84 original retro midcentury house plans — that you can still buy today

midcentury house planDo you want to build a midcentury modern or midcentury modest house from original plans? It is indeed possible: via the library of 84 original 1960s and 1970s house plans available at FamilyHomePlans.com aka The Garlinghouse Company. The 84 plans are in their Retro Home Plans Library here. Above: The 1,080 sq. ft. ranch house #95000 — golly — I think there were about a million of these — likely more — built back in the day. This little three-bedroom, two-bath house is about all anyone needs! Note, the company told me there is no date visible on the original plans. I think this design could date back to the 1950s.

Above: 1,565 sq. ft., three bedrooms, two baths

Above: An adorable 864 s.f., two-bedroom, one-bach vacation house. Or, just a small house!

There are a lot of vacation home plans in this retro house plan collection — probably because there is a larger market today for small vacation homes than for small full-time homes. I talked to the company about these retro house plans. They say they don’t sell a great many, because new-home-builders today want larger houses. 

Another amazing fact: Bobbie, who I talked with on the phone, says the company purchased all the original, vintage Garlinghouse house plans about 10 years ago. In fact, the official company name is The Garlinghouse Company. Garlinghouse was a biggie back in the day.  Again — it sounds like Family House Plans likely has many many more small, midcentury modest house plans in their archives — they just don’t have them listed online because Americans want their 2,700 sq. ft. houses — not 1,000 sq. ft. houses. Read more about Family House Plan’s Garlinghouse archive here.

Above: Having an open-air central courtyard is a hallmark feature of an original rancho. As in: ranch house. This house is 2,377 s.f. in size, with three bedrooms, 2.5 baths.

Above: 2,371 sq. ft., five bedrooms, 3.5 baths, and an awesome front courtyard.

Above: Super cool! 1970s, probably, when we had that horrible energy crisis. This 2,139 3/2 house has a so-called ‘green roof’ — there is 12″ of soil on top of the roof — and that’s grass on top — yes, you need to mow your roof! 

Above: Howdy hudee, I got to the plans for this split level house and recognized the interior layouts. It’s the house that my mom and dad had built for our family in Vista, Calif., around 1968 or 1969. The layout is super close to what I remember and my brother agrees. Yikes, that’s a serious blast from my past! 

Heck, there are a lot of houses to show. Want to see them all:

  1. Phil says:

    I wish I could find the exact plans that were used to build my mid-1950s house but I haven’t found it yet. The closest I could find among these is this one but it’s not that close: https://www.familyhomeplans.com/house-plan-43080

    Mine is also a split level with a hip roof over the bedrooms. I haven’t seen plans showing a house with the hip roof extending above the main entrance like it does on my house. https://www.flickr.com/photos/33723086@N02/42893689912/in/album-72157678548208043/

    1. Linda Fry says:

      I have my exact plans for my house (65 ranch) because they were left behind by the original owner! One mistake was made – the master bedroom has 2 closets (wall of closets & small walk in). The walk in closet was supposed to be a 1/2 bath.
      I love to collect house plans too.

    2. MJHoop Hooper says:

      Ah yes. We used to call those “garrison style” houses back in the 50s in New England. Might be some old ones around Salem, Mass.

      1. Pam Kueber says:

        Yes, I know them as “Garrison Colonials”. Although the house in the flickr image – image very very dim – looks like what I’d call a Split-Level. That said, part of the split hangs over the bottom, so I guess that would be a Garrison Split Level…

  2. Ethan says:

    The split level house that you, Pam, lived in when you lived in Vista is just like the one I grew up in (my grandfathers house) while living in Vista except, his was a single story. So, the garage was at ground level but that same L or modified T shape similar to the one in the picture. Vista sure was different back then. I miss it and I don’t.

  3. Carolyn says:

    The 1970’s grass-roofed house was called a “berm” house – you dug into the south side of a hill like the farmers did with the barn. It was in response to the oil embargo and part of the “back to lander’s” movement. The ones I’ve seen in WI (Washington & Sheboygan counties) were stained a darker color on the exposed exterior wall + the generous use of glass. Inside the window wall, the floor was stone to absorb the passive solar, some also had a dark wall inside to soak up heat during the day and release at night. Woodstoves were used for auxiliary heating (this IS WI and the sun don’t shine EVERY day!) The plan shown has a greenhouse – from what I’ve gathered, houseplants didn’t do well due to the lack of interior sunshine and wide temperature swings.
    With proper ventilation, mold & mildew were not as much of a problem especially with the aid of a dehumidifier. Seems that while you saving on heat and cooling, you’d use more electricity for lights and dehumidifier. But then again, the homeowner was either at work all day or outdoors.
    Strategically placed trees offered shade in the summer which also helped with cooling.
    Al Johnson’s Swedish Restaurant & Butik in Sister Bay, WI (Door County) not only has a grass roof but goats to keep it mown. Seriously people, I can NOT make this stuff up! There’s also a house in Sheboygan with a grass roof but the son planted flowers besides grass (can you blame him for not wanting to mow the roof?!)
    We diss the ’70’s for many reasons (many of them good) and forget there was a lot of innovation going on during this time.

    1. Retroski says:

      I was wondering who would mention the grass roof with the goats in Door County!
      I think they must sell ice cream there.
      I haven’t seen those sorts of houses in SE WI yet but for sure to the wood stoves!

  4. Karin says:

    These houses are inspiring. I’m pleasantly surprised to see that grass roofed model. They seem to be making a bit of a resurgence as more and more people want to minimize their energy bills. I saw a similar grass-roofed house when I streamed a British made series on alternative housing recently. A young woman in England proudly demonstrated her beautiful self-designed and built eco-home, complete with solar collectors and a grass roof. It looked a lot like this model! The best part was that she spent far less for her build and is mortgage free in her twenties.

  5. Jay says:

    I have always enjoyed looking at old house plans. My neighborhood of small ranches are only on 1/4 a. lots so not much point in tearing down and rebuilding but short distance away with larger acreage, an older home (50, 60 and into early 80s gets torn down or it’s swallowed up and incorporated into a larger imprint. The 1200 s.f. houses are a thing of the past, no one wants them in this Big Gulp super sized era.

  6. Joel Shapiro says:

    My home was built in 1964. So the design is at least that old. (Pam, feel free to combine my comments.)

  7. Joel Shapiro says:

    Come to think of it, #86917 is the home I grew up in, except the garage faced the road, not the side.

  8. CarolK says:

    We have a 1500 sq ft (1800 sq ft, with Florida room added) brick ranch built in the mid-60s. This was the typical square footage in a home in the 60s; now it’s 2500 square feet. This change happened over about 10 years, if I recall correctly what Newell Turner, former editor of House Beautiful once wrote. There were no walk-in closets, no huge master bathrooms, no every kid gets a room (unless you had only two kids!)

    I recently saw that idiot Jonathan Scott of Property Brothers urging the owners of home like mine to consider making a extra bedroom into a luxurious master bath or walk-in closet or both. I don’t need a “luxurious” bathroom and I sure don’t need a walk-in closet. I neither have nor desire that many clothes or shoes. I wouldn’t mind having more room for my grown kids and grandkids. And no, I’m not devoting the now spare bedrooms for a bath and walk-in closet. They’re guest rooms for visiting daughters and her family. Where we need room is the living room and maybe the dining room.

    1. GlenEllyn says:

      I’m with you, Carol. Walk-in closets are nice, but to me they just encourage accumulating more stuff. A lot of folks are drowning in “stuff”.

      I live in a 92-year-old house, 2 bedrooms, one bath, about 1000 sq. ft. total. The former owners raised two children here. Tiny closets, yes. But it compelled me to get rid of all the things I really don’t need anymore before I moved in. I don’t need a luxurious bathroom, either. Mine works just fine. And I won’t be tearing down any walls, either. I love my small, closed kitchen. Is it perfect? No, but it doesn’t have to be.

      We really don’t need as much space as we think we do. Whatever happened to “make do” or “good enough?”

      1. Mary Elizabeth says:

        I agree with both of you, CarolK and GlenEllen, that not everyone needs a huge closet and a huge bathroom. Our original 1080 square foot ranch was almost the exact plan of #95000, except it had no master bath and the kitchen/dining area is larger and the living room smaller. When we moved in, I had to downsize on clothes, linens, dishes, etc., and I am much happier this way. Then we put on a 400-square-foot addition to get a laundry room, extra bath, and formal dining room–everyone said we should add a master suite instead. Why? We use our bedroom for sleeping, so why must it be cavernous? When we entertain, we use the dining room and have occasional overnight guests.

        1. Pam Kueber says:

          When I’m feeling down and blue, the #1 way to make myself feel better is to clean. Intertwined with that: Get rid of stuff. It works every time.

          1. Mary Elizabeth says:

            And the smaller houses are easier to clean, while you are at it! I often think, when I see those McMansions along the road, “Who is cleaning that house? Do they have a maid, or maybe a whole staff?”

  9. Tarquin says:

    Grass on the roof? This is a first for me. I’ve never seen or heard of that before. Does it come with sprinklers on the roof? It’s a super cool house, but are bugs and mold a concern? My favorite house is the one with the dreamy courtyard entrance.

    1. CarolK says:

      Green roofs are really a thing, Tarquin, and have been for a while. You might not want to plant grass but some kind of ground cover, xeriscape or even vegetables or fruit like strawberries. Green roofs are probably more common on apartment buildings and businesses in cites. For instance, some urban restaurants will have a garden a top their restaurants or an apartment building will have a community garden on the roof of the building for their tenants.

      I don’t know of any issues with green roofs.

      1. Tarquin says:

        I’ve seen rooftop terraces and it amazed me the first time I saw a pool on top of a building, but this is the first time I’ve seen a sprawling lawn on the roof of a single family home. I’d love to see photos of this and not just a rendering. I checked out some online and there are some very beautiful ones out there. Im still curious how its maintained.

    2. Lisa Daly says:

      Green roofs are fairly popular here in Seattle. Mostly on large buildings – our local library branch has one. Homeowners typically just do green roof on a detached garage or cottage. You do not mow and do not plant turf grass. It is kind of meadow-looking. Weedy to some eyes. It is not designed to be walked on much; definitely not a substitute for a rooftop terrace.

    3. Jay says:

      The house featured here is of poured concrete and is intended to be built into a large berm or hillside with a concrete roof designed to take the load of earth on top. Conventional house roof construction is not solid like that so typical green roofs are built of shallow flat containers using lightweight planting material for shallow rooted plants. Weight is an issue. The idea is to absorb the rain water that otherwise would run off the impermeable roof.

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