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Design Innovation and the Single-Family House

Working paper #460
Witold Rybczynski

Although American homebuyers are generally conservative when it comes to house design, being concerned that houses may be perceived as dated or unusual when it comes time to resell, the last 50 years have seen a number of design innovations in production housing. The 1950s and 1960s saw the introduction of ranch houses, split levels, bi-levels, breeze-ways, and picture windows. Most of these innovations have subsequently been supplanted. A number of CEOs of national homebuilding firms are interviewed. The predominant new design features in housing today include two-story houses, open first floors, and traditional features on the exterior. Homebuyers have consistently demanded larger houses, despite the fact that family size has not increased. There is a general tendency toward greater informality in house plans, more openness, and family rooms rather than formal living rooms.

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