The home improvement industry came into its own with the post-World War II housing boom in America. Returning soldiers and their families needed living space, and developers were happy to provide it. Neat rows of new houses cropped up on empty land at the edges of big cities, and suburbia was born. With every new picket-fence-ringed saltbox, the market for home maintenance products and supplies grew. But the "do-it-yourself" movement, born out of practicality, has expanded to become a form of entertainment. Lowe's is happy to provide this information as a service to you.
Renovation as a Spectator Sport
Leaky pipes still get fixed all over the country each weekend, roofs get patched, bedrooms get painted. But the DIYers of today aren't just working, they're enjoying themselves. They research home improvement projects online and in magazines, discuss them on radio call-in shows, and watch hour upon hour of television shows with experts explaining them.
And it's not just the workers who are tuning in. DIY as an entertainment form has become as much aspirational as it is practical. Among the audience for home improvement television are those who have never picked up a hammer, but who love to watch the transformation of run-down ranch houses to modern masterpieces.
At the start of a new millennium, home improvement means not just repairing what you have, but dreaming about what it can become — or getting a vicarious thrill from someone else's project.
In 1949, Arthur Levitt and his two sons began a project that literally changed the look of the country forever. Under their control, a swath of empty field on Long Island became the country's first modern subdivision: Levittown.
Buyers snapped up the two-bedroom, one-bath houses – sold for as little as $8,000 – and proudly staked their claims to their own little pieces of land. Though the houses would seem small by today's standards, their size made them affordable to GIs returning from World War II and re-establishing their lives as civilians.
Though the standardization of the building process left the Levittown houses looking much alike, owners quickly added personalizing touches. The local hardware store, always a town square fixture, became a new gathering point for the community. As the houses grew in size, they also grew in character. Rooms were expanded, additions were built, second stories topped the tiny Cape Cods and Ranches.
- Adding dormers allowed homeowners to create attic bedrooms.
- Garages with breezeways became a "must" in auto-dominated suburbia.
- Wings added to the sides and backs of the houses made space for growing families.
Levittown may have been the first, but it wasn't the last. As the post-World War II boom echoed through the country, similar developments popped up everywhere.
The stabilizing effect of these subdivision neighborhoods would prove to be both a catalyst for and a comforting shield against the turmoil of the '60s and the Vietnam Era. While college students tuned in, turned on and dropped out, Dad stayed at home to re-paint the shutters.
The late '70s and early '80s saw the mood of the country stabilize and the economy begin to improve. As the "Go-Go '80s" took root, rising economic fortunes brought on a wave of house pride.
Americans had more money, and their homes were a place to show it. U.S. Census data show a boom in home repair and improvement between 1982 and 1992: a 115% increase, the largest of any 10-year period 1975-2001.
With all that money floating around, the rise of one-stop retail home improvement centers was easy to predict. Suburbia, the defining pattern for so much late-20th century American development, begat the shopping center. From the shopping center came the super-sized, everything-under-one-roof retail experience. And the crowds at the town square hardware store migrated to the big box, eager to fill their trucks and trunks with lumber, tools, appliances and gardening supplies, all from one convenient location.
As the 20th century drew to a close, the aspirations of homeowners were buoyed by the blending of home improvement and entertainment in the media. Shelves of books and magazines offer advice and ideas, television programs – and even entire networks – inspire and educate.
The Internet takes it to a new level: You can dream up a project, find instructions, buy the materials and chat with friends about your progress, all without leaving home.
Home improvement has come a long way from the days when Dad spent Saturday morning working his way through Mom's "honey-do" list. Walking the aisles of a 100,000+ sq. ft. Lowe's store, the mood is as much one of inspiration as it is obligation.There might be a leaky toilet back at home that needs fixing, but the millennial view of home improvement includes so much more. What about an entire new toilet, with a pedestal sink to match? Would a fresh coat of paint brighten the walls? Would a new light fixture sparkle? The possibilities are endless.
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