Remodeling 1930s Homes

Remodeling a house from an earlier era like the 1930s often means encountering assumptions about family and home life that seem cramped and uncomfortable today. Knowing the values held by 1930s builders, the homeowners they served and the way houses were built will help you keep the best of the spirit and structure as you remodel your older home to meet the needs of your modern family.

Social Turmoil and the 1930s

Houses built in the 1930s were typically small and simple.

Houses built in the 1930s reflected the upheaval of two preceding decades: the shock of World War I, the collapse of rural life and the urbanization related to the Great Depression, and optimism about mechanization and its labor-saving capacities. Rapid urbanization created an intense need for low-cost efficient housing. Both the war and the Great Depression had turned American eyes toward a larger world and its architectural styles. Houses of the 1930s reflect the prevalent desperation for steady employment. Hard work and abundant local materials are reflected in solid masonry and paving and cabinetry built to last, solid structures for fragile times.

1930s Design Impacts

In rapidly growing towns and cities, Prairie-style and Four Square houses evoked the clean lines and gracious spaces of idealized rural homes. Clean lines and careful use of all available interior space characterized another source of rapid urban development: the factory-kit house. Kit houses took advantage of factory precision, shipping low-priced small to midsize houses that could be assembled locally. For these bungalow styles, the watchwords were efficiency and economy. Spaces under stairs or windows came with storage built-ins, and floor spaces assumed new, streamlined fixtures and appliances like washing machines and whole-house furnaces. Sears pioneered balloon frame construction, an early version of drywall and asphalt shingles, all of which made homes more economical. For both small- and larger-home owners, houses that "revived" the most distinctive qualities of British Isles, French or Spanish houses combined good craftsmanship and newly valued efficiency.

Saving Assets

When remodeling a house from the 1930s, bear in mind the availability of both good materials and good workmanship when the house was built. Most often, subsequent owners have covered some of your home's assets with layers of paint, linoleum or peel-and-stick tile. Strip test patches on beams, floors, steps and woodwork to reveal original hardwoods that will enhance your renovation. Expect durable plaster work and stone work. Look at kit-house plans, still available in print catalogs, to determine what may be under layers of partial renovations. Revival houses may display the work of local artisans in woodwork, wrought iron and other decorative materials.

Keeping Remodeling in Proportion

Especially if expansion is part of your plan, a successful renovation attempts to keep the spirit of the original design by using similar proportions. The newest commercially available window designs may provide the light you have always craved but at a cost of disrupting design integrity. Duplicating historical window, door, step and trim dimensions will bond new areas visually to old ones, creating a "just right" feel to the whole project. Combine pattern books and architectural histories with your own measurements and observations for a unified look. Learning more about the critical stylistic elements of your 1930s house may even let you repair the poor choices of previous renovations.

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