Midcentury Modest: A 1950s Time Capsule House in Shelburne, VT

On a snowy, gloomy, winter’s day like today, I thought we’d serve up a plate of Retro two ways. It’s slightly retro in timing given that we visited the house in question late last summer, and totally retro in content given that our destination was the 1950s house at the Shelburne Museum in Shelburne, Vermont.

The Shelburne Museum was one of those places that locals told us we “must” visit when we first moved to Vermont, but given our usual aversion to hype and our unfounded assumption that it was a destination geared toward the history of 19th century dairy farm equipment, and more appropriate for children, we stayed away. After about a year of Vermont living we finally decided to check it out, and we’re thankful that we gave it a chance.

While the museum as a whole is actually pretty fantastic with its various buildings from different eras, discovering the 1950s Time Capsule House had us giddy with excitement. 

The ~1000 sq. foot house was built in 1949 and originally used as a single family home. From its victory garden, to the clothes hanging in the closet, to the ’39 Chevy parked in the driveway, the 1950s House offers a fantastic glimpse into yesteryear.

The kitchen was especially great, chock full of details and items that are hardly ever seen in the kitchens of the 21st century, like a waxed paper/foil/paper towel dispenser, flour and sugar canisters, breadbox, and midcentury-styled drawer pulls. And the perfectly pink bathroom’s wallpaper had us both remembering our grandmothers’ bathrooms from when we were children.

Despite our love for everything “midcentury modern” I would call this house more “midcentury modest” – far from the modern style of the 1950s or 60s, it is much more basic, and the interior is, and probably would have been, furnished with items not just from the 1950s, but from decades before, inherited from parents and grandparents. Hence the more basic, cozy, lived-in look – especially of the bedrooms and the living room. As we walked around the modest home, it was apparent how “supersized” American homes have become over the last 60 years since houses like this were the norm. The bedrooms were tiny when compared to what most home buyers have come to expect today. It served as a good reminder that we don’t need a huge space for it to be comfortable, stylish, and functional.

The house had such a lovely cozy feel to it, that we really took our time there, taking in every detail – so much so that we were tempted to hide out, wait for the museum to close, make a couple cocktails, and move in! But our fantasy was quashed when another family who had a couple of screaming children joined us in the living room and looked at us strangely as we lounged on the couch, reading LIFE. 

If you’re in the Burlington/Shelburne area this summer and have put off taking a stroll around the grounds of the museum, it is definitely worth a visit! Especially cool, in addition to the 1950s House, is the recycled shipping container home also on view – check it out!


  1. “midcentury modest” You will be known as the first to have coined the term. Love it!

  2. Thanks Pat! As much as I have always wanted to be the coiner of a term, I don't think I can take credit for this one. If anyone coined it, it might have been Pam over on her blog, Retro Renovation, but I can't be sure.

  3. Oooh I'd love check out that house in person! And I also need to get myself one of those dispensers! I am always trying to find a good place to keep my wax/parchment/foil/etc paper tubes. Must check ebay.

    Loving the new blog!!

  4. Hi Alejandra!

    Thanks for checking out the blog and for your comment. Yeah you can find those dispensers fairly easily on eBay or Etsy. We've got one that works great (though the American-sized super duper paper towel rolls don't fit at first).

    Jen and I saw your article in Bust - that's awesome! Congrats!

  5. Yes, Eric, I think I get credit for coining this term. See my Mid Century Modest Manifesto: http://retrorenovation.com/pams-kitchen-2/mid-century-modest-manifesto/