When the Mitchell home was built in Ogden in 1971, it had everything you might expect, from the most popular color combinations to the latest in carpeting and wall treatments.
“This was the time of avocado green, orange and harvest gold. ... My kitchen had harvest gold, and I’ll tell you, that was the cat’s pajamas, and we had carpet in the kitchen, which was just a nightmare with three children and dogs,” said Judith Mitchell. “My boys, what they wanted was paneling on the walls of their bedrooms, and they wanted shag carpet — orange shag — and we said, ‘Fine.’ ”
Over the years, Mitchell replaced the groovy colors with a more neutral palette and got rid of the shag carpeting, but she kept everything she loved about her mid-century modern house — including the paneling.
“I think homes under this umbrella (mid-century modern) are nice homes to live in, because they’re kind of open and they have good light,” she said. “Many times, they have pretty wood.”
Mitchell’s house is part of the Weber County Heritage Foundation Historic House Tour, from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. Saturday, Sept. 15. Tickets cost $15, and can be purchased the day of the tour at The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints parking lot, 3254 Polk Ave., Ogden.
The theme of this year’s event is “Nifty ’50s and Beyond, a Tour of Mid-Century Modern Homes.” Richa Wilson, an architectural historian on the board of the foundation, will make presentations about the style at 9 a.m., 10 a.m. and 11 a.m. Saturday, in the church.
Mid-century modern structures, built from 1945 to the mid-1980s, can be a little difficult to pigeonhole.
“It isn’t like a Colonial house, that has definite kinds of things that you see over and over again,” said Mitchell.
There are elements that are typical of the style, and can be seen in a variety of combinations.
“Mid-century, and some of what we would call recent-past, architecture, really represents a shift away from traditional architecture,” said Wilson. “It’s not only a rejection of the historicism, but also taking advantage of new technologies.”
Another home on the tour, the Wilcox home, was designed by architect Keith Wilcox, who also designed the Washington, D.C., LDS Temple, Ogden’s Federal Building, several schools for the Weber and Ogden districts, and the Shepherd Union Building at Weber State University, among others.
He built his family’s home in 1951, and his widow, Viva May Wilcox, says it literally stopped traffic at the time.
“They couldn’t believe it,” she said.
Some of the exterior walls angle in, and others angle out, instead of straight up and down. The most prominent feature is the carport, topped with bedrooms that open out to a balcony.
The wood exterior and peaked roof help the home blend with its environment.
“He liked to try to make the house look like it fit with the mountains,” said Wilcox.
Jim and Frankie Larsen didn’t have the mountains above Ogden in mind when they built their home, but the hills above the Pacific Ocean. Inspired by multi-level houses in California that cling to the hillsides, the Larsens bought a steep lot on Baker Drive. About all that’s visible from the road is a bridge-style carport. The rest of the house, designed by local architect Richard Lowe, is down the hill and clad in cedar to blend with the surrounding trees.
Wilson says mid-century modern homes are often designed specifically for a site, taking the terrain and views into account. Most of them also have carports, like these two houses and the Mitchell home. The roof over Mitchell’s carport and house has a low pitch, almost flat.
“The flat roof was a hallmark of a lot of modern architecture,” said Wilson.
“A lot of times with these houses you see more expression of the structure itself,” Wilson said. “You might see some exposed roof framing, inside and outside, and big, vaulted ceilings with exposed beams.”
Many of the houses on the tour have exposed wood beams, but the beams in the Larsen home are different — they’re steel, because of the family’s historical connection to the Ogden Iron Works Co.
“The neighbors thought we were building a grocery store because of the concrete and the beams,” said Frankie Larsen, noting that the beams were bright orange during construction, but now they’re black.
Mid-century modern homes usually have an open floor plan.
“With the advent of central heating, it was easier to have spaces people now take for granted,” said Wilson. “It was groundbreaking, with the kitchen, dining and living space open to each other.”
The Larsen home features a combined living room and dining area.
“It’s one big, long room,” said Larsen.
The only separation between the two areas is a fireplace — a huge, fireplace with a hanging steel hood.
The Wilcox home also has an open plan with spaces that flow together for visiting, eating and playing music.
“I have a concert grand in the music part,” Wilcox said, noting that it was signed by other pianists who have played it, including Liberace. “The acoustics are perfect.”
The big picture
Improvements in window manufacturing also influenced mid-century home design.
“Eventually, picture windows were bigger so you could have an entire window wall,” said Wilson.
A wall of windows is exactly what the Larsens have, along the west side of their 23-foot-high living and dining room.
“They don’t go quite to the ceiling,” said Frankie Larsen, but they go most of the way. “Unfortunately, they’re not double-paned, because they didn’t have them then.”
Windows in a mid-century modern aren’t just about a great view, but light.
“You can be in rooms and not need to have any lights on,” said Mary Galbraith, vice president of the Weber County Heritage Foundation.
To let in more light, the Larsens have a narrow band of windows on the east side of the house. These clerestory windows, placed high in the wall, are another feature of many mid-century modern buildings.
Sliding glass doors serve as additional windows in mid-century modern buildings, but also as an inviting transition to the outdoors.
“Traditional houses often had front porches, and before the advent of air conditioning, they were more necessary,” said Wilson.
Architects responded to the new technology, and modern lifestyles, by shifting the emphasis to patios, terraces and decks.
The Larsen house is surrounded by a multi-level deck, accessed by sliding glass doors.
“We barbecue on the deck almost every night,” said Larsen.
The lower deck features a bar for entertaining, a pool, and a children’s area with a swing, slide and sandbox.
Wood paneling was popular in mid-century modern homes.
“It was made of nice cedar planks, not manufactured backing with a thin veneer,” Mitchell said of the wood on her interior walls.
The Wilcox house is also paneled in fine wood, because the architect didn’t want any paint or wallpaper. Birch covers the walls of the Larsen home.
“Every room is stained a different color, that was basically a style coming in at the time,” Frankie Larsen said.
The Larsens also have a wall covered in cork — something quite popular in the 1970s.
Mid-century houses may have common features, but each homeowner adds her own touches. The Wilcox home is filled with paintings and comic strips created by Keith Wilcox. Mitchell collects tiles from world travels, and her neighbors, also on the tour, have filled their modern house with antiques.
Some of the most unusual items are original to the homes. Keith Wilcox ordered special furniture to fit the architecture, and it’s still there.
“When you look at the kitchen, and see that light fixture, it’s coming back into fashion now,” Wilcox said of the big round shades chosen by her husband.
The Larsen house has a spiral staircase, leading to the lower level. In the basement, there’s a urinal in the bathroom, which Larsen says her boys used to show off to their elementary school friends.
The laundry room has new appliances, but still has the original countertops, wallpaper and cupboard knobs, all in 1970s avocado green, orange and harvest gold.
“It’s a very unique house, and there isn’t one other like it in Ogden, which I love,” Larsen said.
WHAT: Weber County Heritage Foundation Historic Home Tour
WHEN: 10 a.m.-4 p.m. Saturday, Sept. 15
WHERE: Most homes are on Ogden’s East Bench; tickets and maps available at 3254 Polk Ave. during the tour
TICKETS: $15; 801-621-2850. Ticket sales support Weber County Heritage Foundation preservation projects.