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How to renovate a midcentury modern house

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Everyone loves a picture-perfect midcentury modern home. But even for those lucky enough to own one, the reality is that the house will likely need some work.

Many houses from the ’50s and ’60s will have undergone uninspired to downright unfortunate renovations in the ’80s or ’90s. And an untouched time capsule—while easy to pine over online—comes with the tall order of balancing modern conveniences with midcentury authenticity.

To figure out the best way to renovate a midcentury modern house, we turned to Denver-based real estate agent and investor Adrian Kinney, who specializes in midcentury real estate. Kinney also has multiple midcentury renovations under his belt, including an award-winning restoration of a Cliff May prefab and his latest project, a 1956 post-and-beam remodel that made the cover of Modern in Denver.

How does Kinney do it? Here are some of his top tips.

Kinney’s latest project is this 1956 Eichler-inspired located in Lynwood—a popular Denver midcentury neighborhood. When he purchased it in 2016, the home was a mishmash of ill-conceived updates begging for a refresh.

Know your midcentury history

One of the most common pitfalls of midcentury renovations is “falling into the ‘trend’ of midcentury style and not the true aesthetic,” says Kinney. Start any renovation project with front-end research; search for what homes looked like back then, paying attention to the common materials, colors, shapes, and textures.

Kinney believes this is the difference between having a house that’s inspired by midcentury design and one that’s wholly midcentury. The good news? “Doing the research is much easier this day and age with the power of the internet,” he says.

Start with the essentials

Although it’s not as flashy as terrazzo or as fun as a cool pendant lamp, renovating the systems of your home is essential. Things like the roof, electrical, HVAC, plumbing, and sewer lines might be over 55 years old and fixing them can be very pricey.

Quick tips for renovating a midcentury modern
  1. Do your research. Pull up ads from the ’50s and ‘60s for inspiration.
  2. Use geometric shapes in your design.
  3. Powder-coat fixtures from chrome to brass.
  4. Use matte—not shiny—countertops.
  5. Talk to local artisans (metalworkers, upholsterers) to make custom, period-appropriate pieces.

Pay attention to the details

When Kinney purchased his latest project, the 1,600-square-foot house in Lynwood, a full remodel was in order. But instead of opting for the latest and greatest, Kinney wanted to restore the home with respect for its roots. He says, “Let’s just say all midcentury things can fit into modern, but not all modern things can fit into midcentury.”

If you want a timeless and authentic renovation, Kinney says that first and foremost, materials and details matter.

Opt for brick, metals like brass and chrome, and genuine wood elements, not the “shiplap vomit” that’s so ubiquitous today. Kinney loves walnut for any type of wood paneling because it’s “rich and elegant.” However, be aware that this will likely clash with the original oak floors—aged to a gorgeous honey yellow—of most midcentury homes. You can stain the original floors or switch up your color palette.

If you have a larger budget and slab on grade floors, Kinney says, “Terrazzo is my everything.” In wet spaces, opt for tile, either a repeating geometric pattern or classic 4x4s in pink, teal, or yellow. Overall, “Small details make it authentic.”

In the Lynwood home’s kitchen, Kinney used Corian countertops, brass detailing, and Ikea cabinets with custom finished fronts.

If you have a time-capsule home, preserve it

If you’re lucky enough to have a home that hasn’t suffered through renovations in the ’80s and ’90s, “save as much of the details as you can,” says Kinney. “That is where so much of the home’s future value comes from, because so many buyers don’t want the ‘ticky-tacky’ of the McMansion builds.” Instead, potential buyers want “character, charm, and yes, even some of the little quirks of the home—it has soul after all!”

In practice, this looks like keeping the original cabinets (maybe with a refinish) and adding new hardware inside and out. New appliances can do wonders to an old kitchen, and you can even get some with retro style from companies like Big Chill. and if you want to add flair, Kinney advises using “geometrical, repeating pattern back-splash tiles.”

In his Cliff May prefab restoration, Kinney embraced wood paneling and opted for simple, small details—like authentic light fixtures—to add character.

Embrace the wood panel walls

For a purist like Kinney, there are never “too many” real wood panel walls. He says, “I would never remove them if they were in great condition—but I know not everyone is like me.”

If you love the authenticity but aren’t sure about that much wood, Kinney suggests using brightly colored paintings, adding some extra lighting, or even adding an extra window or two. “A combination of ways can make the old, dark room feel new and refreshed.”

Hunt down the perfect pieces

Whether you have a time capsule home or a midcentury with good bones (and not much else), take risks to bring back the style of the 1950s and ’60s. When working on his latest project in Denver, Kinney found authentic pieces from eBay, Craigslist, and estate sales. When he couldn’t find what he wanted, he hunted for craftsmen that could reproduce or recreate designs, often turning to Etsy for custom work.

His advice: “Talk to a local designer—they probably know someone that can make exactly what you’re looking for!” By emphasizing original design, these special pieces will fit the space and make for conversation pieces in every room.

In Lynwood, Kinney used walnut and mahogany wood fixtures and paneling, brass and terrazzo flooring, and an impressive two-sided fireplace. The three bedrooms and three bathrooms all incorporate geometric shapes, period-appropriate light fixtures, and sliding glass doors out to the spacious backyard.

Update the windows, if you can

It’s not cheap to update windows in a 1950s home, but if you have weather above 80 or below 50 degrees Fahrenheit, Kinney says, “your heating and cooling bills will thank you for new, double-paned windows.”

To keep costs down, look for a local window company that will glaze in double pane windows. Kinney acknowledges that these are less efficient than a true, tabbed and framed window, “but they are so much more efficient than the single-pane window they replace.”

Another helpful piece of advice is to leave any huge, triangle, or clerestory windows alone and only replace the windows around it. “This will help with the HVAC bills without completely draining the bank account.”

The master bathroom in the Lynwood home. Notice the terrazzo floors, walnut and brass detailing, and a period-specific vanity with light pink counters.

Make it tech-friendly

Midcentury modern homes were built as homes of the future, and Kinney believes that “having them live their futuristic ‘past’ is possible today.” When you’re renovating your house, add in connected switches, plugs, lights, shades, and drapes. “It’s all available now for regular people to buy it, install it, and connect it to their own system.”

Don’t forget your exterior spaces

“Outdoor spaces in midcentury modern homes are an extension of the indoor spaces,” Kinney says, so don’t neglect them. Make them useable, livable, and easily accessed from your home. This might mean adding more doors to get to the spaces—Kinney added sliding glass doors to the backyard from many of the bedrooms in his Lynwood project.

Look for geometric, angular shapes, and integrate different materials like flagstone, slate, concrete pads, and wood. Outdoor spaces are more important to midcentury design than other types of architecture; Kinney explains, “The modernist home was supposed to have a smaller interior footprint, and then connect seamlessly to the outside.”

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These are the most competitive real estate markets in Ontario right now

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If you've been tinkering with the idea of giving up your rented pad to buy a home, now might be a decent time — at least in Toronto.
Competition among buyers in Canada's largest city has cooled significantly over the past year, according to the real estate brokerage and analysis firm Zoocasa, with figures now suggesting that Toronto is no longer a "seller's market" but a "balanced market."
"Housing competition heated up this fall across major Ontario markets despite new pandemic restrictions being rolled out by the Ontario government to slow the spread of COVID-19," reads a new report released by Zoocasa on Thursday.
"There was an annual uptick in home sales across the province with several real estate boards including the Toronto Regional Real Estate Board (TRREB) reporting a record-breaking month of sales in October."
True as this may be, there were still a few Ontario cities in which the sales-to-new-listings ratio (SNLR) showed less, not more competition among buyers.
All of them are in the Greater Toronto Area.
In terms of the SNLR, anything above 60 per cent suggests a seller's market. An SNLR between 50 and 60 per cent depicts a market where supply and demand are relatively balanced. An SNLR under 40 would mean a buyer's market.
There are currently zero buyer's markets in Ontario based on this metric.
"Our findings show that 30 of the 35 markets included in our analysis exhibit strong sellers' market conditions, where high demand and a low number of new listings meant that buyers faced strong competition for listings," notes Zoocasa.
"This is up from 27 markets that exhibited sellers' market conditions in October 2019. The remaining markets all exhibited balanced market conditions, and notably, each of these balanced markets is located within the GTA."
Toronto's SNLR as of October 20202 was just 45 per cent, according to Zoocasa, down from a seller's market rate of 66 per cent during the same month in 2019.
And yet, demand for detached homes has been steadily rising since the pandemic hit in March — so what gives?
"It's important to keep in mind that these figures are influenced by condo market activity, where sales have declined amidst the pandemic while new listings increased by more than double (109 per cent) year-over-year," explains Zoocasa.
Of all 35 cities ranked, only Toronto, Richmond Hill, Vaughan, Markham and Mississauga could be considered to have balanced markets as of October 2020.
The rest of Ontario, meanwhile, "exhibited strong sellers' market conditions in October, with an SNLR of 80% or more."
Four markets, in particular, saw a marked increase in demand with SNLR rates of more than 100 per cent detected. They are: Sudbury (SNLR of 100 per cent), Niagara Falls (105 per cent), Thunder Bay (108 per cent) and St. Catherines (112 per cent).

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Formerly a sellers’ market, Mississauga real estate market more balanced during pandemic

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With restrictions still in place for many parts of Ontario, and three regions once again in lockdown–with the possibility of more joining them–many people are looking to upgrade their living situations.

Throughout October, the Ontario housing market has seen significant competition among buyers, and there was an annual uptick in home sales across the province.

Several real estate boards, including the Toronto Regional Real Estate Board, reported a record-breaking month of sales.

Zoocasa has been tracking housing competition across 35 Ontario real estate markets during October by reviewing sales and new listings data for each region.

This data is used to determine the sales-to-new-listings ratio (SNLR), which indicates whether a market is a buyers’ market–SNLR under 40 per cent–a balanced market–SNLR between 40 per cent and 60 per cent–or a sellers’ market–SNLR over 60 per cent.

According to the findings, 30 out of the 35 markets exhibited strong sellers’ market conditions, such as high demand and a low number of new listings.

This is up from the 27 markets that favoured sellers in October 2019.

Additionally, 14 of the 19 GTA markets favour sellers. Mississauga was one of the five markets that exhibited balanced conditions–there were 943 sales and 1,665 new listings which resulted in an SNLR of 57 per cent.

This represents a pretty significant shift from last year, when Mississauga’s SNLR was 73 per cent–a sellers’ market.

The decline has been attributed to the fact Mississauga is a condo-dense market, which means it has a higher volume of listings, while sales saw a decline due to the pandemic.

“Going into 2021, I expect more competition in the first quarter, as sellers that were able to wait on the sidelines or were undecided may begin to list their homes,” Evelyn Anders, a Zoocasa agent in Toronto, said in a recent release.

“Depending on its effectiveness, the COVID-19 vaccine is likely to have a ripple effect on housing market conditions, particularly in dense urban centers like Toronto, that may see demand re-emerge across all market segments,” she continued.

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Another record-breaking month for real estate sales in London region

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The string of record-setting months for real estate sales continues in the London area.

The London and St. Thomas Association of Realtors (LSTAR) says 854 homes were sold in November, an increase of more than 33 per cent compared with the same month in 2019.

That makes it the best November for the organization since it began tracking figures in 1978.

“This is the third consecutive month of record sales, demonstrating how robust the housing marketplace is right now,” said Blair Campbell, LSTAR 2020 president.

“We continue to see increases in average sales price across the region in a market with historically low supply.”

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The average price for a home in the region climbed by more than 28 per cent to $536,178.

The biggest year-over-year increase was in London South, where a home is almost 34 per cent HIGHER compared with 2019.

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