Summer in Denver is a series of colorful, energizing events that applaud the city’s history, food, music, art and architecture. It’s living in the moment, treasuring the past and marveling at what might come next. Denver Modernism Week is based on these ideas, paying homage to an era when people were ready for a change in outlook, lifestyle and the feel of the homes they lived in.
Adrian Kinney, Atom Stevens and Dana Sednek, the three founders of Denver Modernism Week, are so passionate about mid-century modern home design that they created a citywide celebration to educate and share the nuances of the concept with, as Sednek puts it, “the curious and committed.” With more than 6,000 mid-century modern homes in and around Denver, the Mile High City is the perfect venue to display the mid-mod aesthetic.
Building on last year’s inaugural, Denver Modernism Week 2019 will offer talks and discussions on home and landscape plans to enhance the educational piece and combine it with more social events to add to the fun quotient, including a tiki-themed party and a salute to Arapahoe Acres’ 70th anniversary. Since visuals strengthen the narrative, open-house style tours of mid-century modern neighborhoods will provide an “up close and personal” experience of this enduring architecture. A local resident or historian will “help interpret the stories and history behind each home and neighborhood,” says Kinney, who is a Denver realtor, designer and preservation activist that specializes in mid-century modern properties. One of the highlights of the tour is a visit to a mid-century modern residential high rise.
“We are excited to once again have the long-running Denver Modernism Show as part of our programming,” Kinney says. “The show is about more than modernism; it is a vibrant celebration of mid-20th-century pop culture, which we will always want to be a strong component of Denver Modernism Week.”
The final week of the “Serious Play: Design in Midcentury America” exhibit at the Denver Art Museum is a nice tie-in to both Denver Modernism Week and the Modernism Show. Some additional events are in the works to celebrate the mid-century modern vibe that will light up Denver in mid-August.
“Modernism, as it relates to home design, is not a style, but rather a philosophy of design that explores the human relationship to the home,” Stevens explains. “They are built to connect to nature through natural materials, natural light, outdoor vistas and outdoor living rooms. They are sensitive to privacy, with clear delineations between living spaces and sleeping spaces and by creating outdoor areas that are as private as indoor spaces. Mid-century modern homes are simple, minimal, often geometrically playful, whose design elements work to improve the quality of living, whether it is a 900-square-foot Cliff May pre-fab in Harvey Park or a 3,000-square-foot Cherry Hills Village rambler,” says Stevens, who has a degree in interior architecture from Kansas State University and is a Denver freelance designer, developer, photographer and owner of The Happy Atom Creative.
The use of post-and-beam construction and deep eaves are recognizable characteristics of mid-century modern home construction. Several interior walls are non-loadbearing for flexibility in layout, and the exterior connection is achieved through the use of window walls. Glass gables make the roof look like it is suspended above the home. Just as the glass gables allow more natural light, the wide eaves protect the interior from too much sunlight.
Kinney uses phrases like “based on functionality and livability, feels proportional and pieces of art” when he describes the core appeal of the iconic design. “Whereas typical homes might show their best faces to the street, the best parts of mid-century homes are often saved for the private areas of the home,” he says.
Sednek, who works for Intuit as a staff learning architect, with digital learning and collaboration expertise, has an easy commute to the office in her mid-mod backyard tiny shed. “I’m the neighborhood historian for the historically significant South Dahlia Lane community here in Denver. It was the first—and only—single family cooperative of 32 homes backed by the FHA in the ’50s.”
She recently launched a mid-mod blog called DaynStarr. “When it comes to lifestyle elements that a homeowner might bring into their living situation, the word modernism evokes for me a sense of joy, awakened by mid-century optimism, an appreciation for color and art, delighting in industrial-age innovations to make our home and lives work better.”
Most of Denver’s residential and commercial mid-century modern buildings were designed by local architects. The impressive list includes Eugene Sternberg, Charles Deaton, William Muchow, Joseph and Louis Marlow and others.
“In the mid-1950s, Denver was growing at four times the national average (during a time in which the national population was booming),” Kinney says, relating that neighborhoods like Arapahoe Acres in Englewood, Arapaho Hills in Littleton, Krisana Park and Lynwood in Denver, the Cliff May Homes and Carey “Holiday Homes” in Denver’s Harvey Park, and Alta Vista in Arvada were enclaves of modern homes, which was unusual to see outside of California.
Mid-century modern design was a new approach that incorporated futuristic features. These same elements were the forerunners of today’s popular open-floor plan concept, the incorporation of wood and natural stone into a living space, expansive use of floor-to-ceiling windows and the blending of indoor-outdoor living.
Denver Modernism Week is a great way to become more familiar with this classic design concept. Like Kinney, Stevens and Sednek, you might already have a passion for the clean lines, open plan, angular detailing, mix of materials, bold front entrances, and a strong color palette that embraces orange, turquoise, red and redwood finishes. And if you feel nostalgic or simply drawn to the movement that brought these design principles to prominence, you won’t want to miss Denver’s week-long celebration of mid-century modern architecture and design.
Denver Modernism Week
Aug. 16 to 25
Marge D. Hansen is a Broomfield-based writer/editor. She grew up in a suburb of Chicago where mid-century modern homes transformed the residential landscape.
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