The important new styles in American homes in the last few decades: shed, split-level, millennium mansions

The recently updated A Field Guide to American Houses includes descriptions of three new home styles from recent decades:

Q: Is it harder to put new homes into defined categories? In other words, how do you determine what is a defined style and what isn’t?

A: When I first started the revision, I was almost overwhelmed by what seemed to be the fractured nature of new home design and wondered how I would ever figure out what I believed the defined categories were…

Q: We think of Italianate, Queen Anne or Craftsman, for example, as being classic, etched-in-stone styles. Do you think one day we’ll think in the same way of split-level, shed or millennium mansions, three of your new categories?

A: Yes, I do. Shed was a favorite style of architects in the ’60s and ’70s. It was taught in prominent architecture schools such as MIT and Yale and won a number of architecture awards, … and even appeared in house-pattern books for builders. Millennium mansions, on the other hand, dominated builders’ subdivisions in the 1990s and 2000s much in the way that ranch houses dominated builders’ subdivisions of the 1950s and ’60s.

Split-level was a brand new house shape, rather than style, and was most often used in the ranch, styled ranch or contemporary styles. It can be compared to American four-square, also a house shape, popular from about 1900 to 1920 that could be found in several different styles.

Whether critics like these new home styles or not, there were a lot of each of these three styles built. American homes aren’t quickly demolished so these homes are here to stay. This could lead to a few options:

1. A number of these homes could be significantly altered as homeowners add on, change the exterior and interior, redecorate, change the yards, and live full lives with lots of memories in these homes. I’m reminded of the homes of the Levittowns: while critics said they were “little boxes,” after several decades they had been altered quite a bit and the streetscapes included a variety of homes to look at. See the historical work Expanding the American Dream by Barbara Kelly.

2. Down the road, such styles will be revered and will eventually lead to preservation efforts. “We need to save that gaudy McMansion from the mid-1990s” – someone in 2030 might say.

3. Down the road, critics will still blast McMansions and these other new styles as unimaginative and wasteful. But, there may still be plenty of these homes.

4. Some new design will render these trends irrelevant or passe. McAlester looks forward in this interview to green homes but these homes doesn’t necessarily have to have a similar architectural design.

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