Robert Heinlein's minimalist home of the future from 1952


A 1952 issue of Popular Mechanics has an article about Robert Heinlein's 1,150-square-foot home in Colorado Springs, Colorado, which he designed for extreme efficiency. For instance, a table rolls between the kitchen and the dining room to make it easy to set and clear tableware and food dishes. Skylights have mirrors to reflect more light into the rooms. Most of the furniture is built in.

"The built-in bed with storage drawers beneath it, the built-in divans that can be converted to extra beds and all the other furniture are built right down to the floors," Heinlein says. "There is nothing to clean under.

"There are no rugs or any need for them. All floors are surfaced with cork tile that provides a warm, comfortable and clean footing. Nor are there any floor lamps or table lamps. The illumination is built into the house. General lighting for the living room comes from cold-cathode tubes concealed behind a box molding. These illuminate the ceiling. Adjustable wall spotlights are located at all work and relaxation areas in the house. All electric convenience outlets are at a comfortable hip height. I'm through stooping over to the baseboard whenever I want to plug in an appliance.

After the Heinleins moved in the 1960s, the house was extensively remodeled and enlarged, but apparently the bomb shelter "survives in almost original condition."

A House to Make Life Easy (Via Unclutterer)


    1. of course that wouldn’t be in the floor plans! nor would the lime pit or the booby trapped bomb shelter back entrance.

  1. The cork floor is rather clever. I doubt the quality of cork paneling you can buy today can hold a candle to what you used to be able to buy. Most cork paneling today is ground up, glued together, MDF-like cork leftovers not even worthy of being used in wine bottles. Cork panels made of solid cork would be easy to clean and pretty durable though.

    I lived in a house built in 1911 which had electrical sockets at waist height. Nothing prettier than a black wallwart with a cell phone hanging from it against a white wall. Night-lights seemed to shed a lot more light when they weren’t at ankle height though.

  2. That sucks. Why buy something that unique if you’re just going to remodel it? Although maybe in the 60s this was just dated and didn’t have that awesome retro-nostalgia feel. Would love to see some better pictures than what’s in Popular Mechanics.

    1. Because not everyone would want to live as the Heinleins did–heck, for that matter, I wonder if RAH re-created this house when they moved, or if their needs and desires had changed significantly, or if RAH had just decided not to have everything engineered so tightly that it squeaks. Although I admire some of the details of this house, overall it seems more than a little anal–as if RAH couldn’t abide the thought of there being a single cubic foot of non-floor space that didn’t have a built-in storage cabinet.

  3. Seems like a good, workable idea. Unfortunately, it also seems like the kind of idea that gets twisted to wring as much money as possible, out of as many people as possible, while giving them as little as possible in return.

    Like the cubicle.

  4. Two thoughts: Some friends in Bonny Doon were neighbors and would visit that house – their comments were that many of the innovations were in rather sad condition. Second, I used to live in an Eichler style house in Menlo Park with cork floors and radiant heat – do you have ANY IDEA how much it cost to heat that big slab of concrete under that lovely cork (which by the way doesn’t look quite so lovely after a few decades of stains and mold)? Imagine a heating bill that competes in cost with your mortgage.

  5. Stewart Brand wrote a great book — How Buildings Learn — about how homes and offices adapt through time to fit the needs of the current occupant.

    Some types of buildings adapt really well. Brand cited Cape Cod houses (easy to expand with dormers and new wings) and a certain building on the MIT campus (wood frame, WWII era shed which was really easy to modify).

    Others . . . no so much.

    I’m going to go out on a limb and say that Heinlein’s house suited him and Virginia and their lifestyle just fine. But not a couple with kids and other needs.

    1. When I was a real estate agent, I had a listing appointment with a guy who had turned a three-bedroom house into a one-bedroom house with one really, really humongous bathroom. He wanted it priced like all the other three-bedroom houses. He seemed surprised that I didn’t take the listing.

  6. I wonder if the Heinleins had looked at Buckminster Fuller’s contemporary Dymaxion House in Wichita, Kansas, about 400 miles to the east of Colorado Springs, for inspiration:

    And did the Heinleins’ home in Colorado Springs provide cover for the polyamorous sex and possibly illegal relationships with underage girls which show up in Robert’s later fiction? According to the accounts I’ve read, swinging started in American military communities during the Second World War and had spread into the suburbs in the 1950’s, so Heinlein could have made connections to spouse-swapping military couples stationed in Colorado through his friends in the armed services. As for his other sexual obsession, it wouldn’t surprise me if some now late 60-ish woman came forward with stories about her creepy neighbor, Mr. Heinlein, who lived down the street from her in Colorado Springs in the 1950’s.

  7. I’ve been in that bomb shelter. In 1997, a friend and I were driving across the country and stopped by to see the house. The lady who owned the home (whose folks had purchased it from the Heinleins) not only agreed to let us take a few snaps from the outside (the house is up a bit of a drive, not easily photographed from the street), but invited us in for a grand tour, including of the bomb shelter. It was very cool to stand in the converted washroom where he wrote “The Moon is a Harsh Mistress.” The house has, unfortunately, been since majorily modified so it’s not as it was, but still very cool indeed.

  8. I was at Heinlein’s home in Bonny Doon a couple of times. Two things were memorable besides meeting my favorite author. He deigned the new home. It had a couch built into the wall that curved from one end of the room to the other. It was configured to widen the seating as it curved to accommodate female leg stats to then male stats at the other end. Clever. The other was me lying down on a fur spread. Nope. It yowled, scrambeld and scared the crap out of me. The HUGEST cat I have to this day ever met. LOL. Made the visit to the couples’ home memorable, indeed.

  9. I grew up in a custom house my parents built in the Los Angeles area. The huge living room has a built-in couch along two walls – “Arab style”. Cool for parties. My father still lives there.

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