The Fashion of Housing

It seems like some many fashions come full circle, including some aspects of housing. I can’t help but think of the predecessor to our current homes. For the middle class, after we moved past caves or cliff dwellings to actual individual homes they were usually one-room structures. If I understand my history correctly, many of these homes were the size of today’s garages and were one room with a heat source like a wood burning stove or fireplace, that kept the everybody warm and allowed for the cooking of meals.

We saw housing evolve as indoor plumbing, electrical and other connivances became available. Rooms were added to the home for cooking, personal hygiene, and separated sleeping areas. After the 2nd world war, and as our affluence grew, the size of homes expanded. I remember as a child after the war when my grandparents got indoor plumbing and we no longer had to make that cold run to the outhouse in the middle of the night. They also closed in a screened porch to create more sleeping rooms. Homes now had separate spaces for the kitchen, dining, and living areas.

In the 1960s and 70s we saw more changes. Middle class Americans wanted formal entries, 2 or more bathrooms, family rooms, 2 car garages that were attached to the homes. Housing size grew even more when a basement or makeshift ‘rec’ (recreation) room wasn’t enough. By the 70s and 80s, we wanted a family room attached to the kitchen for our informal daily livings and we certainly wanted each bedroom to have a closet.

By the 1980s and 90s, more woman worked outside the home and the families needs changed with the change in family dynamics. With two working parents in most families, the main time the family spent together was around mealtime at the end of the day. The desire for separated, and/or formal, spaces have decreased. Mom and Dad want to be able cook the meal, interact with the kids over homework, catch up on everybody’s day, and maybe catch some of the news without being left out.

So now the style is "the great room" where walls between food preparation and living areas are removed and there is enough room for many activities to be happening at once without segregation. While square footage of the home, and the master suites within the home, are larger and larger, formal living and dining rooms, if included in new homes, have become smaller and smaller, replace with the more user friendly and causal "great room."

Today when I show country property with acreage, particularly when the original home was built between the late 1800s to the early 1900s, questions I’m often asked are: "Why did they build this home down here instead of up where the view is?" or, "Why, with all this land, is the home so close to the road, instead of set back with privacy?" If we take ourselves back in time, we realize that most views come with more weather exposure, and when built in the valley, are more protected. We also try to imagine what it would be like getting to remote properties before paved road access! I imagine if I were building at that time, I would want to be near to access roads.

Today we also have the benefit of so many improved materials, such as double paned windows, highly effective insulation, and central or solar heating. This means we can have many more windows and higher ceilings than our forefathers ever dreamed of. Then homes were built with few windows and low ceilings to keep the heat in, whereas today we can have light, open space and views without giving up comfort.

Housing and lifestyle go hand in hand to create housing fashion. While we have a lot more house and more separated places in our homes than the pioneer, the current housing fashion has gravitated back to casual communal spaces where everyone can gather together, and now with the added advantage of light open space that suites today’s lifestyle.