Boomers in the House: Square Footage Changes With the Generations

Mister Boomer has to admit that he is hooked on TV home improvement and real estate shows. He finds it especially amusing when the show features young couples looking for their first home. They dutifully compose their “must have” lists of renovated kitchens with granite countertops and at least two bathrooms, then the real estate agent shows them the reality of what they can afford.

From a boomer standpoint, that’s where it really gets interesting. Visiting mature neighborhoods of bungalows, Cape Cods and ranch models, the couple walks through homes — homes of the sort we grew up in — with shock and horror. Inevitably, one of them remarks that the “rooms are so small,” and “there is no closet space.” The fact of the matter is, from their perspective, you can’t argue with that. The square footage of the average house has changed dramatically since the 1950s, when housing was being built to accommodate boomer families.

The average size of a house built in 1950 was around 1,000 sq. ft. That usually encompassed two to three bedrooms, the kitchen, living and dining rooms and one bathroom. By 1960, the average home size had increased to around 1,200 sq. ft. In both decades, that size would house a family of four or more. It was quite common for children of the same sex to share a bedroom, which caused an explosion of the sale of bunk beds for boomers.

By 1970, the average house size had increased to around 1,500 sq. ft. Yet for most of us, there was still only one bathroom and shared bedrooms. Contrast these house sizes of the boomer era with that of this decade. Last year, the average square footage of a new house dropped. Most people attribute the drop to the economic slump of the past few years. It had reached a high of 2,629 sq. ft. at the beginning of last year, but by the end, had dropped to 2,343 sq. ft. Nonetheless, that’s double the size of the houses boomers called home.

Mister Boomer was three months old when his family moved into a 900 sq. ft. ranch home that was built in 1945. Part of a subdivision that jutted into the surrounding farmland, the house was a prime example of the type of housing that was quickly constructed near the end of the War in expectation of returning troops. His family would be the second owners. Three bedrooms, one bathroom, a kitchen and a dining room made up the floor plan. No sooner had Mister B turned three than his boomer sister arrived. That sealed the deal in terms of Mister B ever getting a room of his own. From that point on he shared a 10′ x 10′ room with his brother. In the early days, when the boys were very young, the room was jam-packed with two single beds and two dressers. In the early-’60s his parents bought bunk beds, then as the boys moved up the school ladder, a desk was added to the room (thanks to S&H Green Stamps).

And that’s the way it was for most boomers: smaller bedrooms, often shared (to say nothing of the closet), and one bathroom per family. The kitchen — usually a walled room of its own — was the place where the one home phone was mounted on the wall. The dining room was where family meals were consumed. Flash forward to our young househunters and the contrast is striking from their eyes. Formal dining rooms seem like a waste of space with respect to today’s lifestyle. One bathroom is a deal-breaker. And room size, well, maybe it would suffice as a home office, but a bedroom? With such a small closet? Einstein said time is relative, but when it comes to house size, that relativity is clearly based on the generation in which a person was born.

What role did house square footage play in your boomer years?

One thought on “Boomers in the House: Square Footage Changes With the Generations”

  1. After my sister was born my folks had an addition built onto our house. However, because one had to go thru one BR to get to it, it could not be recognized as a separate BR, so 40 yrs later I had to sell the house as a 2 BR with a sunroom.

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