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Stock Plans Then & Now

Stock Plans Then & Now
This traditional plan sports a front porch.
[Editor's Note: This is an update of an earlier post.]
Stock or ready-made house plans go way back. Andrea Palladio's Four Books on Architecture, published in 1570 in Venice, is one of the most famous early collections of plans, included designs for many of his villas, and subsequently influenced architects in Europe and America, especially Thomas Jefferson. In the late 19th century, as the United States became more prosperous and urbanized, architectural pattern books and building company catalogues proliferated, helping 

shape our early suburbs and towns. These were not books full of blueprints, but simply sketches that American builders used as a general architectural idea for what they would construct. Remember that this was a time before key building codes, when much of America was still being settled. Those were the days! One of the first major American pattern books was Andrew Jackson Downing's influential Cottage Residences of 1844.

As the economy and middle class expanded, home building grew apace, especially in the early 20th century, when bungalows, promoted by builders, building companies, and magazines, 
took the country by storm and became identified with California and the good life. Truly the Model T of home design in that era, the bungalow overran towns like Pasadena, California, where there's even a neighborhood called "Bungalow Heaven." And with the rise of the automobile, garage plans suddenly became important. Between 1908 

and 1940 Sears Roebuck & Co. offered a wide variety of traditional house styles in kits -- all the building materials were delivered to the site for you or your builder to put together -- and sold roughly 70,000 homes through their mail order Modern Homes program.

The pent-up demand for housing produced by the Depression and then World War II (when building materials were mostly devoted to the war effort) resulted in a huge building boom at mid century when plan books flooded the market. Ranch houses became the post-war equivalent of the bungalow, only more open to the

yard and exemplified by Cliff May plans in the influential Sunset Western Ranch Houses of 1946 and Cliff May's Western Ranch Houses (also published by Sunset) of 1958, and in tract house developments full of plans by May.

To continue the automobile metaphor, you could say that the modern suburban ranch house became the Ford Mustang of home design in the 1960s, as it metamorphosed into Eichler tract houses designed by Claude

Oakland, like this atrium example from the early 1960s, our vintage Plan 470-6, one of many built in the San 

Francisco Bay Area and ultimately into a myriad other contemporary, low-slung, one story designs.

Today's ready-made house plans are similarly influential. Some architects and designers draw directly from stock plan history, like Robert Nebolon's update of an Eichler design in his Plan 438-1,

which was recently constructed in Knoxville, Tennessee, and Dan Tyree's adaptation of a Cliff May design

in Plan 64-172, with its side entry garage.

Our Signature designer Brooks Ballard's has reinvented the Craftsman bungalow in many different versions,  

such as his Plan 461-31, shown here. And since few people can afford to hire an architect to design a home from scratch, the stock plan remains a practical alternative. Such plans jumpstart the design process -- you only need to adapt a particular design to your site and needs, which takes less time and fewer resources. 

Key to the plan collage at the top of this post: Clockwise from top left: Sears Roebuck stock plan from the 1920s; Plan 137-138; Plan 930-19; Plan 892-17; Plan 929-41.

Browse a collection of contemporary Bungalow Plans here. See other Modern Plans here.

Stock Plans Then & Now Inspiration

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