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The Unique Lustron

The Lustron house brought significant changes in single family home design, materials, and construction to the mass housing market after World War II.  While its most popular model, the Westchester Deluxe Lustron was a modest 1,021 square feet with 2 bedrooms and 1 bathroom, it was advertised as "The House America Has Been Waiting For."

As veterans returned home from the war and started families, they faced a severe housing shortage.  There had been little new residential construction during the Great Depression and then building materials had been largely diverted to the war effort.  Carl Strandlund, who became president of the Lustron Corporation, saw a way to produce the needed homes by combining existing metal commercial building technology with the efficiency of mass production.  Relying almost totally on federal government loans, his vision was cut short as Lustron ran out of working capital to continue operations after only 2,680 Lustron houses had rolled of the assembly line from 1948 to mid-1950.

As historic preservation moves to include more recent structures, the Lustron home should be recognized for its significant place in the history of architecture and the housing industry in the United States.


Most houses built before World War II were vertical multi-story buildings, constructed of wood, and often designed to resemble colonial houses or were variations of or incorporated elements of housing styles from other time periods.  In the late 1940's, a new architecture era emerged--mid-century modern.  These homes were horizontal, mostly one-story structures, with fewer walls enveloping rooms to accomplish "open" floor plans.  New building materials and methods were widely used in their construction, such as concrete, cement block, window walls, shallow pitch and flat roofs.

The all metal ranch style Lustron home exemplified this dramatic shift in residential architecture.  The Lustron was built with a steel frame, siding panels and roof tiles of colored porcelain enamel baked onto steel, all metal trim and aluminum windows.  The interior, with porcelain on steel wall and ceiling panels, had a very efficient and spacious layout.  There were no walls dividing the living, dining, and kitchen areas, there were several space-saving features such as sliding and pocket doors to eliminate the need for swing space, and there were built in bookcases, vanities, and cabinets, along with floor-to-ceiling storage.

With its clearly unique visual aesthetic, nontraditional building materials and different interior design, the Lustron brought the mid-century modern concepts to the mass housing market.


Before the Lustron era, houses were individually built on site.  While Sears and other companies did sell kit houses where all of the pieces were pre-cut and collected for shipment as a unit, these kits were totally assembled at the building location.  Lustron produced the parts for the house and then pre-fabricated and partially assembled sections of these pieces on an assembly line, much like cars were being manufactured.  This eliminated material waste, weather delays, and inefficient use of labor, and brought the potential for significant cost savings to the building industry.

These Lustron house kits were loaded onto specially designed trailers in a way that facilitated their assembly on site.  These components could be put together on concrete slab foundations in 200-400 man hours using just rubber mallets, wenches, screw drivers, and other hand tools.  While stick-built wood houses of similar size took 4-6 months to complete, the elapsed time from lot purchase to house closing was documented as only 2 months for some Lustrons, including two in Connecticut.   

The Lustron Corporation established that mass production methods could be used to manufacture housing and substantially reduce the time to erect a house on site.  While its methods have since been used to build mobile homes and some traditional wood modular houses, today almost all residential structures in the United States continue to be individually built on location.


Lustron advertised that its houses would never need re-roofing or painting.  They would be rat-proof, decay-proof, termite and rodent-proof.  The Lustron finish on the exterior and interior would not fade, crack, or peel.  Sunlight, chemical fumes, or smoke would not fade or stain the finish.  The only cleaning materials needed would be soap, water, and a damp cloth!

With the advantage of 75 years of hindsight, these claims have been validated as many Lustrons still have their original roofs, siding, and interior panels.

On comparable stick-built homes, the asphalt shingle roofs have had to be replaced multiple times in that same period.  The exterior wood siding on these houses has had to be repained every 5-10 years and often owners have eventually replaced it with aluminum or vinyl siding at significant expense.  The interiors have also been repained at intervals, and until recent times, this involved the use of toxic lead paint.

Had Lustrons become more mainstream in the housing market, they could have created a much different expectation for home buyers with regard to future maintenance.