Idea Homes, Then and Now
See how designers satisfy homeowners' desires today with these innovative living spaces.
Since its start in 1922, Better Homes & Gardens has done an annual roundup of Idea Homes, highlighting houses with innovative floor plans and perfectly modern furnishings. In the September 1957 issue, for example, the editors focused on the myriad of benefits of a T-shaped home: "It's a blueprint for your future, a forecast of a way of living best suited to your family. The T plan is new in its distinct separation of quiet, active, work areas; and its added outside wall space brings a view to every room." And sure enough, that innovative layout is still serving its happy homeowners today. We know, because we checked in with them.
There are plenty of inventive designers and builders working today to create homes that solve real-world problems and make life easier—and not long ago, we even decided to build, furnish, and tech out an ideal house of our own. While building a home from the ground up isn't going to be a good fit for everyone, perhaps keep these ideas from our innovative kitchen in mind.
The biggest lesson we've learned in comparing old idea homes to new ones is that in the past 60 years not all that much has changed when it comes to core design concerns. Parents still value having a kid-free haven; building a functional, convenient kitchen remains a high priority; and people are still trying to enjoy as much outdoor living space as they can. Here, we take a look at how six different designs address these timeless questions in fresh, new ways.
REMODELED SPLIT-LEVEL RANCH DEFINES SEPARATE SPACES
Split-level floor plans are still as popular as ever among growing families with lively kids. This midcentury ranch was redesigned for a Portland, OR, family with energetic youngsters, giving the parents and children separate spaces to relax and play. The split-level layout satisfies that modern urge for openness, and what we hope is good feng shui, while maintaining a distinction between the common areas and the parents' space upstairs and the kids' rooms and playroom downstairs. White walls and dark wood accents connect the upper and lower levels for a cohesive, warm design throughout the home. Separate, but together.
A-FRAME CABIN PERFECT FOR A FAMILY GETAWAY
Nestled among the pines and firs of San Bernardino National Forest in Southern California, this A-frame cabin is emblematic of a seemingly growing trend in homeownership: tackling the unique and authentic 60- or 70-year-old fixer-upper. The cool architecture and smaller square footage made this an ideal project for the young Los Angeles-based family.
The parents forwent a large master bedroom, opting instead for a sprawling kitchen, with an island ideal for eating meals together. The open floor plan allows Mom or Dad to watch over the kids in the spacious living room while preparing lunch or dinner and gives the children plenty of room to play inside.
The freestanding fireplace, original to the home's 1963 construction, ties in the cabin's roots, along with the exposed beams of the A-frame structure that happen to be the perfect spot for hanging a playful swing. And customized bunk beds, complete with cup holders and a sturdy steel ladder, give the kids a dreamy space after a fun-filled day at the lake. Colorful patterns and cozy textures balance out the modern cabin aesthetic to create an inviting escape.
MODERN LAKE HOME BLENDS NATURAL AND MANUFACTURED ELEMENTS
Anyone who's been to Minneapolis knows it's a gorgeous place to be in the summertime—and a pretty place to enjoy from the comfort of your living room during the colder months. For homes in colder climates, bringing outdoor elements inside can help with feeling cut off from nature when it's freezing in the winter. (That, and having good insulation and an efficient heating system.)
This home, facing Lake Calhoun, is a perfect blend of nature-y materials and modern comforts. The exterior is an artful fusion of natural stone, corten steel, wood, and glass, and it has floor-to-ceiling window walls for a stunning view of the water. Inside, an open layout accommodates any number of activities, whether it's making pancakes with the kids or hosting dinner parties in the adjacent dining area and living room.
Mixing materials—horizontal grain walnut cabinets, a limestone island, and high-end Miele stainless-steel appliances—lends a casual kind of charm throughout the main level; and natural stone makes a reappearance as a statement wall indoors. An open-spine staircase maintains the open-air look between levels, all the way to the rooftop terrace, where watching sailboats and sunsets is a regular family pastime. For those concerned about the possibility of another onset of cabin fever this winter, mingling outdoor elements with modern comforts can make nature accessible year-round.
MEDITERRANEAN-STYLE HOME MAKES FULL USE OF ITS GORGEOUS CLIMATE
Perhaps you're picking up on a theme here (separate versus open, natural versus manufactured, indoors versus outdoors); but it's not all about dichotomies. If you're fortunate enough to live in a climate that's nice all year round, you likely want to spend as much time outdoors as you do indoors. This Mediterranean-style house outside Austin, TX, takes full advantage of its beautiful rural surroundings, including rolling hills and mature trees, by segueing easily between inside and outside.
The interior offers a warm welcome—a handcrafted door, soaring wooden rafters, and sun-kissed stone walls. Oversize windows flood the dining room with natural light from all sides. And numerous large picture windows situated throughout the house continually invite the beauty indoors.
The shining feature of this southern home, however, is its glass-panel sunroom. Three floor-to-ceiling, steel-frame window walls encompass a casual indoor seating area, beginning the gradual transition from inside to outside.The sunroom looks out over the scenic landscape and leads to an intimate dining table settled next to the pool. Shielded from the sun by a weathered wood overhang, this covered patio makes outdoor dining enjoyable all year.
TINY HOME MAXIMIZES POTENTIAL
The tiny home trend is catching on all over the country, both for its energy efficiency and its time-saving simplicity. Living in less than a thousand square feet isn't practical for many families—but we can still take a tip or two from homeowners who have meticulously planned every square foot of their living space. This Boulder, CO, couple designed a home that maximizes utility with a mixture of sleek Ikea furnishings and high-end appliances and materials. Those who travel light would appreciate their minimalist aesthetic and vaulted ceilings, which complement the limited space, making the home seem much larger than it is.
When they are home, cooking and entertaining are top priorities for these busy homeowners, and most of the ground floor is assigned to the kitchen, with room for guests to sit and eat at the island or on the couches in the nearby living room. A small loft above the master bedroom and bathroom acts as a dual workspace for the couple, and enormous bifold glass doors create a three-seasons space, expanding to a patio and small pool for outdoor entertaining. To top it all off, solar panels maximize energy efficiency for considerable savings.
TRADITIONAL HOME FUNCTIONS AS AN IDEAL LIVE-WORK SPACE
In this age of the gig economy and rising entrepreneurship, finding a place that can serve as both a workspace and home is a top priority for many people. For two entrepreneurs who work out of their home, this modest Tudor revival in Nashville, TN, is an ideal live-work setup. With smart space utilization, the couple transformed an extra bedroom into a writing headquarters for a blogger and a studio for a visual artist. It has a desk area for tackling business and a sewing station for undertaking DIY projects.
But it's not all work and no play; the rest of the house includes a retrofitted galley kitchen, a formal dining room for gatherings with friends and family, a guest room, and an open staircase that makes the living room and entrance feel spacious while creating a smooth transition between levels. Awkward ceilings and tight spaces were smoothed over with built-in shelves, and cozy styling throughout—such as a reading nook tucked into an old attic—make this home an ideal place to get things done.