My husband was clearing out an old file cabinet the other day, and handed me a brochure he picked up years ago in Indiana. It was about a local Lustron house. He knew I’d be pleased to see it, since I have always loved these architectural oddities. Lustron houses are prefabricated homes made from enameled steel. They are instantly recognizable, with their square siding panels in pastel shades. Built between 1948 and 1950, the Lustron houses that remain today are usually in good condition, as the porcelain enamel finish is highly durable. These houses were designed in answer to the housing crisis after World War II: they were prefabricated from steel and were delivered to the building site, where local contractors assembled them. They were quick to build, and easy to care for. They were practical and efficient, with no wasted space; bedrooms had sliding doors and built-in storage. Despite their well-designed and affordable product, the company quickly went bankrupt. Financial problems and production delays put the company on shaky footing. Some say that traditional building trades were feeling threatened by the idea of a house that needed little or no maintenance, and that these unions worked against the company.
What would students make of images and advertisements for Lustron homes? How are the houses similar to or different from homes familiar to them? If they were designing a low-maintenance home, what would it look like? What would it be made of?
I wonder how long the Lustron house would have endured had the company weathered its financial troubles better. The houses with their built-in features, including steel kitchen cabinetry and appliances such as the Thor Automagic (a washing machine which doubled as a dishwasher) would never need updating. While I see the appeal of a home that never needs painting, would residents resist the call of fashion, and remain satisfied with their house unchanged for decades? I think of all the home shows on television, which show home buyers complaining of outdated kitchens, or builders and designers making a living from remodeling homes built not so long ago. Could it be that enduring design was its own downfall?
Here are some ideas for further information on Lustron houses.
This is a treasure trove of vintage articles and brochures on the Lustron Corporation, from a good, but possibly no longer supported website from Ohio History Connection: http://apps.ohiohistory.org/lustronpreservation.org/htdocs/about/