A short history of the American house since 1950 would have to include a chapter called "Bigger and Better." The Levittown house had two bedrooms, one small bathroom, and an eat-in kitchen; all its rooms were arranged on a concrete slab whose dimensions were twenty-five by thirty feet (an unfinished attic was often converted into additional living space). William Levitt's strategy becomes apparent if one compares his house with earlier designs for modestly priced houses, such as those included in homes of Character, a pattern book published in 1923 by the Boston architect Robert L. Stevenson. The porches, vestibules, entry halls, and dining rooms (or at least dining alcoves) that were standard domestic amenities in the twenties were absent from the Levittown house, which lacked even a basement. It was bare-bones living.There are a variety of reasons why these super-homes become the preferred format for new homes, and it's increasingly unpopular to build small rowhouses even in downtown cores (where the municipal governments seems to instead opt for megatowers instead.) But a lot of it is the collaboration between local government and builders, even though there's a sizeable market for a smaller home even among new families.
The prosperity of the next two decades was an opportunity to recover some of the lost space. Not surprisingly, new houses increased in size. In 1963 the average new house had 1,450 square feet (the Levittown house had 750 square feet), and over the next decade another 200 square feet, the equivalent of two bedrooms, were added. According to the National Association of Home Builders, the average finished area of a new single-family house in 1989 was about 2,000 square feet, and thousands of houses were even bigger, often 3,000 to 4,000 square feet.
Tuesday, October 28, 2008
Really interesting old piece from the Atlantic about the rise of the super-home, and how ahistorical it is: