Mid-Century Materials

Mid-Century Materials

This Southern California home looks like it popped out of the pages of a 1962 architecture magazine. From the blue façade made of 1” square ceramic tile to the rippled glass flanking the front door, to the heavily groove-tooled stucco of the garage wall, to the corrugated fiberglass garage door that echoes the rippled glass, it is a celebration of mid-20th century materials.

It was, in fact, built in 2000, designed by the late Los Angeles architect Stephen Kanner. The composite garage door is made of corrugated fiberglass panels on an aluminum frame.

According to the owner, they are “greenhouse material.” Kanner took inspiration from architect Albert Frey, who used both corrugated aluminum and corrugated fiberglass in some of his work in Palm Springs, including his own San Jacinto Mountain home.

Corrugated fiberglass was a familiar material in the late 50’s and through the 60’s. It was popular for the roofs and sometimes the walls of patios and decks, frequently seen in white, green, or pink, or yellow. Unfortunately, the resins of that period were not UV-resistant, and after prolonged (10-15 years) exposure, they would break down, baring glass fibers on the peaks of the sine waves. The smooth, easy-to-clean resin surface would turn fuzzy, and if it got dirty, the dirt didn’t clean off easily anymore. It was an ugly fate.

However, resins have been significantly improved in the intervening decades. The panels on this garage are the originals, 16 years old, and they are completely smooth. They are highly translucent – more so than the materials typically used on residential applications in the 60’s –  revealing the texture of the fiberglass mat clearly when it’s brightly lit, and displaying the outlines of the aluminum frame like bright shadows. The owner says the panels have yellowed a bit,.  Other than that, they look like new.

Kanner’s fiberglass garage door was, according to the owner, “very expensive to have built. Nobody wanted to build with greenhouse material.” The result, however, has a unique charm, a Mid-Century Modern homage that holds its own in the 21st century.

Images by Steven H. Miller