Why mid-century modern houses make great shoot locations

Mid-century modern houses come with all the characteristics that make shooting a dream: large, open-plan rooms, lots of space, plenty of floor-to-ceiling windows giving you all the light you need and strong lines with minimal furnishing meaning you can customise the space to work for you.

The mid-century modern style emerged in the middle of the 20th century driven by the introduction of new technology and materials. For the first time, reinforced concrete, glass and steel started to appear in domestic settings and the idea that form should follow function resulted in architects wanting to show off the true structure of buildings rather than disguising them with fake facades. The rejection of ornamentation for building exteriors was mirrored inside properties where interiors were stripped of clutter to show off the clean lines and minimal furnishings.

“America was the heartland of mid-century modernism,” says renowned British design writer, Dominic Bradbury. “It was so well placed economically in the 1950s and that helped to fuel a lot of experimental design”. These experimental and innovative designs began to feature in everything from graphics and products to architecture, interiors and furniture.

A project that showcased the new approach to housing in the US was The Case Study House Program. In 1945, anticipating the frenzy of building that would follow the end of the Second World War, the Los-Angeles based editor of Arts and Architecture Magazine, John Entenza, introduced a project to address housing shortages and provide the public with affordable homes. These homes, built mostly in California, would feature the new mass-produced materials and the modular components, open-floor plans and multi-purpose rooms that were to become the hallmarks of mid-century modernism. The project launched the careers of architects such as Ray and Charles Eames, Eero Saarinen, Craig Ellwood and Pierre Koenig turning them into recognised names and bringing them international followings.

The mid-century modern aesthetic was mirrored in post war Britain and the desire to create a more optimistic outlook for the future led to the launch of the Festival of Britain. During its five-month run, more than eight million people visited the festival site on the south bank of the Thames, to see technological innovation married with the best of British design and manufacturing in pioneering, affordable construction and products.

Mid-century modern became the principal style in Britain’s post war building boom and lasted until the late 1970s resulting in myriad blocks of flats, institutional and corporate buildings and houses being built in towns and suburbs all over the country.

In addition to these public housing schemes, for those who could afford it, bespoke homes and exclusive developments were commissioned from the leading architects of the day. Some of these still survive and we are delighted to have a number of excellent mid-century modern properties on our books and can advise on which might best suit your requirements.

New to Fresh Locations and a great addition to our portfolio, Marble Retro is an excellent example of vintage decor. This detached house in North West London is unoccupied and offers an array of interior fittings and features including marble bathrooms, pillars and an outdoor pool. The sizeable rooms make it suitable for both stills and small scale filming and there is also a large driveway and garden.

Sydenham Lodge has remained unmodernised since the 1970s and still retains key mid-century features, including cork-tiled walls, an open plan staircase, large stone fireplace and distinctive tiling in the bathrooms. The Formica kitchen even includes the original ‘70’s room divide/breakfast bar. The ground floor is one large open plan space, with dual aspect windows and patio doors leading out to the terrace and a secluded walled garden features a large entertaining terrace, tropical palm trees and a lawned area surrounding the swimming pool. Sydenham Lodge has hosted everything from a music video for Beyonce to TV commercials for Samsung, Coca Cola, H&M.

Whilst not a mid-century modern home, (it was built in 2012) Hillside has all the characteristics that make the buildings of the period ideal for shooting. The whole house is suffused with light from several skylights and floor to ceiling glass walls. It was originally designed by a couple of architects as a second home for themselves and the current owners bought it in 2013 for “the tranquil setting, the views and the way the outside feels part of the inside throughout the house”. Set in six acres, close to the market town of Farnham in Surrey, the single storey house, reminiscent of the 1950’s Case Study homes of California, is surrounded by a large garden bordered by natural woodland.

Notable features include the open fireplace in the living room, polished plaster walls, the large kitchen/dining room that opens out onto the terrace and terrazzo floors throughout, including in the 4 bedrooms and their ensuite bathrooms. In a nod to the ideals of mid-century modern homes, the house is perfectly set within its surroundings and brings nature and the outdoors in to almost every room, especially the stunning indoor pool that can be opened up at either end allowing it to become an indoor/outdoor space.   
Parking on site is easy: the large driveway can accommodate six to seven cars.

Stanmore Modernist was designed by Rudolph Frankel, a German emigre architect who fled to England before WW2. Built in 1939 (making it technically Modernist rather than mid-century) for the architect’s sister and family, the house demonstrates many of the guiding principles of Modernist architecture that became popular in continental Europe before the war, but which Britain was slow to accept. This rare house from the period is remarkably well preserved and retains many original fixtures, hence its Grade II listing.

The current owners, big fans of Modernism, who moved into the house in February 2020, were attracted by the overall aesthetic of the building and the period fittings. They love pretty much everything about their home, but as top favourite features they list the porthole windows in the main entrance door and rear tradesmen’s entrance, the two sets of large double doors from the living room and dining room opening onto the terrace and the flow of space through the house which follows the Modernist principle of asymmetrical intersecting areas.

The house reflects the domestic lifestyle of the time, for the moneyed classes, with a maid’s room, service call buttons in each room and separate but interlinked husband and wife bedrooms. Central heating and a fitted kitchen were absolutely up-to-the-minute features for the period and the wood flooring, bookshelves, light switches and light fittings are all original and in remarkably good condition.

For the exterior, a distinctive feature is the cut-away corner where the house is supported on a single column, forming a veranda and outdoor dining area overlooking the large, two-to-three-acre garden. The original garage is currently used as a library but the owners have planning consent to turn it back into a garage for their cherished 1971 Citroen DS23 Pallas. The sizable driveway can accommodate approximately four to six cars.

Filming at Stanmore Modernist has included The Netflix drama documentary Trust No One: The Hunt for the Crypto King and Apple Tv’s Bad Sisters.

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