Make it modern
September 1, 2020
The 9th Mad About Modern home tour goes online.
by Page Leggett • photographs of the Cohen-Fumero House by Dustin Peck
When The Jetsons first aired in 1962, the animated TV show posited that by now we’d travel by “aerocars.” That hasn’t come to pass, but this month, the Charlotte Museum of History is giving people a futuristic way to tour homes. The Mad About Modern tour, which typically features six to eight restored midcentury modern (MCM) homes you can walk through, is going virtual.
There will be fewer homes on the tour this year, but MCM fans will be offered a more in-depth look than ever. You can visit the three homes as many times as you wish — and linger as long as you want — between Saturday, Sept. 26 and Sunday, Oct. 4.
One of the homes will be familiar to anyone who went on last year’s tour: The Cohen-Fumero house at 1154 Cedarwood Lane in the Coventry Woods neighborhood was undergoing a renovation when it was on tour in 2019.
Built in 1961, the three-bedroom, two-bath, ranch-style home was designed by eminent architect and Charlotte native Murray Whisnant, a graduate of the N.C. State University School of Design.
Realtor and midcentury enthusiast Charlie Miller bought the long-vacant east Charlotte home through Preservation North Carolina and has painstakingly returned it to its groovy glory. He had planned to turn it into an Airbnb, but given the pandemic’s impact on travel, he’s decided to live in it himself for now.
He made some changes to the 1,728-square-foot home, including moving the kitchen and enlarging the master bath.
“I wanted to get the architect’s blessing, so I called Murray. He understood the changes as a benefit for today’s lifestyle and encouraged them.” Miller even undid a previous renovation from the 1990s that wasn’t true to MCM style.
A home with history
In its heyday, the home was a social hub for artists who were guests of the original owners, Herb Cohen, a renowned potter and former Mint Museum staffer who served as its acting director from 1968 to 1969, and his late partner, Jose Fumero. Cohen still lives in Charlotte. Miller is mixing high-end art and craft, including some of Cohen’s pottery, with a little kitsch in the form of a tiki glass collection.
He appreciates the home’s history, but it’s more than a relic for him.
“There’s a calming energy about this house,” he says. “You just feel good when you spend time here.”
Miller, who did the design work himself, likes the original exotic wood paneling, the enclosed courtyard and the oversized windows that make the outdoors feel like an architectural element. His two young daughters’ favorite features are the chartreuse wall and shower tile and mustard-gold floor tile in the second bathroom, which retains its original configuration.
Miller is such a fan of the style — he developed the Atomic Palm Project, a four-home MCM development in Country Club Heights — that he wouldn’t decorate the house in anything but period furniture: white tulip chairs in the dining room, an orange rotary-dial wall phone in the kitchen, a chartreuse swan chair overlooking the deck. It took a while to find just the right pieces, but he was willing to trade authenticity for speed.
The “Time Capsule”
The Cohen-Fumero home isn’t Miller’s only home on tour. At the beginning of the pandemic, he bought the house at 6818 Markway Drive in the Grove Park neighborhood, sight unseen.
“It’s on 4 acres of land,” he says. “From the pictures I saw online, I could tell it was 100% original. I took a chance, and once I was able to go inside, I saw it was even more special than I knew.”
Vaulted ceilings, wood paneling and a sunken living room with an indoor brick planter are among authentic period details. Miller intends to do a light renovation and keep it in its “natural state.” It will be a 1950s- and ’60s-era time capsule.
The home will become a place for his parents, Amy and Chuck, who live in a renovated midcentury home in Bonita Springs, Florida, to stay on their frequent visits to Charlotte to visit their four sons and five young grandchildren.
Miller inherited his love for historic preservation from his mom, so it’s fitting that he’d renovate a home with his folks in mind. His parents restored a 1918 Craftsman-style house in the York-Chester Historic District of Gastonia in 2005, and their sons helped. “We were cheap labor,” Miller jokes.
This time, his parents have helped him source period furniture for the house, and his dad made sure his pictures were hung just so. After all, in a house where clean lines are part of the appeal, everything needs to align.
Deep dive into design
Tour organizers are looking on the bright side about the changes they’ve had to make this year.
“We think you can learn more this way,” says Adria Focht, president and CEO of the Charlotte Museum of History, of the in-depth, 360-degree online tour. “Our digital guidebook — new this year — will give people a deeper dive into the architecture and history of each home,” including the two properties owned by Miller and a third residence at 410 Lockley Drive. The renovated Eastover home was built in 1973 and incorporates MCM elements such as a two-sided brick fireplace, a floating staircase and a bright coral front door.
There’s a live lecture — also online, of course — by George Smart, a modernism expert who goes by the monikers Mr. Modernism and The Accidental Archivist, on Saturday, Sept. 26 at 6 p.m. Smart, who has spoken at Palm Springs Modernism Week and hosts the podcast “USModernist Radio,” will share examples of the best midcentury design in Charlotte. You can watch from the comfort of your own couch.
As it happens, aerocars aren’t necessary. The Jetsons would likely have their minds blown by a home tour you take without ever leaving your own home. SP
Mad About Modern will be held virtually from Saturday, Sept. 26 through Sunday, Oct. 4. Tickets for the virtual home tour only are $20 and are available at madaboutmodern.com. For the package, including the George Smart lecture, tickets are $30. Proceeds benefit the Charlotte Museum of History.
You can follow the Cohen-Fumero House on Instagram at @cohenfumerohouse. Questions? Contact The Charlotte Museum of History at 704.568.1774 or email@example.com.