Tuesday, May 16, 2006

Floor Plans

There are more reasons to arrange a home than just the fun of decorating. Every room and every item in the home has a purpose. Some of the houses of the 1920's make a lot more "sense" for the function of the family, than the houses that were built at the end of the 20th century.

For example, families spent more time in their homes, and things like having a view from the kitchen sink were important. One of the 1920's houses we lived in seemed to have a meaning in every corner.

At evening time, we could imagine the wife sitting in a favorite chair with just the right amount of evening sun shining across her book, her journal, or her mending.

The breakfast area was in just the right place in the house to observe the first light of day and the sunrise. A room facing north was just perfect for an artist who needed lots of good light and few shadows.

The bedrooms on the south side of the house were protected from the morning sun and the harsh evening sun. The living area took full advantage of the sunset. Trees and bushes which bloomed at certain times of the year, were placed where they would be most appreciated from the windows. A front porch was a perfect extension of the house, creating another family room where members sat in the evenings and waved to people walking or driving past.

Windows were similar to the the one you see here, from floor to ceiling. The kitchen, though separate from the eating areas, was visible from other rooms, so that those working in the kitchen could still keep an eye on the activities of the rest of the household, and speak to the rest of the family without having to shout.

Instead of having a garage in the front of the house, one had to drive around the back of the house to park. This made the front of the house far more picturesque. It reminds me of the carriage houses, that were built for the carriages. They were not in full view of the front of the house, as garages are today.

Contrast these houses from the 1800's and the 1920's and 1940's with the houses built in the 1960's and 70's. I lived in a few of them and was always depressed. I could never figure out how I could be so unhappy and yet have a house of my very own, but even the log house my father and mother built, that I grew up in, made more sense with the way the floor plans and windows were arranged. In these new tract homes, the windows were so high up on the wall, and so short in size, that no one cold see out of them. It made you feel as if you were locked up in an institution, away from the outdoors.

Children growing up in these homes were not able to spend hours and hours of time staring outside at the rain or watching things happen outside. What in the world were the architects of these "homes" thinking?

These houses also had a rush-rush feeling, as though the floor plans were designed for people to run home, get something, and run back out again. Everything was so convenient that it hardly warranted any kind of protocol or feeling to do it. One didn't think much about what they were doing, they just rushed in and rushed out. To help you understand what I am talking about, there were no entrances. You just opened the door, and there you were, right in someone's living room.

There was no place to hang your coat or lay down your umbrella or hat or handbag or briefcase. In spite of the conveniences these houses were giving, it was a lot of trouble to find a place for things. With no entrance, one had to go further down the hall to put their wraps away. When company came, all the coats and handbags had to go on the guest room bed.

Contrast this to the little entry ways of the houses of the previous century and the turn of the century: A little seating area just by the front door allowed people to wait for the father to get the car and drive up to the front step to fetch the family for an outing. In this area were hooks for coats and a place for boots and umbrellas.

There were many other problems of these modern homes. The dining rooms were almost eliminated in favor of a kitchen eating area. I found that this was not very relaxing. I liked a dining room because it was away from the mess in the kitchen, and encouraged us to set the table and sit down to eat together. I like to have both, if possible, and to have several areas to have meals: a breakfast room, a dining room, a place on the patio, and maybe another eating area in the family room. A person can certainly live without several eating areas, but at least a dining room adds a feeling of specialness to eating, as well as architectural interest in the lay out of the floor plans.

Romantic Homes magazine, Country Decorating Ideas, and Cottage Style magazine have had several articles in the past few years, that have shown how enterprising women and men have taken tract homes and made them beautiful by adding architectural interest and rooms within rooms, to give them living areas where none were intended. One article showed how a living room was divided in half by a short bookshelf, to enable the couple to have a dining room. They hung a plug-in chandelier from a hook in the ceiling, and created a soothing eating area away from the kitchen.

These houses did not have much access to the back yard and the back door. Whereas the family dwelling of the 1920's may have had a back entry area where people could leave their gardening gloves and wash their hands before entering the main part of the house, the tract home had no convenient access to the back door (it was usually fenced) unless you were already in the house. In one of the older homes we lived in, our children loved to come home from somewhere, get out of the car, and run around to the back part of the house.

I sometimes wonder if some of the homes of the 60's and 70's were built in light of the transient family and unstable marriages. They had "resale value" instead of sentimental value.

Comments are open.


Calla Lilly said...

I have a love for old homes, with all of their nooks and detailed wood work. There is a subdivision here where the homes are all built in the style of 1940's bungalows. All the garages are in the back of the homes via alleys. We would love to live there; it's wonderful.

Terri said...

My parents live in a charming house which was built in the late 20's as part of a textile mill village. I, on the other hand, live in a ranch house which was built in the mid-70's. I only recently realized - and especially after reading this- why I don't like my house. I am grateful for my house but it isn't very charming and it is kind of depressing - no matter how much I try to lighten it up. My parents' house has large windows, lots of light and charming features. As you have stated, the kind of house built in the 70's isn't very welcoming.

Mrs.B. said...

Hi Mrs. Sherman! I just purchased a digital camera and I've posted some pictures of our living and dining room.

Just thought I'd let you know since you like to look at homes. (o:

~Mrs. B

Lady Lydia Speaks said...

Some of the magazines I mentioned do a marvelous job of showing 70's homes that are renovated. They are unrecognizable from that period. They add porches and entry ways, and if they cannot afford to do that, people put in moveable room divider screens and add dimensional carvings to the edges of the ceilings. One man I know made an arched doorway between the living and kitchen. If you couldn't afford to do that, you could always stencil a vine that would give an optical illusion. Having floor to ceiling windows really helps the atmosphere of those boxy homes, but so many of them were brick halfway up, making it difficult to reconstruct them.

Lady Lydia Speaks said...

Mrs. B. I sure can't beat that! These are beautiful pictures.

Anonymous said...

Mrs Sherman, we live in a 1950s house, which is tiny but the windows are so huge, letting in lots of lovely light. The living room is around the back of the house so it is south facing and private. The main problems are that our neighbours are not quiet and the walls are thin (it's a semi-detatched), the neighbourhood is not great, the kitchen does not look over the garden (so I can't watch the children playing) and the front of our house is a mish-mash of odd shaped windows and drainage pipes. I long for a little house of dreams, but I am grateful to God that we have a roof over our head on one income. Our house is up for sale and we are trusting God for His will in this.

Mrs.Garcia said...

Mrs.Sherman, I just loved going over to my Grandmother's Home when I was little it was small but it always had an abudance of windows that let in alot of natural light.
I miss My Grandmother Dearly and I am sorry to say my Parents sold my Grandmother's Home. I want to recreate Her home in my home.
I felt at peace and I truely felt it was home.

Page said...

I have younger wives that are soon to embark on house hunting and I will share this article with them. Now I know why the older homes are so appealing to us. Your descriptions and thoughts on why these floor plans work rings so true. I had never thought it through, I just knew when visiting such homes you felt such peace and harmony some how. Thankyou again for bringing more beauty to the light. God has surely given you much insight and you in turn have used that to teach so many.

Mrs.B. said...

Thank you Mrs. Sherman!

Our home was built in 1963 and we are so blessed because there are windows in EVERY room, even the bathrooms. Since homes from that era don't have any architectual interest, I tried to create the interest with paint and furnishings. We also have a HUGE window (it takes up almost all of one wall) in our living room.

Thanks again for stopping by and taking a look, Mrs. Sherman! (o:

Kim in PA said...

Older homes have more charm. There are way too many cookie-cutter homes built today!

Shannon said...

My home is from the 40's and in much need of some TLC. I have a picture window on the east side of the house. So much wonderful light throughout the day. Unfortunately it is not a quality window so in the winter a lot of cold air comes with it. Working on a window covering that will help that. I can stand at my kitchen and look out into my back yard and soon to be garden. And yes a small bathroom window, this is the only one that it high.

Someone "remodeled" the garage--at the back of the house--which I got to say disturbs the flow of the house. Unfortunatly we use the old garage for our bedroom. I think it would be wonderful to return the house to its original floor plan.

Two years ago we took out the carpet and refinished the hardwood floors it helped immensely with the "character" of this little home (about 1275 sq ft and 7 people).

Thank you for this wonderful article, it helps me appreciate my little house that much more!

Lady Lydia Speaks said...

One matter of optimism in these houses is that you can do whatever you want with them. Unlike a home build in the 20's through the 50's, he has no distinct style that you have to stick to when refurbishing it. It is often shaped like a shoebox, and you can add whatever elements you wish to give it shape. You can make it Victorian, Shabby Chic, Colonial, Federalist, Homestead, Western, Country, or English Cottage, if you like, just by the color, textures, accessories, shapes, pictures, and furniture you collect for it.

Mrs. L. said...

This article was my first trip to your site. Thank you for your encouraging wise words. We are moving to a more country atomosphere in the next two months - part of our desire to keep home and hearth a priority. You have put into words what I have been thinking - I desire a house that speaks to the purpose of "home". A view from the kitchen window is so important to me (A view of beauty and one that aids the supervision of the children). I also agree so much on your comments about dining room and entry way with a place for coats,etc. I want my children to have a sense that they are welcomed when they come in from work and play outside and not greeted with "Don't put your coat there!". Thank you so much. I look forward to reading more helpful articles on your site as we look for ideas and priorities on selecting our new home!

Debra said...

I loved this article *and* Mrs. B's photos of her lovely home! (Especially loved the livingroom with the red sofa and breakfast table...). She inspired me to post pictures of inside my own home which was built in 1937. You can find the photos here:


I have mostly decorated with curb-finds and stuff from yard sales. I've always been a homemaker and a penny-pincher, too. :)As always, thanks for these thought-provoking posts! ... Debra

LadySnow said...

We are currently renting a farm house that was built prior to 1890. The fire place is covered up and the wall between the front parlor and the living room as been knocked out to make one large room. I like it a lot. I love the large windows and so do my children. They are able to look outside without having to step up onto a chair or something to see. I hope to one day design my own home that will let lots of light in just as this one does.

Lady Lydia Speaks said...

Better Homes and Gardens online has a few pictures of a trailer home which the owners really did a great job re-decorating and making comfortable. Besides the kitchen area, they put an eating area in the living room, which, when not in use is a table between the two chairs, just the right height for putting a lamp and books to read. I have lived in one of these and find them quite cozy and even more fun than a brand new house! An entry way can be created with furniture or plants.

Kelleigh said...

I've found it's difficult to find a newer home with a proper laundry room. They are usually painfully small and difficult to work in!

Anonymous said...

Very enlightening.........and true too.

Lady Lydia Speaks said...

Everyone take a peek at Kelleigh's blog and her links--beautiful!


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