Saturday, December 7, 2013

Small, Stylish and Low-Maintenance: Lustron Homes

The idea of well-designed, small homes taking less time to maintain while being just as pleasant to live in is not a new one. Lately I've been fascinated by one such example from years past: Lustron houses. These prefabricated enameled steel houses were developed in the post-World War II era. Marketed as "the house America has been waiting for" the small, yet well-designed homes were promoted as affordable, low-maintenance solutions for modern families.

The Lustron Company, headquartered in my town, Columbus, OH, manufactured just under 2,500 two- and three-bedroom homes between 1948-1950, before declaring bankruptcy. This was much less than expected, with production delays, the lack of a viable distribution strategy, and the escalating prices for the finished product all contributing to the company's demise.

Four Lustron homes remain in my neighborhood, and this summer I was able to fully explore the one pictured here, which is on display at the Ohio Historical Society until 2018.

master bedroom vanity
The exhibit was fantastic, and one I highly recommend if you're in Columbus. Not only is it amazing to have a entire house inside a museum, but the decor is completely period and they encourage you to explore, open drawers, etc. Or you can take a video tour.

Although compact and built to be shipped in pieces and assembled on-site, the rooms were a good size (bigger than my house anyway) and surprisingly full of storage. There was a built in bookshelf/display area in the living room, tons of closets, a built-in vanity in the master bedroom, and great bathroom storage. Plus, since they're constructed from metal, hanging a picture is as simple as throwing up some magnets.

The Lustron house exhibit was also appointed with something I've never heard of before, a Thor Automagic hybrid washer/dishwasher. Now there's something that makes me go hmmm, and I guess it made a lot of other people do the same since it never really caught on.

If you're curious about how Lustron homes appear with current decor, check out this Columbus-area Lustron.

As cute and cool as they are, I'm not sure I would want to live in a Lustron, especially as their advanced age takes away the low-maintenance aspect in many cases. Could you live in a Lustron, or is there another small home from an era gone by you lust after?


  1. Hmmmm... this looks very much like a house that I came really close to buying when I was house shopping. Ultimately I decided against it because it didn't have a basement and that was important to me... I wonder if it was a Lustron. It was certainly some sort of pre-fab house and I remember thinking that it was made from some odd material. I guess I also worried that it would be cold in the winter.

    Anyhow, I looked at the different models with their sizes on Wikipedia and with the exception of two of the models, they're all bigger than my house, which is 899 square feet. Well, I do have a basement though so I suppose if you count the basement square footage my house is bigger.

    Anyhow... I think the idea of pre-fab housing is very interesting. There are actually a few quonset huts in my neighborhood that are still lived in. I think if you could make pre-fab homes that were really energy efficient, and could be installed over a basement foundation it would be a no-brainer.

    I'm not sure why basements are so important to me, but they really are. I guess I've lived through enough tornadoes to feel that they are important.

  2. I would love to see this; I am a fan of "Modern Era" homes (as shown in the magazine Atomic Ranch). Have you seen the homes that people are now making from shipping containers?


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