What, you might ask, is a Lustron?
After WWII, factories across America were suddenly idle. As were many millions of workers. One man had an idea: why not transform the steel factories which had created tanks and battleships into factories creating housing?
Thus, the dream of Carl Strandlund became reality, and Luston built around 3,000 homes between 1948 and 1950, which sold for between $8,500 and $9,500.
The houses were all steel: the roofing shingles, exterior wall cladding, interior walls and ceilings, and even the numerous built-in cabinets. All the steel had an enameled finish, and no homes ever built were so easy to clean.
The windows were aluminum.
I have loved Luston’s for decades, and was thrilled to finally be IN one at the Lustron House Museum in Great Bend, Kansas. Whoee! Great Bend has a remarkable eighteen Lustrons! Zounds!
ABOVE: If you ordered a Lustron, it arrived on a huge trailer.
ABOVE: Lustron built demonstration homes which proved wildly popular.
ABOVE: The all-steel interiors were softened by rugs, upholstered furnishings, and curtains.
ABOVE: I would love to see a Lustron restored to this look. Note how the woman seems to be having a delightful conversation with one of the table lamps. People who buy and restore Lustrons often create an Atomic-Age decor, or Art Deco-inspired. But Lustrons were created between these two eras, and they have their own distinct period aesthetic, as exemplified by the two images above.
ABOVE: The most popular model, the two-bedroom Esquire.
ABOVE: Whoee! A Esquire Lustron in Emporia. The only Lustron in Emporia. And it can be yours for $49,000.
ABOVE: The Emporia Lustron is in remarkable condition. Often such houses suffer from rusting steel panels, replacement windows, and replacement siding. Oh the horror! This Lustron is in great, original condition. I even like the colors (green roof, gray walls with a green hue, and cream accents also with a green hue).
ABOVE: The aluminum windows are WAY cool. They are in excellent condition save the rubberized gaskets holding the glass in place. I would replace these with standard glazing compound.
ABOVE: You can see how replacement windows SO do not look right on a Lustron!
ABOVE: The Emporia living room. The most serious issue with this Lustron is how the floor slab has settled in this area. This has caused the steel wall panels to “step” along the top, as evidenced in this image. Some people could live with this; I could not, and would have to rectify the situation, damn the expense! NOTE: The flooring is not original, nor the base molding, or ceiling vent.
ABOVE: In the linen closet is the original flooring. I would work really hard to find matching tiles to recreate the original flooring.
ABOVE: Looking towards the dining area. The cabinet divides the room from the kitchen. Note the pass-through. Convenient! This is one of the things I love about Lustrons: they were incredibly well thought out.
ABOVE: The kitchen. Save the sink cabinet, the other cabinets are original. So is the ceiling light (missing its shade) and wall fan. Love these touches!
ABOVE: The divider between kitchen/dining. The sliding panels on the lower cabinet are in the outbuilding (behind the house).
ABOVE: The stove goes here.
ABOVE: The utility room. This rather spacious room houses the furnace, hot water heater, pantry, and washing machine. The panels open to reveal plumbing (the bathroom is on the other side of the wall) and telephone connections. Cool.
ABOVE: The master bedroom with built-ins galore! The three-part mirror over the make-up table is missing, exposing the steel panels of the living room. This is the wall which has settling issues, which means that the sliding doors do not slide. But at least they are still in place.
ABOVE: More master bedroom. The sliding door (which works well) to the left goes to the hall. I do not know what is wrong with the finish of the closet sliders. Lustron owners take such issues to body shops to refinish.
ABOVE: More master bedroom. This is the only wall to place a bed.
ABOVE: The smaller bedroom. The door to the right is, obviously, new. I would love to know if the slider is still in the wall!
ABOVE: The bathroom. And what a wonder it be! This is the most original Lustron bathroom I have ever seen. Save the flooring and toilet, pretty much all is as it was. Nice! Many Lustrons have serious corrosion where the steel panels touch the tub but not here. Wonderful! Whoee!
ABOVE: Whoee! Even the glass shades are original!
ABOVE: Whoee! Original built-in.
ABOVE: The back of the house. Not bad looking! I would relocate the meter, all the wiring, and the AC condenser. And I would remove the awning. The decorative oh-so-50s detail on the far left is actually the downspout for the gutter.
ABOVE: Just behind the house is this way cool 1950s party pad, and with a room behind. The room has electricity but no plumbing or HVAC. It would make a great shop, office, or guest bedroom once HVAC was installed. Somebody went to great effort with this structure as the walls look like Lustron panels but are actually concrete. I would carefully restore this fabulous structure.
There is also a 2-car carport, and the lot, unexpectedly, extends WAY past the carport.
Lustrons had an extremely odd but fascinating heating system. For those mechanically-minded, you will greatly enjoy this page.
A DEEP YEARNING
I have lusted after this Lustron for many years and have patiently waited for it to become available. Had this happened a year ago, before I purchased the Cross House, I would have snapped it up! And I would have largely dismantled it to restore it, well, right. Then I would have had immense fun carefully recreating a distinct circa-1950 period decor — not Deco nor Atomic-age but that wonderful in-between aesthetic which has no name.
Today, with the demands of the Cross House, there is no way I could take on such a project. Sigh. But maybe, maybe, some crazy nut (with money!) will come along and realize my hope for this Lustron.
RESTORING A LUSTRON
I cannot imagine how in, say, 1980 one would have been able to properly restore a Lustron. Today, there is a wealth of information available, notably at Lustron Preservation.
And restoring a Lustron is also MUCH easier by having the original erection manuals easily on hand, here.
On Old House Dreams, here.