The modernist house designs of the 1950s have become easily recognised cultural icons. Leaving behind the hardships of World War II, architects designed casual and easy living spaces, using the new technologies and materials developed for the war efforts. Grouping these new houses together in suburbia and designed communities allowed house design to extend from the house itself to its surroundings, bringing the living space into the backyard.
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The 1950s in the United States was a time of economic prosperity after the hardships of World War II. New technologies and materials, offshoots of development for the war, become available to home builders and helped to shape the architectural and interior designs of houses. American suburbia developed, with designed communities such as the Levittown sites, enabling the growing middle class to purchase their own single family homes, on their own, albeit small, piece of land. Privacy and efficiency became values incorporated in 1950s house designs, along with an informal and casual way of living. Homes, particularly in suburbia, become self-contained worlds, refuges from the stresses of the city.
Popularised by Clifford May, the one-story ranch house has become a symbol of 1950s house design. Builders situated ranch houses in neat, controlled environments, with landscaping to enhance the structure, including a well-trimmed front lawn, One defining characteristic of the ranch house is a large street-facing picture window in the living room. Enabling people to see out from and into the house, the window was inefficient, requiring the house to have a larger heater and air-conditioning unit. Casual and informal living was encouraged by an open-plan interior with easy movement from room to room, and easy access to the outside where barbecuing became a popular pastime. The ranch house introduced the concept of a multipurpose room situated next to the kitchen.
By the mid-1950s, a new house design became popular. Larger than the ranch house, the split level was two stories in part of the house. With a central entranceway, this house design had separate private sleeping areas and public living areas. One part of the house was two stories, with the sleeping areas and bathroom upstairs, and the informal living spaces of kitchen and family room underneath. The other part was one story and contained the formal living areas, namely the dining room and living room.
Of all the rooms in 1950s house designs, the kitchen most reflected the advances in technology and materials, as well as the values of efficiency and family. The "built-in" kitchen made efficient use of the limited space, with matching cabinets on the walls and shiny appliances, including efficient refrigerators and electric stoves, fitted in among them. Cooking shows and sitcoms in the early days of television presented kitchens as clean and efficient spaces filled with the latest technology. These shows influenced the expectations of home design as new home buyers wanted, and expected, these advances reflected in their own kitchens.
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