In architecture, people often talk about influential periods or movements. But one of the largest influences on modern global architecture has been a single set of houses that were designed between 1945 and 1964. Known simply as the Case Study Houses, these homes were to be prototypes for the post-World War II population boom in the USA and the housing of returning troops. But they instead became the benchmark for design among aspiring architects, including then young British architects Richard Rogers and Sir Norman Foster.
We may never get the chance to hire an architect ourselves to imitate the spacious, modernist design that so inspires other designers, but we can all learn a lot about living in our own homes from the way the space was used in the Case Study Houses. After all, it would be foolish to think that architecture stars such as the Eames, Saarinen and Koenig weren’t thinking about how people live when they were drawing their designs and planning the structure of the buildings.
Here is how you can use some high-grade Case Study influence and interior design tips on your own living space.
Use colour dramatically but sparingly
In an age where wallpaper was bright, striped or floral, the Case Study Homes stripped back the wall design to plain blocks of colour. Interest came from bright rugs on the floor and prints or paintings on the walls, rather than via rolls of rose-covered paper. Feature walls work well with this look, so you can try teaming bright orange with some plain charcoal walls or simply match the white, red, yellow and blue colour schemes favoured by artist Piet Mondrian, who was an influence on the Case Study architects.
Buy one classic item
The Case Study homes were designed at a time when modern design was booming. Exciting new furniture was being made possible by new technology and materials, so the homes were often pictured with what we now describe as classic pieces on show. Chairs were seen as decorative features, as we would see an ornament or painting. You can copy this design style by finding a modern piece you really like and finding a version that fits your budget. Ebay or antique shops may be your friend here, but many design outlets and online shops offer good imitations of classics. Put the chair in plenty of space and team it with a statement lamp for a reading corner that is also a conversation piece.
The Case Study Houses were all about modern simplicity. They were designed with labour-saving devices in mind, but also the idea of space to live in. People certainly had fewer possessions then, but storage was also key. You can use de-cluttering books or television programmes to inspire you to get rid of items you don’t need, but willpower and a strong stomach are usually needed to complete the task. Those piles of DVDs, old games consoles and that bag of old computer leads have to go.
Image source: Lizzie Benton
The Case Study Houses were built with daylight in mind and the maximum available amount of windows for the location. Skylights were often added too. Many homeowners can imitate this style, at least in part, by opening up the rear of their homes. In most cases, a rear kitchen or living room wall can be taken out to create space for a sliding or concertina door that can open up the entire rear of the home. This can then lead directly on to a deck for the kind of indoor-outdoor living that the design of the Case Study Houses aspired to. Of course, many of them were built in sunny Los Angeles, so you may need to think more about weatherproofing than the original Case Study homeowners did.
Most of the Case Study Houses were built as open-plan spaces, meaning that spaces other than bedrooms were zoned rather than contained in rooms. This allowed air and light to be maximised, but that didn’t mean that were not areas for dining, relaxing, cooking and socialising. You can achieve the same impact in your own open-plan home by using large pieces of furniture to divide the space, whether that’s a sofa, shelving unit or sideboard. Try to ensure the spaces are of equal size. You will be surprised what a difference that can make.
Looking for a builder or painter/decorator to transform your home using the interior design tips in this blog? Let us know what you’d like doing and find a tradesperson to help.