During the early 19th century, the arts and crafts style became popular in Europe. This generally included natural materials and availability for all. During World War II, this style traveled across the Atlantic to America, from which, many other styles arose. At the same time, housing function preceded its form, partly due to the furniture exhibition at the Museum of Modern Art in 1940, which emphasized cheap, naturalistic furniture. This was facilitated by the new mass production technology in the construction industry. In the 1940s and 50s, a development known as “Levittown” mass produced 17,000 houses with two designs in California to match the furniture. This was essentially the design for the retro modern architectural style.
According to Lisa Skolnik, some characteristics of the retro modern houses are their numerous large, horizontal picture windows, sliding glass doors, and patios, which indicated a desire to live outside as well as inside. These houses were also boxy to maximize living space per square foot, and had flat roofs to match the angular qualities of the rest of the house. This allowed for easy installation of skylights, maximizing the natural elements of the interior and reducing lighting costs. Their cubic construction also permitted for the shortening of plumbing lines and heat ducts, which made it super economically feasible and cheap. Floor space was enhanced with the removal of unnecessary walls, halls, and stairways working with the addition of outdoor space to make use of every inch. Instead, floating panels were used to delineate spaces. Natural materials, in the form of stone walls and exposed wooden ceilings, helped draw attention away from the house itself in favor of the more organic aspects of its construction. “Floating fireplaces” added to the airy, open qualities of the houses. Retro modern houses were horizontally aligned, lending a sense of earthliness. Additionally, location and landscaping were important factors; the multitudes of windows were designed to face nature, not the inner city.
In the early 20th century, the Boise highlands were dominated by a slaughterhouse. But starting in 1950’s, developers began to transform it into a residential area. 2837 Heather Pl. was one of the first houses built in the area. H. Curtis Finch constructed it as his home, making it the first of several houses he would create there. As indicated in the Idaho Statesman newspaper clipping, the Finch’s decided to move to Portland.
Unfortunately, future owners had to pay the price for Finch’s interesting design. The flat roof allowed water to pool and snow to pile up. Leaks quickly developed and the whole roof would have to be re-tarred. This took hours and upwards of 35 gallons of tar each time. The roof is now waterproof, but sags in poorly supported areas. Large black locust trees around the yard grew to unmanageable sizes, and threatened to fall on the surrounding houses. The woman living across the street even admitted to moving her daughter to a back bedroom for fear of having one fall on her! These had to be removed. In one instance, a tree’s stump was so full of stones that it was impossible to fully extract. Many of the original plants are still alive and well, while the house still largely resembles Finch’s blueprints.