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What's hot in Portland real estate? Mid-century modern homes

"Buyers are taking a higher risk to own something special," said Portland's premier MCM realtor who says more are coming on market after original owners move on.

PORTLAND, Oregon — The hottest homes on Instagram and on the real estate market are mid-century modern. Think "Mad Men" style: homes built in the late-1940s to mid-1970s that have a certain "retro" style — very Palm Springs.

The homes are popular here in the Northwest as well; there's even a brand-new book all about Oregon's mid-mod history.

"Large windows, vaulted ceilings, natural wood, stone, you know, the connection to nature," said Marisa Swenson of Modern Homes Portland by Dwell Realty, the premier realtor for mid-mod homes in the Portland area.

"The market is hot," Swenson said. "The mid-century market though is a whole different level of hot."

Credit: Instagram: @ModernHomesPortland
A mid-century modern home in Lake Oswego that realtor Marisa Swenson helped broker a few years ago.

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Buyers are looking to restore them with modern updates, cool furniture, retro tile but new appliances. It's the floor-to-ceiling brick fireplaces and exposed beams. The triangular roof lines that let in so much light. The interior atriums. Aggregate patios and straight lines.

First made famous by photographer Slim Aarons in his iconic 60s photographs of ritzy backyard get-togethers, mid-mod homes are now seen as a piece of art and buyers are seeing the value.

"People are willing to put a lot more risk out there so they're waving contingencies and waving earnest money dollars, kind of putting a little bit more upfront, taking a higher risk to own something very special," Swenson said.

When Swenson posts photos of homes like these on her Modern Homes Portland Instagram account, she's getting likes and DM's from buyers in China, Japan, Switzerland, New York, Chicago and, of course, California.

"A lot more of these custom architecturally, significant homes are coming to market because the original owners are moving on to assisted living or downsizing, things like that," Swenson said. "They're just not able to care for them. And all of a sudden we're seeing hidden gems we didn't even know exist come to market and it's just ignited a fire."

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All that popularity is also now printed in a new book from historic preservation nonprofit Restore Oregon. It's called "Oregon Made: A Tour of Regional Mid-Century Modern Architecture." The 100-page book showcases 45 mid-mod homes in the metro area. It's a culmination of eight years worth of tours that brought 10,000 Oregonians into five to six homes each year before the pandemic.

"You'll see beautiful, full-spread photographs of the interior and exterior of mid-century modern homes in this area," said Katelyn Van Genderen, director of preservation programs at Restore Oregon. "And you'll read a lot about what the architects did, their careers and where they're from and why they decided that this was the place they wanted to perform their craft."

Credit: KGW's Nina Mehlhaf
Restore Oregon's new MCM book about 45 homes in Portland's metro area.

"When you walk into a mid-century home, it's an entirely different feeling than when you walk into a craftsman or a Victorian, and we just have such a large stock of them here," Van Genderen said. "It's really worth spending our time analyzing and studying and educating people about them."

The book is $35 and you can order your copy here.

Restore Oregon recently wrapped up its latest mid-mod home tour and more should be coming as the pandemic eases.

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