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  • Carmel Homes

Modern House Design: A Guide for the Less Artsy

Are you a fan of modern homes but are not sure exactly what the style is all about? Are you designing a new home and want to add a little modern flair to your plans? Have you tried to learn a little more about modern house design but got lost in all the architectural terms? If so, this guide is for you.

As experienced custom builders, the team here at Carmel Homes is well versed in modern house design. However, unlike some other design professionals, we prefer to take a practical approach to understanding the style. This means we focus on the key features that make modern homes, well… modern.

Here we share our understanding of the history and current state of the modern house design style. As part of this, we will explore the key elements you should be looking for when reviewing modern house plans. We will also share our advice on what you need to think about when developing your own modern house design.

A brief history of modern homes

Examples of what we now know as modern house designs were first seen in the early 20th century. However, this style did not become particularly popular until after World War II, when homeowners began looking for simpler designs. This was largely driven by a desire to move away from the more ornate styles that dominated the previous eras.

It was also the result of new building techniques that made certain materials — like glass, concrete, and steel — much easier to work with. Both designers and builders were keen to make the most of these advances and embrace these new materials. And this meant moving away from traditional architectural approaches and toward more functional and practical designs.

Over the decades, modern house designs have gone through a few notable incarnations, including:

  • Art Deco: At its peak in the 1920s and 30s, this movement is seen by many as the start of modern house designs. This style, drawing on a range of inspirations, is most known for its use of curves and symmetry. It also makes liberal use of rich materials like brass, chrome, and mirror, and regularly features geometric and nature-inspired motifs.

  • Bauhaus: Popular throughout much of the 20th century, this movement originated in an art and design school in Germany. From there, it spread across the world, with many people falling in love with its functional designs and streamlined forms. Designs in this style also regularly featured bespoke furniture, often made from plywood and tubular metal components.

  • Functionalism: Scandinavian architects developed their own take on modern house designs, and these became globally celebrated in the 1940s. Known for their flowing curves and contrasting sharp lines, designs in this style continue to be popular today. Neutral colour palettes and warm woods are also common features in Scandinavian and Functionalist designs.

  • Mid-century: Arguably the most well-known modern house design style, this version originated in America and came to prominence in the 1950s. Maximising the connection between indoor and outdoor spaces is a key focus for designs in this style. As such, they often feature open plan living spaces, large windows and glass sliding doors, and natural materials.

  • Brutalism: A somewhat controversial style, this movement was most active in the 1950s to 1970s. It has since become a model for many public buildings, thanks to its unwavering focus on functionality and efficiency. Designs in this style are known for their rough concrete finishes, exposed steel, and generally stark look and feel.

  • Postmodernism: Seen by some as the natural evolution of modern house design, this style was most widely seen from the 1970s to the 1990s. It combines elements of both modern and traditional styles to create structures that are unique, playful, and often almost cartoonish. Designs in this style take many different forms, though often feature unusual shapes and widely varying architectural influences.

How modern house designs look today

These days, most modern house designs borrow heavily from the mid-century style while adding a little contemporary flair. They maintain a strong focus on functionality and are usually quite square and rigid in appearance. They also continue the sense of simplicity, with minimal embellishment or adornment.

Inside, open plan floor plans continue to be popular, with most designs featuring one large kitchen, dining, and living area. This reflects a general interest in the efficient use of space, with layouts designed with functionality front of mind. That is not to say today’s modern house designs cannot be generously proportioned — rather that this is an intentional choice.

Many contemporary modern home designs also celebrate the indoor-outdoor connection the mid-century style made so popular. Floor-to-ceiling windows often act as exterior walls, optimising views and allowing in ample natural light. Large glass sliding doors are also often used to minimise the barriers between internal and external living spaces.

With regards to materials, most modern house plans are still primarily based on steel, cement, and glass construction. This is often matched with natural materials, with stone and wood being particularly popular choices for internal finishes. Many modern house designs also celebrate their engineering, with structural components often exposed and highlighted as design features.

Your modern house design checklist

Thinking of knocking down and building your dream home? When designing your new home, you can make a few simple choices to give it a modern feel. Specifically, when developing modern house plans, you should look to include:

  • A simple roofline: Where more traditional styles usually feature quite complex rooflines, modern house design generally keeps it simple. In fact, most contemporary modern homes feature either a flat roof or a roofline angled in one direction. As such, if you want your design to feel modern, avoid the peaks and gables common in more classic styles.

  • A flat façade: Complementing the simple roofline, a contemporary modern home’s façade will generally feature little to no decoration or unnecessary architectural detail. This means no eaves, complex guttering choices, or soffit and fascia boards. It also means no decorative metalwork or plasterwork and minimal variation in the depth of the façade. Instead, opt for a largely square or rectangular overall form and a generally flat front face.

  • Straight lines: Building on the previous point, contemporary modern home designs rely heavily on straight lines and square corners. This helps keep the design simple, maximises the overall functionality, and minimises the risk of wasted space. As such, curves and unusual angles should generally be avoided when developing your new modern house plans.

  • An open plan living area: The hub of the modern home is a large, open space that acts as the main gathering and entertaining area. There should be minimal structural barriers in this space, maximising the connection between the kitchen, dining, and living areas. There should also be enough space to allow easy movement between areas, but not so much that it feels excessive.

  • A symmetrical floor plan: While the façade of many modern homes is intentionally asymmetrical, it is a very different story inside. Here, there should be a strong sense of balance, and a relatively even distribution of space, across the design. To help achieve this, many modern house plans adopt a zoned approach, breaking the total floorspace into smaller ‘activity zones’.

  • A logical flow between rooms: The zoned design approach can also help make sure that functionality and liveability are considered when finalising the floor plan. By placing spaces with a similar purpose (bedrooms, entertaining areas, etc.) near each other, you minimise the need for unnecessary movement. This is important because modern homes are known for their flow, with most having a clear path through the design.

  • Plenty of natural light: As already noted, modern house designs are known for their extensive use of glass and a strong connection between indoor and outdoor spaces. As such, when developing modern house plans, you should look for ways to maximise natural light while still providing privacy. As part of this, pay particular attention to the number, size, and location of windows in non-communal spaces, like bedrooms.

  • Neutral or earthy colours: While this is more of a styling choice — and a matter of personal taste — a muted palette will complete the look. Most contemporary modern homes feature colour schemes that are dominated by whites and shades of grey, both inside and outside. Some also bring in shades of brown and green to warm up the design and increase the ‘natural’ feel.

Interested in adding a little modern style to your house plan?

If you need help bringing your dream modern house design to life, give Carmel Homes a call. Our experienced team are experts in creating beautiful bespoke spaces and can tailor a design to suit your unique requirements. We also have significant experience working with modern house designs and understand how to draw influence from this style.

For more information on the Carmel Homes difference or to arrange your free design consultation, contact us today.



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