Thanks 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.
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.”
Swift 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.
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.
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.
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!above: 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.
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:?