The suburban dream houses of yesteryear are hot items today.
Fashions repeat themselves, and home designs are no different. Just wait long enough and your favorite residential style will come around again. In home design, the past frequently foretells the future.
House shoppers in 1899 might have run across a newspaper ad like this for one of the most popular styles of that era:
"FOR SALE--Beautiful Queen Anne, loaded with gingerbread, wraparound front porch, three-story turret, price $10,000."
Elements of Victorian architecture can be found today in neotraditional homes, which are enjoying a revival. Front porches are popular again, but the turret has disappeared, and the price has ballooned to almost $200,000.
"We've come full circle--from the traditional homes of the late 19th century to a renewed interest in traditional designs today," said Kevin Kazimer, director of business development for the Des Moines-based national architectural firm Bloodgood Sharp Buster, which has designed many houses in the Chicago area.
What was a winner in the 20th century could well come back into favor in the 21st. This 100-year time line of suburban housing winners could well give clues to what is ahead.
Queen Anne style is what people think of as Victorian. In last century's "Gay '90s," these houses presented a cheerful appearance because many sported multicolored paint jobs, accounting for their nickname, "Painted Ladies."
Their front porches provided two benefits--a cool place to sit on warm nights and social interaction at a time before radio and television.
Building these elaborate residences, a mix of architectural parts, was possible because of the availability of skilled craftsmen.
However, the future may not hold a true Victorian revival. "Victorians are difficult to duplicate," said Orren Pickell, a Bannockburn, Ill.-based designer and builder of custom houses. "Plus, there is the maintenance factor--$10,000 for repainting every five years."
At the turn of the century, a new style emerged that was to offer home buyers the opposite of the Victorian look.
Frank Lloyd Wright disliked Victorian houses, particularly because of the closed-in nature of the separate rooms on the first floor, which he felt kept people apart.
Wright responded with Prairie style, noted for its external simplicity and lack of ornamentation. Characterized by low-pitched roofs, overhanging eaves and horizontal lines, Prairie also featured an open interior floor plan, which has become standard in today's new homes.
While Wright's designs were on the cutting edge of modern architecture, the most popular houses in the first half of the century were the one-story bungalows in Craftsman style.
Often built for the average homeowner, bungalows were simple and functional, with front porches and gabled roofs. Bungalows became one of the most popular designs for smaller houses from 1900 to 1930.
They could be constructed on small lots because many people walked to public transportation, and garages were usually in the rear, on alleys.
Home construction declined during the Great Depression of the 1930s and the World War II years of 1941 to 1945. But then came the postwar housing boom that transformed suburban America.
"Builders learned how to manufacture housing almost on an assembly-line basis," said Barry Berkus of Berkus Design Studio in Santa Barbara, Calif.
Veterans formed families, and the baby boom generation was born. New highways paved the way for suburban subdivisions. The dwelling of choice was the ranch. As its name implies, it had its origins in the wide-open spaces of the American Southwest.
Ranches rambled. Never before had so much land been used for moderate-priced housing. A wider lot was necessary to accommodate the garages of the rapidly expanding car culture.
"In the Fifties, we were proud to have fins in the front yard," Berkus said. "But mass-produced homes resulted in less detail and ornamentation, and the architecture suffered."
"Before the housing boom of the 1950s, most people lived in either a palace or a box, depending on their income," said Gopal Ahluwalia, director of research at the National Association of Home Builders.
As families grew, people wanted more space. So the basic ranch began to expand. One answer was the split-level, which added a lower floor, usually for a family room. The television set then moved from the living room to a more appropriate location in the family room.
The escalation in size continued in the 1970s with the increasing popularity of the two-story Colonial, a design dating from pre-Revolutionary America. It was to dominate the housing scene for the last quarter-century.
In the Midwest, most houses being built by production builders are based on eclectic designs, a combination of Colonial and Williamsburg, said Al Bloom, president of Bloom Fiorino Architects Inc., based in Oak Brook, Ill. "These homes are characterized by horizontal siding, shutters, six-panel front doors and a boxy look," he said.
The NAHB has documented the bulking up of housing.
Fifty years ago, the average single-family home had 1,400 square feet of living area. Today, the average new home is 2,200 square feet. Two-story residences have grown in popularity, accounting for 50 percent of new homes now but only 17 percent back in 1970.
The return to neo-Colonial architecture was not what futurists had predicted. They thought people would live in aluminum-and-stainless-steel geodesic domes. These ultramodern dome homes were touted as economical, fireproof and weather-resistant.
Many of these far-out ideas sprang from the fertile mind of inventor R. Buckminster Fuller in the mid-1950s. But apparently his crystal ball was a bit cloudy.
Rather than zooming ahead into fantasy, new home designs in the 1980s and 1990s retreated further into the mists of the past for inspiration.
Far from looking "modern," they reflect a nostalgia for yesteryear. From the outside many of them look like Grandmother's house.
"Today, people don't want to live in outer space; they want to live in the house where they grew up. They want to return to an age of simpler times," said Kazimer of Bloodgood Sharp Buster.
One Chicago architect maintains that all houses are traditional because they borrow from what has been built before. Howard Decker of DLK Architecture Inc. noted that a "powerful neotraditional movement" is underway.
He pointed out that architecture is only the outer four inches of a building. But that outer shell can be all-important.
Kazimer said home designs are driven by two forces: the developer, who has a certain look in mind that will cater to a certain market, and the municipality, which has a longer-range vision for the town.
"Then the architect steps in and tries to blend the two views," Kazimer said.
If the builder proposes a unique project, the community may have to amend ordinances that have been on the books for decades. So change can be slow.
Mark Englund, a partner in HomeStyles, a St. Paul, Minn.-based firm selling mail-order home plans, confirmed that people want traditional designs. "Our top-selling plans are a throwback to the past. People want the look of earlier in the century," he said.
Of more than 20,000 plans sold for an average price of $500 last year, 88 percent had covered front porches, 80 percent had half-circle windows on the facade, 68 percent had dormers on the roof and 60 percent had shutters.
The country look was the most popular design (48 percent), followed by what HomeStyles refers to as Southern Colonial (28 percent), Federal (12 percent), Spanish/Floridian (8 percent) and Victorian (4 percent).
Englund stressed that HomeStyles plans are being purchased by people who want to build their own home and may not be satisfied with what local builders are offering.
The modern, or contemporary, look is not in vogue right now, Englund said.
Architect David Hovey, however, did not agree. Hovey's Optima Inc., based in Glencoe, Ill., has built a number of projects in the contemporary style. He and his family reside in a glass house.
He noted that in Europe, "everything is ultra-contemporary. They want something new because they are surrounded by magnificent old buildings, structures that may go back 2,000 years. In America, we go back only about 300 years."
Designing custom houses relies even more on inspiration from the past. Custom builder Pickell praised European homes of 200 or 300 years ago. "They had an eye for balance," he said.
Pickell noted that curb appeal is less important as you go down the line in price. "Architecture is not very significant in less expensive homes, but in the custom market the exterior is critical," he said. "People buy before they even go inside."
"What you want to say about yourself as people walk by is reflected in the facade of your house," said Joan Pomaranc, program director for the Chicago office of the American Institute of Architects.
Explaining the appeal of traditional designs, she said: "When a child draws a house, it suggests the pseudo-neo-Victorian look. It's comforting. Everybody likes bay windows and front porches."
What's ahead in the next millennium?
"Typical regional styles will spread out to all parts of the country," said the NAHB's Ahluwalia, who expects more changes on the outside of houses than inside in the next 10 to 15 years.
Architect Bloom believes what is popular today will stay in vogue with baby boomers. "But it's anybody's guess what Generation Xers will want."