Yesterday's amazing house of tomorrow is today's boring house of today

The June 1935 issue of Popular Mechanics had an article called "The HOUSE that RUNS ITSELF," and it describes a cutting-edge, supermodern house of the age of marvels. The house in question is so marvellous because it contains all the basic stuff we now take for granted and it's kind of wonderful to hear it described with all this breathless excitement:
Imagine, if you can, the delight of the woman who steps into her "ready made" house and finds the kitchen already equipped with electric refrigerator, dishwasher, sink, electric or gas stove, built-in clock, abundant cupboard space--and even a two-day supply of groceries on the shelves. And she never will be bothered by cooking odors because an electric exhaust quickly removes smoke, dust and fumes from the kitchen. In addition to the windows, indirect lighting gives plenty of illumination for her work in the compactly designed room.

In the bathroom, this same housewife will find bathtub complete with shower and anti-splash curtain, the large basin that also may serve as the baby's bathtub, triple adjustable mirrors for her husband's morning shave and an extra electric heater for warming up the room quickly. The conditioned air issues from grills set into the wall near the floor and a built-in clock tells the "man of the house" just how long he has before his train or street car comes along. The packaged home is prefabricated, having a steel frame and walls of asbestos-cement, a material that looks like stucco. That means that it is fireproof, termite-proof, practically earthquake and hurricane proof and protected against lightning. Scientific insulation not only assures the owner of getting his money's worth out of his fuel, but it combines with acoustical ceiling materials to give the extra advantage of soundproofing. The house is built on a cement foundation with three feet of air space below the first floor. Since the motor unit does all the work, a basement is unnecessary.

The HOUSE that RUNS ITSELF (Jun, 1935)

40

    1. To be fair, these days you still have to supply your own clocks in kitchens and bathrooms, for the most part.

      1. Or learn how to set the clock on the stove or the microwave.

        Still no built in clock in my bathroom though. That’s good though. I don’t like to feel rushed.

  1. Some years ago, I read a really similar article from a 1930’s issue of Popular Mechanics about a house in the amazing year 1975 (I think).

    It was pretty similar to this article, in fact, but with one difference: there would be no radiators in the futuristic 70s, because the walls would emit microwaves to keep the occupants warm.

    It makes you wonder what innocuous-seeming things we do now that will horrify future folks: “did you know that up through the 2020s, people would stand RIGHT NEXT to an unshielded toaster? They had no idea of the death rays pouring out of those glowing wires!”

    1. I think that our grand children are going to be shocked that we manually drove cars at 60 MPH at each other.

      And living in a house on a slab with the central air/heat vents in the floor — a leak or too much rain is not pleasant. I also would love to have a basement.

  2. Why this perfectly describes my basement-free steel-frame asbestos-cement house along the streetcar line. And of course, I AM the “man of the house.”

  3. Where can I get my hands on some of this “scientific” insulation that they describe? If I ask Home Depot, will they know what I’m talking about?

    1. I believe that by “scientific insulation” they were referring to the previous sentence about asbestos-cement.

      Home Depot can likely tell you about it, but I would think they’d be prohibited by law from selling you some.

  4. Just wait. Then wait some more. Then, after the “Futuristic House of Tomorrow” has passed through being the “Ho-Hum House of Today,” it will eventually become the “(Antique, Retro, Nostalgic, Heritage, Vintage – pick one) House of Yesteryear.”

    Just wait.

  5. Forget the house, where can I get a housewife who is delighted by the idea of cooking my meals and tidying the bathroom?

    (I kid. I wouldn’t trade my honeybunny for the best robo-maid the world has to offer.)

  6. For all the women and girls out there who are right now walking more than a mile to fetch water, I truly, truly appreciate my boring modern house.

  7. “steel frame and walls of asbestos-cement, a material that looks like stucco. That means that it is fireproof, termite-proof, practically earthquake and hurricane proof and protected against lightning”

    Too bad we have somehow skipped that stage and are now building fire-traps! (See earlier BoingBoing article)

    Personally, I am happy to be living in a house that was started about 1908 and which has been added onto 15 times (no, it’s still tiny: things like porches and enclosed stairs to the basement) which has wood chip insulation.

    If the house burns down at least it won’t release a lot of toxic chemicals into the atmosphere. (It might release Hanta virus because the walls are always full of mice rearranging the insulation to their own particular advantage.)

    And in the meantime nobody will get a variety of lung diseases from inhaling asbestos fibres. :}

    1. Yeah, rather sad that streetcars are seen as something old and antiquated in the US. I live in a city with dozens of streetcar lines (and buses and commuter rail and an extensive subway system) and it seems to work quite well.

      1. I was being snarky.

        The idea that one style of house would suit everyone in a country as large as the U.S., with as many different climates as we have, is a common theme in these futuristic houses (which always seem to be designed for southern California or Florida).

        You need different foundations in different parts of the country. Different building materials. Different insulation. Different types of roofs. Etc. etc.

        I was just having fun with that one detail. Feel free to substitute something from your own region instead.

  8. I don’t get it: since the motor unit does all the work, a basement is unnecessary? Is this a ventilation thing about the basement being used for cooling in the summer?

    I still want a basement. Had a house with a slab for a while – if a pipe breaks or even leaks a little, you are not going to be a happy camper. I much prefer having all systems accessible for maintenance and repair.

    1. I think it’s implying you don’t need the coal furnace in the basement anymore since it’s forced induction. On older furnaces before fans, having it in the basement was necessary since heat rises…

  9. What’s also notable is how, at least in North America, the “train or street car” thing has gone backwards from that time…

  10. Oh to live in a house with out a dishwasher, range, oven, and fridge! Oh wait, that’s called being homeless. Or camping. Although one could argue against the camping bit.

    Anyway, glad to have all these things.

    1. “Oh to live in a house with out a dishwasher, range, oven, and fridge! Oh wait, that’s called being homeless. Or camping. Although one could argue against the camping bit.”

      Actually, I believe it’s called college dormitories. :D

      Although, our fridge and range/oven both died recently (and we don’t have a dishwasher) so it was just us and the good ol’ “Chef Mike” (microwave) for awhile. O_O;

  11. No basement? Where the hell would I drink martinis while hiding away from my kids after a long day cleaning the darned house?

  12. Is the breathless wonder that these luxuries are present in the home at all, or that they’re put there by the contractor?

    All of these accommodations were standard features of my grandparents’ California home that was built in the late 1930’s, and they were a far cry from being upper class first-adopters.

    1. “All of these accommodations were standard features of my grandparents’ California home that was built in the late 1930’s”

      And they were nearly first-adopter luxuries when my grandfather won a (electric) company lottery to win a “Gold Standard Home” in the early 1960s. I doubt your grandparents had the benefit of a refrigerator in the 30s, and I don’t think electric ranges caught on for a few decades after that.

      1. I doubt your grandparents had the benefit of a refrigerator in the 30s, and I don’t think electric ranges caught on for a few decades after that.

        “…60% of households in the US owned a refrigerator by the 1930s…”

        http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Refrigerator

        “By the 1930s, the technology had matured and the electrical stove slowly began to replace the gas stove, especially in household kitchens.”

        http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Electric_range

      2. You’re right actually in that I did overlook a couple things but like Antinous said a fridge and range were no big deal by then, what I was overlooking was the steel frame construction and air conditioning. Those definitely were a much later thing.

        Brain fart, I shouldn’t have said anything (I have that particular problem often).

  13. My house was built in 1905, and it has all those things, plus a basement -including the asbestos ceiling tiles. I’m sure most of those things were added after the original building (especially the bathrooms). Well, our bathroom clock is not built-in. And I have WAY more than two days worth of groceries in the kitchen, and more in that unnecessary basement.

  14. According to the February 1932 issue of Fortune, over a million New Yorkers did not have any bathing facilities in their home. The same issue notes that Dr. Wood’s “Recent Trends in Housing” said that “less than half the homes in America measure up to minimum standards of health and decency.” (Minimum decency did not include a telephone, central heating, central lighting or a bathtub, but did include running water and a toilet in the living unit.)

    In other words, even after the building boom and prosperity of the 20s, the house described in the article actually was a dream house, even in 1935. We take things like refrigerators for granted, but they were pretty expensive until 1936 when the “nudes”, stripped down models at lower prices went on the market. If you lived in the farm it was even worse, you probably didn’t even have electricity, so there was no fridge, hand pumped water, and kerosene lighting, and the US was just over half urbanized back then.

    I will admit that this is good campy fun. Maybe our grandchildren will have the same attitude towards our lack of universal health care coverage and use of fossil fuels. Perhaps someone should do a series on this, with campy old time photos showing primitive 2011 Americans marveling at high efficiency solar power panels or in-kitchen agricultural units. (“You used a saw grandpa! Wow! Why didn’t you just fab it as two pieces?)

  15. I would think they’d be prohibited by law from selling you some.

    Want some asbestos cement insulation? Just wait, there are people in Washington who are working to get those laws repealed.

  16. Our 1925-built house clearly was designed with a refrigerator in mind. They were much smaller in those days, though, than the types of built-in behemoths you see now — even with a compressor mounted on top. We had a tough time replacing the squat 70s nightmare that was in the house when we bought it, as there weren’t many energy saving fridges that were of the right dimensions.

    (Despite being a small and inexpensive house, it was also clearly built with electricity, forced air and telephony in mind. No asbestos-concrete, motor unit or built-in clocks, though.)

  17. What I learned from this is that not only is it more interesting to aim for making the wackiest possible predictions about the future rather than make any serious attempt to be accurate, but it’ll be more interesting in retrospect in the actual future, too.

    In fact, there won’t *ever* actually be a time when the one most accurate prediction of the future won’t be pretty much the least interesting of all the available predictions made during the same year.

    Kind of puts science fiction in perspective, as a profession.

Comments are closed.