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Era-appropriate renovation key to preserving Boise’s mid-century homes

TJ Pierce in front of the Phillips Home. 

Boise, the fastest growing city in the country, has roughly 11,000 homes built in the 1950s and 1960s. Local architects and builders such as Art Trouter, Nat Adams, Charles Hummell, Joe LaMarche, Victor Hosford and Bradford Shaw marked this little city with some striking pieces of residential architecture. These are the mid-century homes that most fans of this era dream of owning.

This pool of name-brand, collector-style homes, which act as pieces of residential art, amount to less than 1 percent of the market in Boise. The majority of these homes attract buyers who have a high level of understanding for what they are and how to treat them. Premiums are often paid to acquire these homes, and premiums are often spent to care for them. Preservation is at the core of their efforts, and celebrating their history is almost second nature to the homeowners.

In the last year, our team has had the privilege of managing the sale of one of these prized homes that represent the top 1 percent – the Phillips Home. When working with folks that own these kinds of homes, we spend our time summarizing what makes their home unique. The architectural features are often at the top of that list, but close behind is the architect, as well as the history of the home.

Once we have a grasp of this, we can start work on content we can create to capture the attention of a buyer who will properly care for and value a home like this. In the instance of the Phillips Home, we suggested they hire an architectural historian who would document the features and the history of their home. We also hired a top-shelf photographer to document the aesthetics of their home. Lastly, we hired a designer to create a quick guide to inform visitors who would be touring the home over the months to come.

After all of that content was created, we pitched this story to local newspapers and television stations. Several outlets picked up the story. We also pitched our content to Atomic Ranch, a magazine covering all things mid-century in the U.S., as well as Curbed, an online outlet covering mostly architecture.

In addition, the buyer of the home was required to file it with the National Registrar of Historic Places and offer the opportunity for visitors to tour it every other year to serve as an educational and inspirational reference point for future architects and mid-century enthusiasts.

By reaching an audience of over 200,000 people and helping escort over 400 people through the front door of the Phillips Home, a new owner was identified who has been very agreeable in accommodating these requests. Idaho Modern, a division of Preservation Idaho, will serve as the host for our next tour in spring 2020.

That leaves 10,950 homes that lack name-brand pedigree recognition. This is where our company spends the majority of its time. These “mid-century modest” homes often include wood paneling; built-ins; pink or baby blue sinks, bathtubs and toilets; galley kitchens; original kitchen cabinetry; hardwood floors (sometimes buried under carpet); lots of single pane big picture windows and original brick or stone. Every now and again, you might see some good ole asbestos tile or popcorn ceilings for good measure.

When working with folks who are selling these homes, we spend our time helping them understand what they have, what’s worth keeping, what’s worth changing, and how they can prepare their home to attract the people who have the most appreciation for a home in this era. We help bring the mid-century characteristics out in these homes, and our goal is to get as many people through the front doors as we can.

We demonstrated this strategy ourselves by snagging a fixer-upper in Randolph Robertson on Holiday Street. It was a boring, basic brick ranch home that only had three original features that were intact and worth celebrating. The original exterior brick, hardwood floors throughout, and the brick fireplace were the cool features that signaled its era, and we kept those and really made them stand out. The rest of the home needed to be taken in a modern direction that leaned very heavily on its vintage roots.

With the help of Jessica from Stussi Luque Designs, we delivered a product to the market in January that attracted 300 visitors in seven days. Five offers later, and with an offer that showed how much the home was appreciated, the new owners were thrilled to call this place their own. The sellers we represented had no idea we would receive this type of reception, nor did they expect there would be a handful of people willing to pay a premium for this home. The sellers were very willing to trust our strategies, and they were thrilled with the outcome!

What we do with mid-century homes is very specific, and we have been thrilled to see our passion for these homes celebrated. Our teams vision is to make mid-century dreams come true, and preservation and era-appropriate renovation is at the core of that mission.

TJ Pierce is owner and operator of Mid-Century Homes by Moniker Real Estate, a real estate company specializing in homes built in the 50s and 60s.

About TJ Pierce