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10 magnificent midcentury homes you’ve never heard of

A tour of little-known architectural gems from across the U.S.

Bruce Goff’s Ford House in Aurora, Illinois.
Eliot Elisofon/The LIFE Picture Collection/Getty Images

Midcentury modern design, the architectural movement that became a symbol of postwar American exuberance and experimentation, is both easy to define and challenging to catalog. For every streamlined home that has become an icon—the Stahl House in Los Angeles, the Miller House in Indiana, Philip Johnson’s Glass House—there are dozens of lesser known gems by little-known regional architects that often get overlooked or missed.

Discovering and showcasing these other architectural achievements was part of the impetus behind Curbed’s Modernist Next Door series, which profiled local and regional modernist architects across the United States who may lack the profile of a Eichler, Saarinen, or Breuer, but still created incredible, immaculate homes. Here are 10 of our favorite homes from the series, showcasing just how stylistically and geographically diverse the midcentury modern movement was.

Julius Shulman/Getty Research Institute, © J. Paul Getty Trust

Robert Lawton Jones Home by Robert Lawton Jones (Tulsa, Oklahoma: 1959)

One of the powerhouses of modern architecture in Tulsa, Robert Lawton Jones, a founder of the firm Murray Jones Murray, helped bring International Style to the plains. His own family residence, a colorful and livable Miesian creation for his family, was one of the first such homes in the region, featuring innovative energy conservation systems including a well-water cooling system and passive heating. It became an icon due to a famous photo shoot by lensman Julius Schulman, who captured the homes not as a cold, aesthetic object, but as a playground for Jones’s family.

Courtesy of the Boulder Public Library

Menkick Home by Charles Haertling (Boulder, Colorado: 1970)

Colorado architect Charles Haertling was known for his diverse and eccentric style, seemingly able to imagine homes with a dizzying array of shapes and sizes (see his wild Brenton Home, a pod-like structure made to look like a cluster of barnacles). One of his most lauded designs, however, played it very straight. Located in the exclusive Knollwood neighborhood, the Menkick home boasts a near-perfect flat roof and amazing views, with all of its four stories aligned with adjacent outcroppings of rock. It’s a Usonian-style beauty that appears to grow out of the elevated landscape.

Eliot Elisofon/The LIFE Picture Collection/Getty Images

Ford House by Bruce Goff (Aurora, Illinois: 1949)

Renowned as one of the forefathers of organic architecture, Bruce Goff built fantastical homes with a grab-bag of materials, from goose feathers and walls of coal to dime-store ashtrays. One of his early designs, the Ford House, utilized prefab metal ribs to create a bird cage-like structure that riffed off the shape of Tibetan nomad tents. Its radical look and open plan layout challenged conventions, and needless to say, drew lots of attention from locals. Tiring of the neighborhood’s gawking, the owners simply added a yard sign that read, “We don’t like your house either.”

Chris Mottalini

Lijlestrand House by Vladimir Ossipoff (Honolulu, Hawaii: 1952)

A Russian raised in Japan and educated in California, architect Vladimir Ossipoff created a cross-cultural building style perfectly suited for the Hawaiian climate. The Lijlestrand House, a hillside-home-turned-museum perched on a ridge 1,000 feet above the sea, was completed for Howard and Betty Liljestrand and family in 1952. Considered his residential masterpiece, it’s a complete work, as Ossipoff custom-designed every bit of furniture (including the dog beds) as well as the angled, wraparound balcony, which points toward Waikiki like a ship’s prow. The home was given the cover and 53 pages of an issue of House Beautiful and named just one of 17 of the publication’s Pace Setter homes, a rare honor that elevated Ossipoff’s national exposure.

Devyn Glista

Wyoming House by Ben Dombar (Cincinnati, Ohio: 1967)

Part of a sibling duo that helped bring modernism to southern Ohio, Ben Dombar designed a spectacular four-story hexagonal home for himself in Congress Run Creek in Springfield Township in 1967. Meant to “help bring the outside in,” he told the Cincinnati Post-Star, the Wyoming House was one of many homes that both him and his brother Abrom designed to “frame nature.” Signature elements of their work include butterfly roofs and lots of symmetry and glass.

Robin Stancliff

Ramada House by Judith Chafee (Tucson, Arizona: 1975)

A badass known for beautiful designs and blunt language, Judith Chafee created some of the Southwest’s most respected modern homes, using her familiarity with the terrain to devise unique adaptations to the climate. Chafee’s most important design was perhaps the 1975 Ramada House, a 3,800-square-foot desert residence in the Catalina Mountain foothills capped with a lofted grid of wood slats (known as a ramada, from the Spanish word for branches, rama, a technique mastered by the Tohono O'odham tribe). The home, an AIA award winner, exemplifies her ability to incorporate traditional shading and design into the modern context. The lofted wooden grid is an aesthetic marvel, with the exposed support beams (simple telephone poles) becoming part of the interior design while providing shade and focusing the breeze to cool the home.

Tom Trow

Lippincott House by Elizabeth Close (Minneapolis, Minnesota)

Elizabeth “Lisl” Scheu Close came into the architecture world at a time when female practitioners were a rarity. After graduating from MIT in 1935, she struggled to find work (Richard Neutra said he’d hire her, but she would have to pay him $20 a month for the privilege). She pressed on, established a firm in Minnesota with her husband, Winston Close, and helped introduce International Style design to the upper Midwest. Their first design, the prewar Lippincott House, is a standout. The boxy white building, with its flat roof, unadorned walls, and ribbons of windows, introduced a new kind of minimalism to the city.

Jacob Lichner

Evertson House by Ralph Haver (Phoenix, Arizona: 1959)

Known for his incredibly prolific practice, including a string of so-called “Haver Hoods” that sprung up across Phoenix, Ralph Haver was partially responsible for introducing the southwestern metropolis to the bold profiles and optimistic look of modernist design. While literally hundreds of his homes can still be found throughout the region, one of the more striking examples was the Evertson Residence in the Marion Estates neighborhood, a custom wood-clad three-story home with a lazy, sloping roof. Designed for contractor Sven Evertson, it’s considered a great example of the Haver “patio-port” concept, where the parking space was made to be transformed into an outdoor entertainment space.

Andrea Calo

Butterfly House by A.D Stenger (Austin, Texas: 1964)

A college drop-out who established his own architectural practice and ended up designing, developing, and in some cases, constructing more than 100 homes in central Texas, A.D. Stenger assembled his own personal vision of midcentury cool in Austin. The Butterfly House, a 1964 design on Ridgewood Drive, features an exceptional example of a Stenger signature: clerestory windows for light and circulation. A curved, suspended roof caps a glassy, low-slung home, resembling a symmetrical swirl of white frosting atop a contemporary cake. Modernized by local architects Rick and Cindy Black just a few years ago, the updated home still exudes Stenger’s style and attitude.

Joshua Brasted

Sunkel House by Albert Ledner (New Orleans, Louisiana: 1961)

In a career that only covered 50 or so buildings, many of them now gone, Albert Ledner embodied an unorthodox and organic approach that riffed off modernist tropes. His handful of buildings in his hometown of New Orleans are singular creations, while a string of projects in New York City, part of an long-running client relationship with the National Maritime Union, still stand out in a cityscape with designer architecture tucked around every corner. The striking Sunkel House from 1961 stands out as one of the best distillations of the Ledner approach. The square glass ashtrays built into the facade (the type found in Denny’s restaurants) line the roofline of the angular home, which was once owned by former New Orleans Mayor Ray Nagin.