Wednesday, April 26, 2006

Small Houses of the 1920's

We've been reading about house-building in America in the early 1900's. The President of the U.S., along with others, developed a plan for smaller homes to be built so that everyone could have a house. If you got the houseplans, nine other little booklets were included, dealing with landscaping, gardening, interior decorating and home improvement. They were considered "small" because they were a departure from the grand Victorian homes of the 1800's, but by todays standards, they are large. After reading this article, you may begin to notice quite a few of these houses in your town. These were also called "bungalows," miniature Victorians, and miniature southern colonial.

This blue house is from

President Harding, at the dedication of the "Home Sweet Home" at Washington, stated:

"The home is at last not merely the center, but truly the aim, the object and the purpose of all human organization. We do not see to improve society in order that from better homes we may bring forth better servants of the state, more efficient cannon fodder for its armed forces; rather, we seek to make better homes in order that we may avoid the necessity for conflict and turmoil in our world.

"The home is the apex and the aim, the end rather than the means of our whole social system. So far as this world knows or can vision, there is no attainment more desireable than the happy and contented home."

(Interior sketches from

From a newspaper of the year of this housing project; (Can you imagine a newspaper writing this today?"):

"Of the man's part in the building of a home, all that the normal man does, in the struggle for life, is really that he may have a happy home, wehre he can rear his family, give them such advantages as his means can afford, and start them in their own lives with such aid as will best help them.

"The crowning joy of the typical man is in the home, to which he can repair when his day's work is done.

"But whatever the joy which the man gets from a happy home, it pales into insignificance when compared with the radiance which it brings to the soul of the gracious personage who, by her own competence, her own self-sacrifice, and out of the depths of such love as is beyond the comprehension of any man, makes the home what it is, and where she reigns supreme.

"No other ideal has the beauty of the ideal home. No other purpose can be nobler than increasing their number and their comfort. No other theme could be more inspiring."
More information here from other sources:

The Better Homes Campaign
Better Homes in America, Inc., a private organization founded in 1922, spearheaded a national campaign for domestic reform focused on educating homeowners about quality design and construction. Promoted by The Delineator, a popular Butterick publication for women, the organization gained the support of U.S. Secretary of Commerce Herbert Hoover and formed a nationwide network of local committees that encouraged both the construction of new homes and home remodeling projects. A national demonstration home, "Home Sweet Home," a modernized version of songwriter John Howard Paynes's Long Island birthplace, was constructed on the National Mall in 1923, and "Better Homes Week" activities and competitions were held nationwide. Annual competitions recognized the work of architects, such as Royal Barry Wills of Boston and William W. Wurster of San Francisco, whose small house designs would influence popular taste nationwide for homes described as New England Colonial or Monterey Revival.(117)

from another source:

Better Homes MovementThe Better Homes Movement was a nationwide campaign initiated in 1922 in the pages of the Butterick Publishing Company's household magazine, The Delineator. The campaign celebrated home ownership, home maintenance and improvement, and home decoration as means of motivating responsible consumer behavior that also expanded the market for consumer products. In cities and towns across the country, annual campaigns--or "better homes demonstration weeks"--encouraged citizens to own, build, remodel, and improve their homes and distributed advice on creating home furnishings and decorations. The Guidebook for Better Homes Campaigns in Rural Communities and Small Towns shows how the campaign sought to communicate its ideas. School Cottages for Training in Home-making shows how high-school courses incorporated the ideas of the campaign.

The Better Homes Movement received broad support from both government and industry. President Coolidge served as honorary chairman of the Advisory Council of Better Homes in America, and Secretary of Commerce Herbert Hoover, a prime mover in that organization's formation, was president of its board of directors. The movement sought to educate consumers, but it also served the interests of powerful groups and organizations. The connection between the campaign's educational and commercial concerns is illustrated by Herbert Hoover's essay "The Home as an Investment," in the Better Homes in America Plan Book for Demonstration Week, October 9 to 14, 1922.
See also: "Homemaker-Consumer Life in Washington, D.C., 1922-23" from the Anna Kelton Wiley Papers.

Published in 1922 by the Bureau of Information of Better Homes in America, this pamphlet consists of one letter, a plan proposal, and nine essays prepared by government and other authorities on the significance of Better Homes campaigns and on various phases of home- building. The first two essays, written by President Calvin Coolidge and Secretary of Commerce Herbert Hoover, encourage home ownership and discuss the home as the foundation of American social institutions. Other components include a blueprint for Better Homes Demonstration Week from October 9 to October 14, 1922, and essays on house construction, interior decoration, and the impact of zoning on the home. An organizational chart for Better Homes in America, with its National Advisory Council and Bureau of Information at the top and seven subcommittees at the bottom, appears on page 10.

This is just one example of the 1920's houses. There are many different styles.


Lydia said...

You can read about this on page 279 of the book "500 Small Houses of the Twenties" by Henry Atterbury Smith, published by Dover

Kelli said...

I live in Australia and have seen building plans for the "American cottages" of the turn of the century described. Have always smiled as they are so big! Our newsagents sell plans for old style American homes. They are very beautiful. My husband bought several copies a while back (he used to restore heritage Australian homes and takes an interest in the construction older style, Australian, European and American homes).

Also appreciated what President Harding said at the dedication of the "Home Sweet Home" project in America. The integrity of the home and family unit are critical to the wellbeing of society. This idea however, is really going out of vogue among Australian social scientists today (as a nation we are taking on too many socialist policies that undermine the family. But that is another story).

I currently work with Australia's health and social statistics. It has been interesting to note that home ownership is associated with many beneficial outcomes for individuals and families. It is therefore good government policy to encourage home ownership.

In Australia we have a saying, "A man's home is his castle". It's an old saying, but is still popular here. It basically means that once a man steps into his home he is king and may operate as he chooses, he has freedom and security from the outside world there. ‘His castle’ is a haven of security and comfort for his family. As you may have guessed this traditional Aussie value is being challenged in recent years however...

Elly said...

Thanks for the post and the links! I think there's a 'charm' to 1920's architecture that's missing today. Functionality was built into the homes!

Theodora Elizabeth said...

I live in Chicago, in the midst of tidy little brick bungalows built in the 1920s-1940s. They are lovely little homes. Usually large living room/dining room combo, two bedrooms downstairs and a "half-story" with bedrooms in the attic. I wish I could afford one of these, but they often go for upwards of $300,000!

My side of town is called "the bungalow belt."

Here are some pictures:

Kelli said...

Theodora, thanks for the pictures, the bungalows look charming. In Adelaide, South Australia where I grew up "California bungalows" are quite common. My husband's family grew up in one. They now sell for about $500,000.00 AUD (roughly $380,000 US).

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Philippines properties said...

What a lovely 1920's home.

Paula M