Art: New Shells

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Houses may not be so confining as the shells of scallops, clams and turtles, but neither do they fit, or look, as well. More & more U.S. families, dissatisfied with the shells they live in, are out looking for better ones. In 1948 they bought or built 2.4 million homes. This year prices on new houses are down as much as 10% and business should be almost as good. How good, and how different, will the houses be?

In the 19308, half the new houses constructed were custom-built, and the new owner consequently had a 50-50 chance to express his own ideas about the practical art of housing himself and his family. Today, such speculative merchant-builders as the David D. Bohannon Organization, which is putting up thousands of moderately priced houses around San Francisco, and the traditional but gadgety Gerholz Community Homes in Flint, Mich, account for 80% of production. Biggest of these merchants, Levitt & Sons, has raised a whole town (Levittown, pop. 27,850) of almost identical $7,990 bungalows on the flat potato fields of Long Island. The Levitt boys knock a new house together every 16 minutes, adorn their latest model with such creature comforts as fireplaces as well as modern touches, e.g., picture windows and movable walls that double as closets.

Merchant-builders increasingly favor the modern touches—at least on the inside where they won't glaringly show. But the man who wants a house to fit his family as well as the age he lives in still has good reason for building his own.

Hips & Door Butts. Such a man may choose his own lot and design his own house for a contractor to build—if he combines the patience of Job with the energy of Samson. He would begin by learning the necessary background for an intelligent lot-seeker, making it his business to study drainage, zoning, prevailing winds, taxes and prospects for taxes, new developments and proposals for new highways & byways in the county. Before designing the house itself he would cram his head with tables of construction costs (still more than double what they were ten years ago), master the rudiments of architecture, and learn to speak knowingly of furring and flashing, soffits and reveals muntins and mullions, gambrels, spandrels, hips and door butts.

But if the would-be home-builder does not feel strong enough for all that, he will wind up at the office door of one of the nation's 15,000 practicing architects. For a fee ranging from 5% to 15% of the total cost of the house, the architect will do some or all of the following: help choose a site, help plan the house (or plan it altogether), make drawings so that the prospective owner can see what his house will look like, help choose and deal with the contractor, and supervise the actual construction.

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