A modern house in California is an iconic construction that borrows from great European building traditions but is instantly recognizable as quintessentially Californian.
It’s a house that evokes images of bright open spaces, where the inside merges seamlessly with the outdoors. Modern Californian homes celebrate the special climate and light of the region, the flora and the scenery, and it does so with an ease and confidence that’s so typically Californian.
What makes a California home?
California homes are typically characterized by Mediterranean-inspired floor plans, where prominent sections of the house–living room, kitchen, and dining area–all flow into each other. This open flow can often lead straight to the outdoors, blurring what constitutes indoor and outdoor living.
California homes are also known to have a very specific type of aesthetic: the “California Cool” or “California Casual.” As the name suggests, this aesthetic is all about creating a relaxed and contented feel. This aesthetic is sophisticated in its understatement. It’s light, airy, and cool. It doesn’t purposely seek the “Pop!” and “Wow!” factor, but still it stuns in its simplicity.
History of modern houses in California
Technically speaking, modern design traces its roots to German Bauhaus and Scandinavian design. These design schools of thought prioritized functional minimalism. However, these styles can also be bold in terms of experimenting with shapes.
The modern design movement spread into residential structures after World War II, becoming the prominent aesthetic in American suburbs. In California, specifically, mid-century modern design became the house design of choice due to its simplicity and cleanliness, while at the same time being able to successfully incorporate outdoor elements inside.
By and large, the philosophy to create a balance between form and function was ideal in providing for the everyday needs and practices of the average American household.
The California Modern
So what makes a California Modern design? In a nutshell, it is a design that takes on a casual approach, but is very well curated. Having the outdoors reflected, if not actually incorporated, in the interior design is a prominent feature, which is why the local climate and landscape must be taken into consideration in its construction.
Modern vs. Contemporary Design
It’s understandable why many people would think that modern design is synonymous or interchangeable with contemporary design. However, they are two very different styles with their own set of elements.
Simply put, a contemporary design is more reflective of the current trends and is less confined by standards or restrictions. Modern design, on the other hand, has a more defined structure and features that can be easily recognized.
Modern and contemporary design can be compared and contrasted according to four main categories: structure design, materials used, design elements or features, and interior design.
- Structure Design
- Interior Design
In terms of structure, modern design can be identified by its crisp lines and balance, and the use of warm neutrals. Both form and function are deemed equally important in this kind of design, which is why every element has a specific role to fulfill in a bigger scheme.
Contemporary design, on the other hand, has much more freedom to incorporate various designs. Less restrictive in terms of the “rules”it follows, it can be much more freeform in the shapes and design elements it utilizes.
Contemporary design can be more easily identified based on their exteriors alone, as they often exhibit unique shapes. They can incorporate an edgier feel than what would be conventionally familiar, adding excitement and complexity.
Modern design homes use more traditional materials like wood and stone. Not only do they fit the theme of minimalist and natural design, they are also easy to utilize to make comfortable and functional spaces.
Contemporary homes can use materials that are less typically found inside homes. For example, a boulder of rock could be brought inside to be “repurposed” as a coffee table or a decorative piece. Old shipping containers can also be used to create a unique living space. Anything really can be incorporated as a signature piece that will stand out in the home.
Contemporary design also uses plenty of futuristic-looking materials, like shiny steel, metal, glass, or a combination of two or more of these elements. The final output may come out as eye-catching, and thought provoking, though not necessarily functional.
Crisp and sharp lines, as well as the warm neutral colors are used consistently throughout the entire modern design house. This broad application creates a visual cleanliness and organization. This is why whenever you walk into a modern design home, you almost always feel a sense of calm and serenity in the space. There’s nothing particularly jarring or out of place–everything works to fit and blends seamlessly.
Contemporary homes combine modernism and minimalism. However, consistency of application throughout the house is never guaranteed. Because of the freedom this design school of thought enjoys, it’s very much possible for the house to have completely different color schemes or themes.
Popular design elements from all over the world can be incorporated, and then subsequently changed as soon as a new trend emerges. Design fusions are common in contemporary design, and this freedom is afforded mainly to draw attention and create contrast, something that modern design at its core, refrains from doing.
For modern design, the interior aims to create a warm, inviting, and homey feel. Neutral off white tones, certainly influence the overall feel of the most modern home interiors.
The furniture tends to be low in height, nothing wants to break that sense of airiness. Pieces also tend to be long so as to accommodate more users, and again, for that enveloping coziness.
These may seem like minor details, but in the bigger picture, they do tie up nicely with the overall concept of modern house design, in that they are meant to be very comfortable and livable.
Contemporary interior design brings forth more edginess not only in arrangement but also in the pieces of furniture utilized. Again, they tend to be more in trend, with eye-catching visuals.
The furniture can be oversized, though not necessarily on account of its functionality, unlike with modern design. The point is to have interesting visuals, so there also may be an intentional play on balance and scale.
Notable Mid-Century Modern architects in California
Up to this day, examples of the quintessential modern house in California can be found even in public spaces like government city halls and educational institutions. Some of the more notable mid-century modern architects that contributed to the growth of this design movement were:
- Rudolph Schindler
- Joseph Eichler
- A. Quincy Jones
- Quincy Jones was a Los Angeles-based architect who is best known for his pioneering works on the use of green design. He also came to join and work with Eichler, after being invited by the latter on a tour of his Palo Alto project.
- Frank Lloyd Wright
- Pierre Koenig
Rudolph Schindler was an Austrian-American architect who is credited for creating the first modern house. Born in Vienna in 1888, Schindler made a strong mark as an architect by designing a brand new residential project in West Hollywood that featured two L-shaped apartments that share common utility space.
Among his most important works is the Schindler House, which was notable for the use of precast concrete panels. It also features sliding glass doors, making it perfect for blending the inside with the outdoors, as well as an open floor plan—all of which are marked characteristics of a modern house in California.
If you’ve heard of “Eichler Homes,” then you’ve already encountered Joseph Eichler. His designs are popular as the signature aesthetic, particularly in Palm Springs. Although he was technically a property developer, Eichler did work closely with an architect, Robert Anshen, to help him develop mid-century modern homes.
His most notable works include the Walter Annenberg Estate “Sunnylands” in Rancho Mirage, the Mandeville Center for the Arts in San Diego, and the Laguna Eichler Apartments in San Francisco.
Frank Lloyd Wright is a renowned American architect known for his use of wide angles and bold utility of glass and wood elements.
He was responsible for the stunning Marin County Civic Center, which was built in 1960. It was his largest and last public project, and also his most famous. Among its unique features are the blue roofs that have connecting domes.
Pierre Koenig is another architect who forwarded modern design in California homes. He designed the famous modernist Stahl House, located in Hollywood Hills.
The Stahl House was deemed to be such a perfect embodiment not only of modern design in California homes, but also of American post-war optimism, that it was frequently featured in various films.
Buying a furnished modern house in California
Of course, when you buy a furnished modern house in California, expect to pay that little bit more. As discussed earlier, the furniture and decor has all been carefully chosen to produce a very specific aesthetic result. You could of course buy an unfurnished home or choose to redecorate and restyle a modern one, and it’s natural for people to put some of their character into a new home they buy.
However, a furnished modern home is often already complete as a concept, and many who buy a modern home fall for the charms of the house as is, without thinking too much about radically changing the property.
Levels of furnishing
There are four levels of furnishing in real estate. A property is unfurnished when there is absolutely nothing in it when turned over to the buyer–not even utilities set up. At most, it will be ready for application, but other than that, it’s bare bones. This leaves you completely free to style a home as you see fit.
A property that’s basic furnished is one that would have at least the basic facilities ready, such as kitchen facilities, electricity, and water. A semi-furnished or mid-level furnished property will likely have some pieces of furniture in it, particularly the bigger pieces like the bed, dressers, sofa, and dining table and chairs, as well as toilet and bath fixtures.
A fully furnished property, therefore, would already have everything in it, from big pieces of furniture to appliances, and even accents and decor. Anything else that the buyer will bring in are optional at this point, but a fully-furnished property would ideally be already complete even without these additions.
Taking over existing furnishing
Depending on the property you’re purchasing, the furnishing that comes with it may be brand new or already used by the previous owner. If it’s brand new, then you only need to make sure that the appliances and furniture fit your needs and preferences. If not, you’ll need to take a closer look at each of these items to ensure they’re all in good condition when turned over to you.
Especially with the kitchen appliances, or any other electronic devices, you’ll want to see if they’re still under warranty, or how long since they’ve been under one. Check for damage or defects in the kitchen fixtures, plumbing, garage doors, security system, and others.
Inventory of furnishing
Before taking over a fully furnished property, make sure to take an inventory of all the items that come with it. In some cases, a fully furnished property that is found to have furnishing with issues may determine whether the asking price is justified as is, or if it can still be negotiated.
Benefits of buying a furnished house
One of the main benefits of buying a fully furnished house is the convenience of it all. You get to save more time and sometimes money because you don’t have to shop and decorate. But more importantly, you’ll be buying a house that already feels like a home.
There’s less stress during the move, because you literally only have to bring yourself and your personal effects. That’s less packing and unpacking difficulties and possibly, you’ll save in moving costs. You can also then sell your existing furniture, or the items you no longer need.
If you’ve never lived in a California modern home, the difference from other more traditional apartments or houses can be, and often is, life changing. Living in a home that’s bright, airy and with easy, almost instant access to the outdoors, adds a certain joy and comfort to everyday living. The Californian modern home offers a unique lifestyle in a unique place, and maybe it will be just the right home for you.
Work with a professional real estate agent
You can work with me, Rich Nolan, to find the perfect modern house for you in California. Over the last 16 years, I have worked as a professional luxury real estate agent specializing in modern and architectural properties–from new construction homes to gated communities, and golf properties. I can help you acquire some of the best properties in Palm Springs, La Quinta, Palm Desert, Indian Wells, and Rancho Mirage. Or why not get in touch and we can talk about what neighborhood would be best for you.