What did a typical 1950s prefab home look like? This. It looked like this.
Look what’s happening to prefabs! (1958)
by Evan Frances and Joseph B Mason
Will you ever forget Baby’s first faltering steps and how excited you became? Well, that’s how it was with house-hungry folks at their first sight of a postwar prefabricated home.
No matter that its various parts had been mass-produced by assembly-line methods, the assembled house meant home — immediately available and low-priced — to thousands of just-married and together-at-last couples who yearned for warm family living after the lonely war years. And so the postwar prefab, humble and unimaginative as it was, was gobbled up eagerly.
But like Baby who grew steadily into his first manful strides, the prefab grew up… and out… and bigger… and handsomer, until today it can look as individual an as important as the best-designed custom home.
Take for example the impressive prefab shown on these pages. Based on an original design scheme of the famous architect Minoru Yamasaki, manufactured by the Modern Homes Corporation of Dearborn, Michigan, and built in Livonia, Michigan, in 60 days by Slavik Builders of Detroit. It is as far a cry from the die-cut rigid prefab of yesteryear, as Baby’s toddling is from his sure-footed sprints for the school bus these days.
Here is a prefab with built-in flexibility in its concept, the purpose of which is to let you help plan your own home to suit your family’s needs and way of living. Yamasaki’s system recognizes two centers of family life — one for living, the other for sleeping. These units are separate, but positioned for easy interconnection to form a complete core for daytime and nighttime use.
1950s prefab home front exterior
Double entry-door and large planter add luxury note to a prefab
See this 1950s prefab home’s floorplan
This floor plan shows upper level with 1,634 square feet of living space. Lower level (right) adds 600 more.
The prefab home was common in the suburbs
In the Yamasaki-designed prefab shown here, there is the “living” unit consisting of upper-level living room, dining area, kitchen, dinette (or under-Mom’s-eyes play area), lower-level family room and laundry and utility-workshop. And then there is the “sleeping” unit consisting of bedrooms and baths.
The prefabricator of this home offers three basic living units and three basic sleeping units in different sizes to choose from and combine to give you any one of nine basic floor plans. These can be flipped left or right or back to front for an infinite variety of plans.
Are there teenagers in your family who want good-size bedrooms for sleep, study, hobbies, and overnight guests? And does your family like to gather for gabfests in the kitchen? Then you can choose a prefab home with four ample bedrooms in the sleeping unit combined with a minimum living room and maximum kitchen in the living unit.
Does your family do a heap of entertaining? Then you may decide on an arrangement with a maximum living unit coupled with a sleeping unit of minimum bedrooms.
What’s more, you can have the units combined with full or half basement, lower living area, carport or garage, and patios… and arranged horizontally or vertically to take best advantage of your site, whether flat, sloping, narrow, or wide. Add these components — flexibility of floor plan… site plan… size… orientation — and it is easy to see why this kind of planning may be the answer to your prayer for a home-as-you-like-it at a reasonable price!
Kitchen & dinette in a 1950s suburban house
Half of home’s upper “living” unit includes, entry, dinette, kitchen, and lavatory. Wall facing these areas (which is other side of living room wall) contains built-in shelves, a desk niche, and a wall oven.
Downstairs family room with mid-century interior decor
Family room makes this prefab truly a home for private lives. With its acoustical-tile ceiling and its placement in lower level (below “living” and away from “sleeping” unit of house), teenagers like Jackie and Loretta Rhodes (above) could stage a pajama party for the senior class without disturbing their napping little sister or their book-reading parents upstairs.
Rear view of this 1950s suburban house
Upper and lower “living” areas are at the right of brick fireplace wall; sleeping unit is at left.
Opposite end of the mid-century modern living room
Mrs James Rhodes and daughter Debra love the open-air look of the room, achieved largely with sparsely-adorned white walls. Stairs, beyond dining table, lead to lower-level family room.
The four bedrooms in 1950s prefab home
Sleep-sofa, TV, built-in wardrobe (not shown), and wood folding door (right) make this bedroom-den ideal for teenagers or overnight guests.