The rapidly advancing technology and industrial capacity of the inter-war period in Europe influenced the development of a new wave of art and architectural design. This new aesthetic rejected traditional design, historical references and ornamentation in favor of simple, stream-lined shapes found in the design of airplanes and ships and even household appliances. What came to be known as Moderne architecture is also strongly reminiscent of the Dutch ‘De Stijl’ painters like Piet Mondrian (1872–1912) whose bold works combine a careful balancing of white canvas with bold lines and strong color. Architects and designers, fleeing the increasing chaos in Europe, brought these new design principles to the development of major government, corporate, commercial and domestic architecture in North America.
The Moderne Style (sometimes referred to as the International Style) in residential design is perhaps best embodied in the phrase coined by the well known architect Le Corbusier who referred to the ‘modern’ house as a “machine for living”. A simplicity of form characterizes the residential examples of this new functionalism. Plain, most often white, exterior surfaces made of concrete or stucco are composed into rectangular planes, often with a strong but carefully balanced asymmetry. Windows can wrap around a corner in a series of consistent modules “to open up a room”.
Decoration is limited to recessed vertical or horizontal elements or relief sculpture worked into the façade material. Roofs are flat without eaves or overhangs except over balconies or doorways. Windows, usually metal casement, are artfully positioned to create a solid/void balance and add horizontality to the otherwise plain facades. Windows and doors are plainly inset into the façade with little or no trim. Railings too are generally metal, often composed of horizontal steel piping. Windows and railings are usually the only elements of color. Moderne houses are generally set in open, simplified landscapes.
Stucco, nearly always a Corbusian choice of white, prevails. Decoration sometimes appears as vertical fluting on doorways, paneling, and fireplace mantels. To match the horizontal divisions of the window panes, some horizontal painted wood strips contribute to the “streamlined” look of these homes. Textured obscure or reeded glass is used where light and privacy is needed.