Victory Housing! Or…How Old Time House Catalogs are Rebuilding Our Thinking on Housing

It’s probably occurred to some readers that this website is in large part a modern twist on old time house catalogs. We love those old catalogs…from Sears, Radford, Bennett, Aladdin…You’ve probably seen them and perused them too if you’re at all an enthusiast about those classic old kit homes from days of yore, as we are.  For our part, we like just about everything those catalogs (still) stand for: Sturdy construction, a do it yourself attitude, beautiful materials (sigh, many of those materials are hard to come by these days!), pride of craftsmanship and “ownership” in a wonderful way that includes stewardship and love as well as affordability. We love especially the sentimental descriptions of the homes (especially of the kitchens) written by authors trying to entice potential home builders (and their wives). While vaguely and even sweetly chauvinistic at times, these descriptions still make us laugh and even tempt us – they are peeks into a bygone era that we can pull the best out of, if we like.  When we were designing our first home together, we spent a whole year in part looking at these catalogs and taking ideas from them, trying to translate what we liked to an age with different building codes, different social and environmental needs, different building materials, mindset, etc. It seemed sometimes that the only thing that was much the same was the outline of the house; that is, the lines, the bones. As we thought about it, though, we realized that how we looked at houses and dreamed about their construction really followed all those old veins…we were imagining our gardens, sunny days at home, snowy days at home, gatherings with friends and family; a place to grow old, and oh yes, a kitchen for the cooks to put on their aprons and crank out some great grub!

We’ve long had a dream of settling into a place and building a home to stay in and to grow old in should we be lucky enough to grow old. In this sense, the spirit of dreaming that is typified in the old time catalogs is still a part of our search, our considerations and the expansion of our catalog today.  Since the abrupt change in the US economy, which centered so much on housing, we’ve been giving especial thought to what affordable, human centered housing is or might be, not just for ourselves but for society at large. THE small HOUSE CATALOG is part of how we are approaching this thinking.

So back to Victory Housing…When we say Victory Housing we mean it partly in the sense that the Victory Gardens of the WWII days were meant; as a response to changing and serious circumstances that demand thoughtfulness and creativity from all of us. But also, when we speak of Victory Housing, we’re talking about the active dreaming catalogs can inspire…dreams that involve people working together, putting in the time, work, money, stress, joy, sweat and waiting that is involved in building a home. Lastly, we also mean Victory Housing in the Wide World of Sports style THRILL OF VICTORY; the amazed pride that comes when you take on a project so innately primal and delightfully freeing as constructing your own shelter.  When Shawn and I were raising our first walls, I began to have a little feeling of amazement creep over me. It crept and crept and crept till suddenly it jumped entirely over me and I was able to recognize that what amazed me so much was that we were doing it, building our own home!  A thing that had seemed so mysterious, difficult and best left to “professional builders” was actually tangibly unfolding before us…thanks to our own work. And also thanks to the good advice and requested help of a few professional builders too. Victory! We were figuring it out. We made it through several hurdles and also realized that a lot of what seemed like it would be really hard really wasn’t hard at all. What a wonderful lift to self confidence.

We’ve found a huge sense of Victory in building for ourselves. The delight of this Victory has been primarily that it seems happily humble. It’s been fun. It’s involved others; we want it to involve more people. It’s been strengthening to our marriage (let it be known that building a house together need not destroy a marriage!) and we’ve made friends this way. We realize that anyone can build their own home, and, just maybe, everyone should…