What Your House Says About You?

By the turn of the 20th century, industrialization and immigration had American cities teeming. At the same time, the middle class grew and gelled. Mass transportation opened up previously inaccessible regions to development. And the suburban housing model began to form. The bones of this model are evident in Philadelphia’s rail serviced inner suburbs from Overbrook into the heart of the Main Line, and from Elkins Park to Jenkintown and beyond. Stone manor houses with center halls, formal living and dining rooms, modest eat-in kitchens, small bedrooms and small shared bathrooms all wrapped up in styles that were variations on a theme.

A pre-war generation grew up in these houses and took with them the sense that those elements represented “home.” And these plans reflected a decade’s old formality characterized by the living room or “parlor” and the dining room. They further reflected strictly defined gender roles and in the more affluent suburbs, a reliance on domestic help manifested by servant’s kitchens, back stairs and a carriage approach to the automobile that if housed was housed in a detached structure. Architects of the time, sensitive to the potential effects great social change was having on housing explored the meaning of home in this new context. As homeownership became more standard and less of an ideal, Architects theorized and worked to create homes for a new age. The “modern” housing movement which started in America as early as the late 1900‘s on the heels of changes in Europe paralleled great changes in music, drama, art, philosophy and science. In America, the modern movement paralleled social changes that accompanied the nation’s move to a military and industrial superpower as well as it’s increasing political and social liberalization. Stripped of stylistic baggage, the modern home was a thoughtful approach to lifestyle that anticipated women’s liberation, the importance of the automobile, the rapid adoption of machines as labor saving devices and the associated growth of leisure time. Furthermore, the modern home incorporated technological advances in materials and production. Socially altruistic notions of a home for every family regardless of income were as prevalent then as today and resonated even more with tenement living a not so distant memory and the New Deal yet to come. Following the 20 year disruption of Depression and World War II, suburbanization continued but at an altogether heated pace as the factors that seeded the suburban concept matured, fed by massive affluence.