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Throwback Thursday: Western Living Homes from the 1950s

This week for Throwback Thursday we’re digging deep into our archives to bring you some of our favourite home design stories from the 1950s.

We recently received a box of vintage Western Living issues (so old they’re titled Western Homes & Living), brought in by Leigh Hodgins, whose late father Ed Hatch had been collecting copies of the magazine since the early ’50s. We thought we’d share a few of our favourite homes from his vintage collection. Thanks again for sharing, Leigh!

1. Rustic Beauty with a View, March 1952

Vancouver Island in the ’50s was heavily populated with the then-popular ranch-style homes, but one Cleveland family decided to take a different path for their 33-acre property at Qualicum Beach. Their land was heavily wooded and they wanted to keep the rustic feel throughout their property, including their own home, two guest houses, gardener’s quarters, and a separate garage and laundry room.

Located on 33 wooded acres, it’s hard to imagine anything more appropriate than this Swedish-style log house with its high beamed ceiling, huge fireplace, and steep shaked roof. Even the little guest houses seem to fit perfectly into the forest setting.

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The main house was made spacious and comfortable with wall-to-wall carpet in the large living room, two bedrooms each with their own bathroom, and gorgeous forest views. The guest houses are “small echoes of the main house,” with the only difference, aside from size, being the paint colour: the main house living room is painted entirely in a light pink, and the guest houses are painted white with red and blue trim.

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2. When an Architect Builds, November 1952

This ‘modern’ and revolutionary home was designed by Vancouver Architect Ned Pratt in 1951 and featured in our November 1952 issue. He designed the home for himself and his family, and reinvented what people thought about prefabricated materials.

Modern, spacious, and extremely livable, it is at the same time a pilot model for what promises to be one of the most important home-building advances in recent years.

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This modern advancement in construction was the prefabricated panels that are seen throughout the home. At that time, prefabricating materials signalled a cookie-cutter house, and was thought to limit individuality. This architect challenged those preconceptions by using prefabricated parts and sections, saying these could be used to build, “almost any style or variation of house.”

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3. More House for the Money, November 1953

With housing costs what they are now, it’s hard to imagine that 60 years ago Vancouver Architect Jim White designed and built his own home for $7,500. White used multiple cost-cutting techniques, such as building almost the entire house himself, to create a spacious and comfortable North Vancouver home for him and his family.

The Hunter J. White house in Canyon Heights takes advantage of a slight depression in the lot to feature a sunken living room. Because the flat roof is on one level, there is a 10-foot ceiling height in this section.

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White, his wife, and their two-year-old son moved to Vancouver in 1949 and lived in a trailer while he was building their spacious new home in Canyon Heights. The Vancouver architect hoped that his home would inspire young couples who want a nice home on a low budget to be willing to also “work nights, weekends, holidays, and other odd moments in order to make their wish come true.”

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4. The Most Talked-About House in B.C., May 1954

In 1954, West Coast plywood, lumber and shingle manufacturers were building 10 special display houses across Canada to showcase Western woods. Included in these homes was a Victoria Trend House built for Western Homes and Living writer Gwen Cash. The diamond-shaped 825-square-foot house was the source of some controversy in Victoria and was designed to be built with hemlock and cedar wood.

In the hands of a less skillful designer, this objective might have produced a hodge-podge of wood surfaces in various textures and finishes. In this Trend House, however, wood has been used with intelligence and restraint, and its natural qualities have become an essential element in the overall design.

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Architect John A. Di Castri wanted to create “an environment for living” for Cash, not just a house. Wanting to avoid the feeling of “boxy rooms” and confinement led to the diamond-shaped design of the house. While unconventional, the shape provides a large living area and bedroom for Cash that “seem more like a sheltered oasis in the landscape, than a conventional closed-in room.” Whether you love or hate this controversial Trend Home, Cash describes it as being “a honey of a house,” and suited her particular needs perfectly.

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5. They Chose Modern, October 1954

In a time when modern homes were just starting to pop up over the country, the general feeling about the new designs was that “modern architecture is attractive, but not practical.” It was understood that most of these modern homes were inhabited by younger people who had not yet developed the attachment to a traditional home and were therefore unaffected by the perceived inconveniences that the attractive architectural style provides. However, a retired couple from the Prairies took a recommendation for an architect from their son that resulted in their modern-style home in the Capilano Highlands.

“We didn’t quite know what to think of the high-pitched ceiling, open floor plan, and huge window area.” Gradually, however, they began to see that most of the unfamiliar features were dictated by logic, rather than artistic flourish.

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The modern design of this 900-square-foot property yields the perfect design for a retired couple. Their living room and master bedroom gave them a view of their landscaped lawn and a bridge which led across a creek to their son’s house. Their property was home to a multitude of native trees (yew, cedar, crabapple, fir and hemlock), which they left standing and provided the couple with the perfect nature setting for their retirement.

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