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Terrific curb appeal ideas from Swift Homes 1957 house plans catalog

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Let's-decorate-1957Thanks to reader Cat, who spotted this terrific 1957 catalog of Swift Homes. This catalog is typical of others we see from many home manufacturers from the 1940s, 1950s and 1960s. Yes, an old house catalog may help you identify your home — that’s how Cat found it, she owns a Swift. But most catalogs have something for every homeowner: The beautiful illustrations are chock full of ideas to help add curb appeal if your home needs some era-appropriate exterior design or landscaping TLC. These illustrations were impeccably crafted to make these homes look as appealing as possible — scrutinize them for details you can bring to your ranch, Cape Cod, or split level.

 

mid-century-ranch-house-exterior-WestbrookeCat writes:

If newspaper ads of the time are any indication, there was some fierce competition between (Gordon, Murphy) Swift and Lincoln Homes in PA. You will note that Swift insists that their were homes are pre-CUT, not pre-fab… Hm.

Readers who are now wondering whether their home might be one of these may consider looking inside their attic. The “asphalt insulation boards” exposed inside my gable ends proudly display the Swift Homes logo. One Westbrooke, confirmed. What might the Lincoln telltale signs be?

It is wonderful that Cat was able to identify both the make and model of her home and learn some of the history of the company along the way.

Precautionary Pam cautions: “Seeing the words ‘asphalt insulation boards’ makes my antenna go up: “Old materials can contains vintage nastiness such as asbestos and lead. Please consult with a properly licensed professional to test what’s in the materials in your home, so you know what you are dealing with and can make informed decisions.”

ranch house designsSwift Homes looks like it was based in Elizabeth, Pennsylvania. As Cat mentions, the company’s value proposition seems to be that it’s homes were no “pre fab” — they we “pre-cut.” We are not quite sure that that means.

Looking through the catalog, though, it’s cool to see that the houses were designed so that partition walls were non-bearing. This meant that homeowners could easily reconfigure room sizes to their specific needs.

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And, when you ordered one of these Swift Homes, it was like ordering a car. You could mix-and-match roof style, windows, and more, to customize your house. Pretty cool.  Plans could be modified over time to add garages, enclose a carport, or add a second level.

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Read through the catalog, and you can get a good sense of the housing styles that were being promoted to American homeowners in 1957. That said, we tend to believe that the mass of houses were still quite small. Pam hunted around to try and find primary research on this topic. The best she could find, she ways, without spending hours was this article from the Ventura County, California, public website, which says average house size in “the 1950s” was 1,000 s.f. Footnotes on the story indicate papers or books published by MIT Press have the primary research; we will put this on our reporting list to check at some point.

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Check out the “underground” garage in this model. We would worry about water running down that driveway into the garage. Moreoever, where is the railing on the retaining wall to the lawn? Yikes!mid-century-flat-roof-ranch-exteriorabove: Maybe it is the coloring of this house, or possibly the flat roof — but I’m in love. What an adorable mid century modest ranch. The giant picture window in the front of the house helps to get that “inside-outside” feeling listed in the home’s description.

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The illustrations in this book are just gorgeous. This company was aiming to SELL you a house. So, every detail has been thought of from the colors in the landscaping coordinating with the house to the window treatments that you can see from the street.

Lots of great curb appeal ideas in these houses, go to our slide show of enlarged images to scrutize for details to bring to your mid century house.

Thanks to the MBJ Collection and archive.org for featuring this catalog and making it available via creative commons license. 

Tips to view slide show: Click on first image… it will enlarge and you can also read my captions… move forward or back via arrows below the photo… you can start or stop at any image:?

  1. Victor says:

    I purchased a Swift home in 1974 and still live in it. It is a 4 bedroom, 1200 Sq. Ft. ranch style. Aladdin was a strong competitor at the time. The Swift home was marketed as a pre-cut and all the materials were dropped shipped to the owner’s property in stages. Sorting the pre-cut lumber was tricky. Shortages were common at the time. As construction progress was made, various components were shipped later for installation. EG: furnace, plumbing, electrical, kitchen cupboards, etc. Various parts of the construction could be pre-contracted to aid the home owner/builder. EG: Foundation, Weather tight shell, Electrical, Plumbing, Heating. This was a great help when permits and inspections were required.

    1. Joe Felice says:

      Your home wasn’t new in ’74, was it? I know there were companies that would ship houses in parts to be built on site, but I don’t think this lasted into the ’70s. Even Sears (and, I think, Wards) had house kits but that was pre-WW II. Do we know during what period houses of this type were purchased, shipped, and built? I just think it would be a hoot to buy a house from a catalog, and order it, along with the desired options. But I cannot imagine a city code in the country that would allow this today. And could you imagine some of today’s crazies trying to put together such a house? Watching that might be an even-bigger hoot! Heck, I’d set up my chair and just observe, maybe with an umbrella drink in hand. It would be better than any TV show I can imagine!

  2. Cat says:

    Kate, I am so glad you decided to share Swift homes with the rest of the Retro folks. Thank you!

    I In case other Swift home owners were to find this post, I will share some updates:

    – According to my neighbor, who was around when our house was built, Just another Pam is correct. Pre-cut homes were little more than pre-measured and pre-cut lumber that needed to be assembled on-site. In later years, Swift introduced prefabricated elements such as the “wall of plumbing”, which our 1965 house seems to have.

    – The asphalt insulated boards are, thankfully, asbestos-free (according to my contractor). These appear to be nothing more than tar-coated fiberboard sheathing, which held up remarkably well. A 1990s remodel of our home’s interior prevents me from making any claims about the original insulation.

    – Arron, for what it’s worth, our house deviates slightly from the 1957 catalog Westbrooke. The living room wing is 10 ft longer (34 x 14) and the left side bedrooms feature double-width windows. I cannot verify whether Swift updated its offerings or our house’s original owner-builder wanted to make the most of the larger lot and western exposure.
    The newer, wider model is advertised here: http://tinyurl.com/swift61

    Our rehab and remodeling efforts will draw inspiration from this catalog. We were shocked to discover that the long, narrow “laundry room” was once a powder room and broom closet.

    Again, Kate, thank you for featuring Swift homes. I hope to return here one day and find other proud Swift home owners chiming in. Here’s hoping one of them can shed some light on what the Westbrooke kitchen once was…

    1. Cat says:

      Newer Swift catalog on Archive.org:
      http://ia700805.us.archive.org/24/items/ALookIntoYourFutureWithSwiftHome/ALookIntoYourFutureWithSwiftHomes.pdf

      Archive.org lists the catalog as possibly published in 1934 (!), but I am positive this is post-1957. Clues: the Westbrooke floor plan matches the bigger footprint and more numerous windows of my 1965 house and the 1961 ads.

      Someone with a better eye for design and trends might provide a more educated comparison… Overall, I find this catalog to offer more expansive and multi / split level offerings, more customization options and also (no doubt to some Retro Renovation fans’ dismay), more sedate exterior and landscaping color choices. Also, more colonial styles?

  3. Arron says:

    I have tried to find the builder of my house or what the name of it is. In our neighborhood our neighbors and are house is the only two of this style all the other houses are different styles ranging for the standard ranch to split levels to one midcentry modest. Built in 1964 I have found ads of houses similar but they have attached garages where ours is detached, I think that our garage is newer than the house becaues it is sided where the house is still wood. However on the garage we have these really cool windows that you push this lever in and the window opens outwards into 5 long strips of glass.

  4. Joe Felice says:

    Man, this site does a great job of bringing back memories! Asphalt insulation boards, masonite, etc.! I think asphalt was OK, but the other things–asbestos, lead paint, etc.–not OK. Remember when JohnsManville siding and shingles were all the rage? I never could understand the siding, though. Every time we hit it with a baseball, it broke. It was easy to remove the piece and slide in a replacement, though. I’m surprised that JM is still in business, what with all the unhealthy products it put on the market! My first house was a ’52 rancher, which I bought in ’76, but it had red cedar siding, which was painted. Much better, but it sure was a bear to paint, what with all those grooves. I guess you could say it was really groovy! (Sorry, couldn’t resist.)

    A while back, someone submitted catalogs from a builder that were used in University Hills in Denver back in ’52-’57, and our home was one of the ones pictured. Talk about memories!!! That was considered the ultimate in middle-class living back then. Everyone (seemingly) wanted to live in U-Hills, which also has the 2nd shopping center to be built in Denver after Cherry Creek. It was a huge subdivision on the far-eastern edge of Denver before there were even any highways. Now days, U-Hills is undergoing renovation, and is considered to be “close-in” living! I remember, the garage was an option, as was the washer & dryer. And the floors were all oak, except for linoleum in the kitchen & baths. That had asbestos in it, too. I wonder if the house had JM siding? Maybe that would help explain what’s wrong with me!

    Denver had its biggest building boom in history in the ’50s, and there are SO many mid-century homes. I often imagine how good the economy must have been with all that building going on. No matter where you went, there were houses being built. Good times, for sure!

  5. Scott says:

    I’ll take a Spacemaster, please… same colors, same yard, same landscaping, same everything.

    I don’t know what it is, but roofs that sweep off into a big carport send me into orbit. 🙂

  6. Jason says:

    There are lots of these type of houses still around in patches of North St. Louis wounty. My grandparents lived on a street with nearly every garage on teh lower level like that. The driveway leveled out at the bottom and there was a couple of drains. Lots of these are still in use, but many have since been converted to basement/living space.

  7. Chris says:

    Is there anyway to get a .pdf of this catalog. It would be good to have as a reference since I have yet to do any real landscaping on my 58′ Atom Ranch.

    1. Kate says:

      Follow the link at the end of the story to Archive.org — from there you can download a .pdf.

  8. Emily says:

    Wow, the extension on that Ravenswood is genius! Covered patio in the summer, carport in the winter! What a smart use of space.

  9. I love all these houses! I love seeing houses with carports because my house has one and its the only one in my neighborhood that does. I have so many people tell me I should turn it into a garage but I don’t want too. We love our carport. It protects us in the winter from snow, and in the summer, it becomes a lovely outdoor entertaining space!

    And I am in Central Ohio and see MANY homes with the underground garage and sloped driveway. Must have been way popular! But man, would have kind of been a bummer in the winter.

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