Friday, February 17, 2012

17 February 1933 “A Darling Little House Plan and the Wants of the Middle Class”

houseplan2 I wanted to share this darling little house plan. There is much talk of home building in the 1933 and on magazines of the time as we are now just getting the FHA and so on. As I had discussed before, home ownership was much harder. There were no 30 year loans, one often needed a large percentage down as high as 50% and loans went for around 5 years. Of course, we must remember that homes were more affordable then. So, when the FHA and such schemes came in at the time it was to actually help the poor to buy a house, already cheap, with payments spread over a longer period (not 30 years yet though).

Of course what happened with that system was it became a way to sell overpriced homes in an overinflated market to an unsuspecting populace. I am finding many things coming into play here in the 1930’s that are easy to read game plans for our current economy, yet I know there is no real discussion of solutions in the modern media. At least, that is my impression when I speak with people ab0ut it, as I myself do not watch any TV now. But, I digress.

In the 1950’s there were always many home plans in ladies magazines. The building boom post WWII would make the 1930’s home construction look like like a drip of rain to Niagara falls. And with those homes in the mid century, the modernist movement, which had begun really before the 1930’s, had begun to streamline and become more sharp or precise. The inventions of plastics and increased abilities in manufacturing greatly affected the building process. Though, despite their being quicker to build and more allowed on smaller lots, the 1950’s home, to me, can be a little cold compared to the 20/30’s cottage.

There was much of the fairytale in the 20’s cottage. One self-taught artist/builder in California, Hugh Comstock, took the ‘English Cottage’ and ‘Neo-Tudor’ passion of the 20’s to a small scale fantasy extreme. He first built a little Tudor fantasy for his wife to sell her dolls in Carmel by the

It was such a hit that he immediately found himself in the home design and building business. Here are some of the other ‘Fairy Tale Cottages’. comstockcottage comstockcottage2

Certainly there was modernist architecture happening in the 1930’s. And even some private homes. 30smodernhouse Here is such an example of the sort of modern happening, this home build in 1932. However, you can very easily see the influence, rather it was meant or not, of a basic colonial or early house with a box shape and chimney to the side. Though authentic early colonial houses had chimneys interior, as our home does, because it contained all the heat inside as it was meant for heating source rather than ambience.

In Germany in 1919, Walter Gropius founded Bauhaus, which was an art school which combined all the arts. Though it was heavily inspired by the Arts and Crafts school and the Weimar Academy. Yet, the result of the Arts and Crafts, which in the 19th century had shown its ‘back to roots’ appearance in the hand of the craftsman in the wooden and pottery details of their work, the 1920’s-30’s Bauhaus had a much more streamlined factory made look to it. This building could easily be one of the new modern 1950’s American office buildings, though it was build well before WWII in Germany.File:Bauhaus.JPG

I could go on and on, as I am sure you all well know, about such things. But, my main point was to show that both the modern almost rigid idealism of a new and different world post WWI also carried a sub-current of escapism. The quite tide of wanting hearth and home to be, well, rather like a story book. The joys of the nursery, warm fire, lovely little painted furniture, hodgepodge of books and things held dear, ran equally with the high brow ideals of clean modern design.

So, in the 1930’s where we are now, that sense of the ‘homey’ seems to be the main ideal in the middle class building boom. While, post WWII, we shall see the other trend gain footing. Plastics and clean smooth featureless walls are the coveted look of the mass building of the 1950s.

There is much to be said for the look of the mid century home, for sure, but whilst I was living there I kept being drawn to the “Early American” look that was popular in the 1950’s. A look that allowed a new middle class family with their first new little rectangle home, flat roof, smooth window-pane-less windows and asphalt drive to add a touch of homey to their life. Chairs and cabinets in pine with curved and detailed legs. Pokey and primitive Folk Art that looked rather good with the modern smooth architecture, but yet still drew one in. I think that drawing in, in my opinion, is that deep down we all do love that hearth and home lifestyle.

We might scoff, were we so high brow and inclined, at the such things in our terrazzo floor glass walled apartment in NYC with concrete counters and bath. One painting on a wall which in its Rothko-like appearance is simply a slab of orange and brown paint, sadly blending together. But, deep down, I really feel the crackle of the fire, the smell of old leather of books and worn furniture that has been used for years has an appeal that the new may never know. But, of course, we all like different things surely.

I was thinking the other day how this need to change and grow is really middle class. I don’t mean to always go back to class, but I always find it fascinating. One you think about it, the middle class were created when the merchant classes were suddenly born and could obtain more money. They could work their way up and so they are often either trying to forget where they came from or focus on where they are going to. The lower and upper classes often had or didn't’  want any mobility. And is so doing, often kept and used things over and over. Both out of necessity as well as out of simple joy and need. A palatial country home of an upper-class family would happily have shabby silk curtains owned by generations before. The furniture would be old and worn. When more money was available or a particular family member happened to care about interiors, then new things might be made up. Surely they were the patrons of the arts of such new ideas, but they didnt’ throw out the old for the new. And the very poor lower class simply had to keep what they had and repair it.

In fact, even the change in the upper-class attitudes, which we have today, are largely due to the marrying into them the sudden wealth of the middle merchant class, to get a ‘bit of money in’. At the end of the 19th century, there were many dollar Heiresses' made with the growing industrialized money classes. These daughters were married into the old families so they could keep their old piles of homes going with increasing taxes and need for money. With these daughters came the idea of ‘doing over’ rooms and homes. Because, though they may have come from a large palatial mansion on the Hudson in New York, it had only been recently built and kitted out. This idea then, this need to makeover and redo, was really born out of that.

The Victorians, as well, with new mass production of furniture and objects cheaply made but resembling fine art pieces of the upper classes were kept alive by the middle class. They were the buyers. They the purchasers. It makes one wonder, now, with the dying of the middle class, what is our new direction?

We will try, I am sure, to further this odd modern ideal of constant growth, but can it go forever? I mean we are literally filling up the world with stuff we buy use and then toss away. Surely the world is a big place, but we too are increasing in number. And the idea of constant growth in business, home, lives, electronics, is such an odd view and only really a new concept. I wonder where we are all headed?

But, again, I digress. My main point was to share this lovely little plan for a darling little cottage one could have built in a suburb or country lane. I think it’s size is small and manageable for the homemaker, but its clever design leaves much space and style to really create that Hearth and Home feeling I think many of us do like.

My, I do go off on tangents, don’t I? Well here is the article accompanying these house plans.homeplan1

And look at the sweet little options for the bay window and the entrances.houseplanentrance

And over all, I find the layout of the little living room with the book shelf detail and the eyebrow openings of the doorways delightful. The simple addition of the wall at the front swooping out to form an entrance at the drive is really easy to construct and yet adds so much to a small houses style. The variety of roof heights, as well, really make a small single story home look more interesting. Though varying roof heights cost more, when you are building small it still is less that a large two story house but with more style.

What do you think of this little plan? Do you like it? Do you think a ‘suburb’ of these with more old growth trees being left, is a more pretty picture than the 1950’s version? Could you live in a house this size and style?

Happy Homemaking.

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