On my ninth birthday I received an oddly mature, mid-century modern architecture coloring book full of 1960s homes and their intricate landscaping. (This was in the late 1980s well before adult coloring books became all the rage.) I poured over those pages with my colored pencils and imagined what it would be like to live in each one, play in those various backyards – and became thankful for my own sprawling front porch – which hosted many nights of capturing fireflies and laughing with my little brother.
Like most Americans approaching the Thanksgiving holiday, I’m reminded of what I’m thankful for and thought back to those simple days of childhood. While my nine-year-old self thought a big front porch to play on was pretty important, today I value a few other things in a home (walk-in closets, anyone?). I started thinking about how many different types of homes there are and how far we’ve come in architecture and technology. From drafty Victorians, electricity and indoor plumbing, tract housing, double-wide trailers, McMansions and quaint Craftsmans, to the future of smart homes – we actually have a lot for which to be thankful.
While my nine-year-old self thought a big front porch to play on was pretty important, today I value a few other things in a home (walk-in closets, anyone?).
We’ve also been changing and evolving our homes well before 1989. Here are a few things I’m sure you’re thankful for, in no particular order:
In 1900, the typical American home was about 700-1,200 square feet with an average of two rooms – that’s two rooms total – not two bedrooms with a kitchen and bathroom. And if you can imagine, often two generations would be sharing the space with multiple children and maybe even a member of the extended family. Times have changed since that was considered the norm, luckily. Today the average single-family home is 2,521 square feet and Americans hire architects to build their dream homes, or shop for an existing house based on layout, finishes and number of bedrooms.
We are happily (and I hope you agree) a far cry from the colonists’ chamber pots and outhouses, a messy challenge ready for an indoor solution. In fact, one of the first reported structures with indoor plumbing was in 1829 at the Tremont Hotel in Boston, where bathrooms in the basement were fitted with running water that also went to the kitchen and laundry. It wasn’t until the 1930s that a house was considered substandard if it didn’t have indoor plumbing. Another 85 years later, we ironically enjoy the luxury of a full outdoor kitchen and glamping in treehouses with en-suite bathroom facilities.
I’m not going to give a history lesson on Benjamin Franklin’s kite or Thomas Edison’s light bulb but before electricity, lighting was a dangerous round-up of fire, fuel, gas and soot with too many accidents to count. Electricity was standard in the wealthy, urban American home by the mid-1930s, but it wasn’t until at least a decade later that it spread to more rural areas. The modern American home in 2016 spends about $120 a month on electricity with a range of smart home technology, colored LED lighting our kitchens and multi-room audio systems to blast our favorite songs.
So as you gear up for the Thanksgiving holiday weekend, and start stressing about the menu (homemade vs. canned cranberry sauce), and welcome your friends and family into your house – stop and think about the most basic features you may normally take for granted. Those mid-century ranches and brand-new townhouses will be thankful for you, too!
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