necessarily have to divide our creativity and our survival. The Hand-Sculpted House by Ianto Evans is one guide to combining the two. 

Evans's book details the history and mechanics behind the building of cob cottages--organic houses sculpted from natural materials. By using soil, clay, sand, straw, and water mixed together in specific proportions, one can create a durable and inexpensive structure from the ground up. Not only are these houses cheap to build--a cottage outfitted with running water and electricity tends to cost a few thousand--but they bring with them the satisfaction of living in a home that you yourself sculpted. These houses are as much art as they are architecture, with smooth, rounded edges and organic designs. 

Of course, building a house from scratch requires enormous amounts of labor, but that's part of the point. These days, when we think of "building our own house," we think of hiring an architect, designer, and a team of contracted workers to do the actual work. You may have earned the money that goes toward your brand new house, but you're exempt from the details of its actual creation. Outsourcing the building of homes is another way to compartmentalize, but it doesn't offer the same rewards as performing the labor yourself. 

The construction of cob cottages is a way to merge art and survival. By sculpting your own shelter, you become inextricably linked to the surroundings in which you spend much of your time. Your art surrounds you, keeps you dry and warm. It takes the process of exchange out of our needs, allowing us to take control in maintaining our lives. It is, Evans argues, a healthier way of existing within the world.

The ideal cob cottage does take advantage of the natural world around it. As it relies on insulation to stay warm inside--no radiators here--placing windows to catch sunlight is key. As a result, even the electricity-equipped cob cottages are extremely energy-efficient. They are in harmony with the earth on multiple levels, from their construction and design to their carbon footprint.

Of course, these cottages are not for everyone. To build one, you'd need to own a patch of land and be able to devote several months to construction. But to those who have the resources and wish to escape the driving, divided pressures of modern life, cob cottages provide a lovely escape. They're beautiful little buildings, often smooth and rounded with few straight lines or hard angles. They curve to fit their surroundings. No two are alike. They resemble something out of folklore with their round windows and personal details, embedded in the woods. The images in this book are stunning--even if you have no intention to read the building tips, The Hand-Sculpted House is worth picking up just for the richly colorful photographs of these unique structures. 

What Would Jackie Do? An Inspired Guide to Distinctive Living [Hardcover]

Shelly Branch (Author), Sue Callaway (Author)

Amazon is offering What Would Jackie Do? An Inspired Guide to Distinctive Living [Hardcover] for only $16.88 with FREE shipping if you have Amazon Prime or spend over $25. 

"We can’t help but want to be like her: Exuding unmatched poise and style, she continues to fascinate people of all ages. But how would Jackie have handled the twenty-first-century? What would she think about a society that celebrates outsized egos, instant everything, and casual rules of conduct? How might she dress for the office, scan for a man, accessorize a home—and get away from it all when necessary? With intriguing research, commentary from today’s experts, and fond reminiscences from those who knew and admired the first lady of perfection, journalists Shelly Branch and Sue Callaway now offer a sparkling answer to the question, What Would Jackie Do?"


What Jane Austen Ate and Charles Dickens Knew: From Fox Hunting to Whist-the Facts of Daily Life in Nineteenth-Century England

Daniel Pool (Author)

Amazon is offering What Jane Austen Ate and Charles Dickens Knew: From Fox Hunting to Whist-the Facts of Daily Life in Nineteenth-Century England for only $10.88 with FREE shipping if you spend over $25 or have Amazon Prime.

"This fascinating, lively guide clarifies the sometimes bizarre maze of rules, regulations, and customs that governed everyday life in Victorian England. Author Daniel Pool provides countless intriguing details (did you know that the "plums" in Christmas plum pudding were actually raisins?) on the Church of England, sex, Parliament, dinner parties, country house visiting, and a host of other aspects of nineteenth-century English life -- both "upstairs" and "downstairs."