Modern Home Styles in the 1950s

Written by gail cohen
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Modern Home Styles in the 1950s
Home buyers wanted fireplaces and multipurpose rooms in the 1950s. (Stockbyte/Stockbyte/Getty Images)

Everyone wanted to own a home following World War II, and the American building industry was happy to oblige. During the 50s, the housing boom raged with virtually the same home shape and design marketed under regionally favoured names like the ranch, bungalow or prairie style. Commonalities abounded during this 10-year period. Asymmetrical design, horizontal orientation, hipped or gabled roofs, open floor plans shaped into rectangles, L- or U-shapes, minimal ornamentation and the use of quality, natural materials were the benchmarks of 1950s architectural styling.


New home construction developments reflected the optimism of the post-war economy. A modern 1952-style house sat on 100 feet of land surrounded by trees and flowerbeds that brought to mind the words "tidy" and "neat." Cedar roofs and stone trim were favourite exterior features as were large front and rear porches. Double garages began to appear in home brochures during the early 1950s as commuting to work became commonplace. Interior features sought by home buyers included hardwood floors, large kitchens and central heating systems. Subdivisions offered buyers a first taste of planned community living: elementary schools, police stations and fire brigades were established first, and homes were built in concentric circles around these services, creating a community.


In 1954 the National Plan Service's "Prelude to Happiness" catalogue extolled the virtues of the typical middle-class, modern dream home. Half-baths began to appear in floor plans and the "multipurpose room" drew attention from home buyers seeking distinct areas for play rooms, home offices, dens or additional sleeping quarters. Basements became favoured ways to add extra room. Both basements and garages satisfied do-it-yourself hobbyists, many of whom installed sophisticated workshops on site so they could engage in remodelling projects to keep their homes updated with the latest architectural touches.


By 1955 luxury homes began appearing on the real estate market. Builders advertised the availability of up to four bedrooms. Extravagant interior features were welcomed by upwardly mobile home buyers: Lathe and plaster walls, rock wool insulation and new types of rock and cedar shingle roofs destined to last the life of the house, particularly on the west coast. Shower stalls with glass doors and ceramic tile bathroom and kitchen trim became standard as did built-in ranges, ovens and double sinks in high-end modern homes. Exterior features included patios, sliding glass doors, redwood siding and picture windows.


Typical residences had three bedrooms and two bathrooms as this decade came to a close. The era of "green space" dawned; parks became a selling point for realtors looking to close home sales. Sliding aluminium windows, in-home laundries and garbage disposals came standard with modern homes. Easy-care fabrics meant an end to high-maintenance drapes, sofa covers and linens. The kitchen "dinette set" relocated casual family dinners from formal dining rooms for all but special occasions. The automobile also played a major part in home design throughout the 1950s with new ways to add garage space that kept architectural design lines clean and uniform.

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