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The Evolution of Floorplans
The floorplan of the American middle class suburban home has gone through a slow evolution over the decades. This evolution has been influenced by considerations of style, of course, but the real driving forces for change have come from economic and social forces.
Subdivisons like Vickery Place in the M-Streets Area illustrate the importance of economic forces.
The American economy was strong when Vickery Place was established as a new suburban neighborhood in 1911. The first residences built in the new neighborhood were large four-square homes with as much as 2300 square feet. They included all the amenities expected in a nice home of the time: extensive millwork, leaded glass windows, porte cocheres, and electric lights.
Two events in 1919 forever changed the direction this neighborhood would follow.
On May 31, 1919 the stock market shut down for the day due to the unprecedented number of shares traded. This marked a major downturn in the stockmarket and was followed on July 1, 1919 by the enforcement of the Volstead Act (Prohibition). All liquor related businesses and jobs were lost. This included the more than 100 breweries that existed in Dallas.
Economic recovery did follow, but included a new sobriety in residential construction. Houses were smaller, averaging 1500 square feet. Details and materials were simpler. This coincided with the Craftsman design movement seeking simpler forms.
It was not until the unprecedented prosperity of the 1950's that houses began to grow in size, and homeowners began to have greater and greater demands for luxury and comfort.
1910s - The Indoor Bathroom
The 1915 floorplan has a lot in common with Victorian houses, but it incorporates a toilet on the service porch. What an extravagance! (Examples of this in Vickery Place include 5435 Vickery, 5605 Vickery and 5343 Richard.) During the following years the modern bathroom evolved, bringing the convenience of an indoor toilet to everyone. By 1925 the bathroom was totally incorporated into the plan of the house, but another thirty years passed before the common man got a small second bath adjacent to the master bedroom.
1940s - More And More Closets
The 1915 floorplan has only one closet on the ground floor. Most folks expected to store most of their clothing in wardrobes. The absence of closets was not much of a drawback. Things were changing by 1925; the 1925 floorplan includes a single small closet in each bedroom. During the 1940's it became common to have two closets off the master bedroom, and by 1955 the first walk-in closets show up in the average house.
Return Of The Entry Hall
Victorian homes were often equipped with a large entry parlor, but by 1915 the entry parlor and the formal parlor had merged into one big room that often spread across the entire front of the house. The 1925 floorplan still shows no trace of an entry hall, but the entry hall made a modest comeback during the 1930's. The new entry hall was a tiny space without any closet.
1930s - The Icebox Is Replaced By Electrical Refrigeration
Homes built between 1915 and 1925 always had a Service Porch outside the kitchen. This porch housed the icebox in the days before electrical refrigerators became available. Ice was delivered to each home daily by an "ice men" using a horse drawn wagon. The "milk man" also delivered his product to the Service Porch, as did other vendors. The presence of the Service Porch was an important part of the home because it allowed these vendors to leave their products without entering the kitchen.
Electrical refrigerators were introduced during the prosperous days of the late 1920's. By 1935 the electrical refrigerator was commonplace in American homes, and the Service Porch was no longer needed. What was needed instead was a place in the kitchen for the refrigerator.
Older homes from the early 1920's became dated because they included no provision for an icebox or refrigerator inside the home. Many Service Porches were enclosed in response to this change, and the Service Porch disappeared from new floor plans.
1950s - Birth Of The Utility Room
By 1955 the typical American home contained a plethora of electrical appliances. for the home were growing. As automatic washers and dryers became affordable the "utility room" began to appear on up-to-date floorplans.
Air Conditioning And Television
The final major change for houses came about with the common usage of central air-conditioning. The early plans all provided for some form of natural cross ventilation. The 1955 plan reveals fewer windows and closets placed on the outside wall.
The 1955 plan also has the first Family Room. It became common to place the new TV in a room other than the Living Room. The radio seamlessly became a part of the Living Room, but the new medium required a new room where the family could gather.
1940s - Influence Of The European Modern Movement
There were other influences in addition to the economic influences that affected the types of homes built. The walls dividing rooms began to disappear largely through the influences of Bauhaus Architecture. The founders of this school immigrated to the United States when Hitler assumed power in Germany. The living room became a combination living/dining room. The family room was opened to the kitchen. Ceilings were no longer flat planes.
New building products and new attitudes led to new ideas in housing, and the new ideas were spread across the country by contemporary magazines.
Baby Boom + FHA Financing + Road Improvements = New Suburbs
Everybody knows about the "baby boom" that followed the return of American soldiers from World War II. All those new families needed more housing than had ever been built before in America. The government responded by inventing "mortgage insurance" and establishing the Federal Housing Administration (FHA) to provide that insurance to the mortgage lending industry. This gave more families the opportunity to purchase homes than ever before while also dictating minimum acceptable levels for building quality.
The FHA helped finance new suburbs to accommodate this unprecedented expansion. The explosion of automobile ownership and the massive highway building programs of the 1950's and 1960's were an inevitable side effect of the boom in homebuilding.
In 1915 the automobile was still a relatively new item for the mass market. As Henry Ford made the Model "T", the first automobile intended for every person. The garage was still detached from the primary house. While a car was originally a necessity for the commute to work, two car families became the norm. Thus the two-car garage was a necessity. 1955 the attached garage became a common element that continues to survive today.