Lew Sichelman

We are all dreamers. We love to stargaze about what the future holds. Early in 2019, even this column got in on the act with a story about a “Future House.” 

But just how well do we predict what’s going to happen five, 10 or 20 years down the road? We rarely look back to find out. But the folks at Angie’s List recently commissioned NeoMam Studios to return to yesteryear to see how close prognostications from the 20th century came to what actually occurred. 

As it turns out, some of the more fanciful ideas put forth back then were just that: fanciful. 

Wacky,’ ‘Wild’ Ideas 

Specifically, the British marketing firm looked at six rooms – the living room, kitchen, master bedroom, game room, bathroom and dressing room – as envisioned by home designers during the previous century. 

“Some of the era’s wildest ideas” were about these rooms, NeoMam’s report says. “Sometimes wacky, sometimes idealistic and sometimes not too far off what we see in 2020 homes, these visions for the future from past generations are an untapped resource of inspiration for homeowners who want to take risks and create spaces that are unique.” 

The report is a follow-up to one on how previous generations imagined the houses of today would look. And similarly, the most outlandish of their ideas – a ball-like rolling house, for example, offered by Everyday Science and Mechanics in 1943 – failed to gain any traction. 

In the latest return to the future, NeoMam discovered one prediction that everything in the houses of the 21st century would be waterproof so that the “housewife” – men didn’t do housework back then – could just use a hose to clean her manse. 

In the living room, then, the furniture, rugs, draperies and “unscratchable” floors would be made of either a synthetic waterproof fabric or plastic. A blast of hot air would dry the room’s contents, while the excess water would run to a drain in the floor. Presumably, the floor would be slightly slanted toward the drain the way it is in a shower and tub. And when Mom was not doing heavy cleaning, the drain would be covered by a rug. 

In the kitchen, meanwhile, refrigerators were predicted to have revolving shelves, which may not be too far off from what is available in today’s models – some of them make two types of ice cubes, for crying out loud. 

Robot In-Home Hairdressers 

Another prediction was the advent of marble countertops. But in this case, the countertop itself would be an induction-heated cooking surface. The oven, meanwhile, would be a glass-doomed unit that sat at the end of the counter. 

In the master bedroom, a 1960s prediction that the television set would hang from the ceiling didn’t come to pass, nor did the notion that the set’s control would be inset in a bedside table. But those ideas weren’t far off. Today, we use handheld remotes to control our wall-hung TVs. 

Game rooms? How about an indoor pool with partially submerged, swim-up gaming systems? Never happened. 

In 1988, Robert Zemeckis, the writer/director of “Back to the Future,” commissioned consultants Tim Flattery and Edward Eyth to dream up what the bathroom would be like in 2015. Some of their ideas made it into the film, but most didn’t. 

One that failed to make the grade was the bio-cleanse cleaning chamber, an environmentally progressive unit that conserves water by using a steam spray and heat lamps for bathing and drying. Other failed-to-materialize items include an in-wall waste disposal outlet and a computerized medical diagnosis and treatment center. 

Eight years before Marty McFly and Doc Brown flew their DeLorean time machine back and forth between timelines, famed French artists conceived of dressing rooms that contained, among other things, a machine that would cut and style a lady’s hair. Not even close. Today, the closest we come to dressing rooms are oversize master baths and sitting rooms. 

What Made it Into Real Life? 

As far as the house itself is concerned, of the seven “sometimes astute, sometimes idealistic, often absurd” concepts NeoMam looked at in its earlier study for Angie’s List, none made it into production. But some offered ideas that weren’t far off the mark. 

Take the Dome House featured in the June 1957 issue of Mechanix Illustrated. Its rotating dome would allow occupants to make use of solar energy by following the sun as it rose in the east and set in the west. 

The authors of “Unfinished World” spoke of using super-light “aerogels” to create earthquake-resistant structures that would require fewer resources to build. Today, graphene aerogel, the world’s lightest material, can be used in 3D printers to create all sorts of things, including buildings. 

Other schemes were out of this world. For the New York World’s Fair in 1964, General Motors proposed an underwater house. And from the 1920s, a glass house that would admit ultraviolet “health rays” from the sun was offered. But the glass used in the house became a commercial failure. 

And then there was the aforementioned rolling house, circa 1934. The spherical innovation was intended to make remote construction and delivery of new houses easier. But it didn’t. The space house offered by Science Fiction Adventures magazine in 1953 didn’t fly, either. 

Lew Sichelman has been covering real estate for more than 50 years. He is a regular contributor to numerous shelter magazines and housing and housing-finance industry publications. Readers can contact him at lsichelman@aol.com. 

Back to the Housing Future

by Lew Sichelman time to read: 4 min