Van Sickle Ford At Home

Extravagant Homes: Mid-Century Gone Mad

Shag walls, mirrored ceilings, and sunken bathtubs.

Mid-century modern brought Eames chairs, functional design, and sleek contemporary style to suburbia. And then...things got weird. From the 1950s through the '70s, "modern" got a taste of extravagance, with elaborate design and indulgent personal touches. Architecture sure to wow, see these homes that are utterly of their era.

IN THE PINK Allan Grant/The LIFE Picture Collection/Getty Images IN THE PINK Los Angeles, 1960
Actress Jayne Mansfield bought this 40-room mansion in 1957 before remodeling it and dubbing it "The Pink Palace." With floor-to-ceiling shag carpeting and a heart-shaped bathtub, the house was highly customized and lush. Reportedly, Mansfield's chihuahuas had difficulty navigating the deep shag.
Mansfield On Bed
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Allan Grant/The LIFE Picture Collection/Getty Images RUB-A-DUB Carlo Bavagnoli/The LIFE Picture Collection/Getty Images RUB-A-DUB Vence, France, 1972
Actor Curt Jurgens, who starred in 160 films between 1936 and 1982 — including as a Bond villain in "The Spy Who Loved Me"— was known for his love of extravagance. In his obituary, the New York Times wrote that Jurgens owned a villa on France's Cote d'Azur and a house in Lausanne, Switzerland, but that his favorite retreat was a farm he owned in Vence, France, "with a house consisting of just one big room with a bath for two sunken in front of a fireplace."
MIRROR MIRROR Ralph Crane/The LIFE Picture Collection/Getty Images MIRROR MIRROR Los Angeles, 1972
Basketball legend Wilt Chamberlain hired architect David Tenneson to build this pad, which he called Ursa Major, in 1971. Chamberlain famously boasted of sleeping with 20,000 women and his home appears to fit the image: Aside from this mirror-filled room, the house is said to feature a gold-lined hot tub, mirrored ceilings above the master bed, and 40-foot ceilings in some rooms.
Wilt Chamberlain Eats At Ursa Major
Wilt Chamberlain At Ursa Major
Ralph Crane/The LIFE Picture Collection/Getty Images DOME SWEET DOME John Dominis DOME SWEET DOME Fresno, CA, 1972
Thirty years after Buckminster Fuller introduced the U.S. to the geodesic dome home, architect Lloyd Kahn kept the dream alive. In 1972, he designed this home in Fresno. Actually a pair of two-level domes, the communal space was downstairs with the bedrooms getting plenty of light upstairs.
CAVE OF WONDERS Eliot Elisofon/The LIFE Picture Collection/Getty Images CAVE OF WONDERS Mexico City, 1959
Using a natural cave as the foundation, Mexican painter and architect Juan O'Gorman created this abode for his own family. He covered entire walls in mosaics, including the exterior. O'Gorman also built the double house that Frida Kahlo and Diego Rivera lived and worked in.
RECYLCED John Dominis/The LIFE Picture Collection/Getty Images RECYLCED Mill Valley, CA, 1972
Art Director John Holmes, known for his provocative and witty book covers (including the original "Jaws" novel), had this home built in 1971 entirely out of recycled materials. Here, he sits on a second-hand wicker couch, surrounded by a wall of recycled windows and frames. Designed by William W. Kirsch, the house won an award from Sunset Magazine for its creative and eco-friendly design.
POLE VAULT John Dominis/The LIFE Picture Collection/Getty Images POLE VAULT Greenwich, CT, 1968
This home was fashioned from 104 40-foot telephone poles that were shipped from Oregon to Connecticut. The poles crisscrossed and served various architectural purposes, from defining different rooms to supporting the cantilevered roof. Architect John Johansen designed the house to feel like its inhabitants were living among the trees.
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John M. Johansen [Misc.] [& Wife];Charles Ritts [Misc.] [& Wife]
John Dominis/The LIFE Picture Collection/Getty Images ROUND HOUSE Eliot Elisofon/The LIFE Picture Collection/Getty Images ROUND HOUSE Aurora, IL, 1951
American artist Ruth Van Sickle Ford and husband Albert Ford built the Round House with architect Bruce Goff in 1949. The home's round shape was based on traditional Tibetan nomad tents, but instead of being made of yak wool, the walls were fashioned of coal and colored glass. In the otherwise staid, conventional town of Aurora, the backlash was so strong that the Fords planted a sign in their front lawn saying "We don't like your house, either."
Reading In Van Sickle Ford Home
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Eliot Elisofon/The LIFE Picture Collection/Getty Images