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Little houses made of ticky-tacky

Variants of my houseWow — a piece in the Good Weekend last week that wasn’t about Barry Humphries.

It was about houses being built modelled on Martha Stewart’s homes, apparently being bought by people who have no original ideas for themselves, but trust Martha to design something good.

“We’re delighted because we have no vision ourselves and Martha has thought of everything for us.” — Patty Coicione, quoted in Marthaville USA, by Helena de Bertodano, The Age Good Weekend, 25/1/2007.

Leaving aside the question of whether the interiors would be modelled on Martha’s prison cell, I find it amazing that so many people would go for this idea — buying a mass-produced home, leaving all the decorating decisions to the interior decoration Godess of Martha. They even have to follow guidelines set down by the company for what they can and can’t do with the exterior. It’s like a heritage overlay with no heritage.

But then, a lot of homes are mass-produced. Even my house, which dates from about 1930 (in these amazing 1945 aerial photos of Melbourne, only about half the street is settled). At first glance it appears to be unique, but in fact follows a set formula.

Looking closely around Melbourne suburbs that were settled at about that time, I’ve found dozens of houses that are the same, with the only difference being the choice of colour, weatherboard or brick, dining/livingrooms on the left or on the right, and the style of front verandah. Indeed, last week I found a house for sale in a nearby street with virtually the same floorplan as my house.

I wonder how Martha Stewart’s houses will look in 75 years.

PS. To clarify (and answer Michael’s question), the pictures shown here are of ≈75-year-old houses similar to my own. If you look closely you’ll see they’re all the same basic design. You can see Martha’s efforts here.

By Daniel Bowen

Transport blogger / campaigner and spokesperson for the Public Transport Users Association / professional geek.
Bunurong land, Melbourne, Australia.
Opinions on this blog are all mine.

9 replies on “Little houses made of ticky-tacky”

I grew up in a housing commission area in Morwell where there were many repetitions of my house in the surrounding streets – but as time passed the houses were extended or painted in different ways and were evolving into different designs.

I know many housing estates have a handful of designs repeated over and over again – expect this is the case with all mass-produced houses. In time they will evolve differently.

Are the houses in your photos Martha Stewart designs, or just homes in your neighbourhood?

I wonder how many people buying an established house in 75 years time will even recognise it as a martha Stewart “original”? Will they have a special plaque of authenticity? (Will have to check out that website in more detail.)

My grandfather was a builder in Oakleigh in the 1930’s and 1940’s. There’s one street still there where he built every single house. They’re all identical (or at least were back then) because he only had one set of plans.

He and my grandmother live in Queensland now, but we took him back there a few years ago and he was quite appalled at what people had done to their houses in the 60-odd years since he’d built them. He couldn’t understand why anyone would want to mess with a perfectly good plan.

It is interesting that they built houses to a common floor plan to save money, but they didn’t make them square. Surely a square (or rectangular) house would be cheaper to make than the style in the photos, with the jutting out section and the more complex roof. Thankfully they thought style was worth paying a bit more for.
I think Martha’s Lily Pond is particularly ugly – probably nice inside though.
I visited Nashville a few weeks ago. There were new housing estates where all the houses were the classic 2 storey American design – exactly like Wisteria Lane. But there were no trees, shrubs, backyard fences or privacy. Lawns just ran into each other. How would they know where to stop mowing? It was astounding.

Daniel, there are lots of people out there who have no idea how to create a ‘style’ in their home. And that’s why shops such as Ikea and Freedom do so well -they suggest combinations of colours and furnishings for those people who not only have no idea but also not excess quantities of cash available. Maybe you’ve bought items from there yourself?

And those unoriginal people who do have available funds can hire themselves an Interior Designer (not decorator) to assist with ideas for floorplans, textures and finishes as well as furnishings.

If it was really easy to do, I guess there wouldn’t be a three year course to train people in design so they could do this sort of thing.

Whether you like Martha Stewart herself, or her design, or not,I say good on those ‘people who have no original ideas for themselves’ for at least knowing what they like and going for it. If no-one liked her designs no-one would buy them!

Sorry about the vent!

From the sister of a very successful and busy interior designer…

There are similar restrictions on exteriors in other themed estates, such as Disney’s Celebration.

Melbourne’s Sandhurst estate has a long list of rules for houses, to ensure high land value in the area.


Your house design has stood the test of time. It’s associated with the period immediately after the Great Depression, say the mid 1930s, when there was probably a fair bit of optimism despite Hitler’s rise. Your style of house to me is always associated with Glen Huntly Road, Glen Huntly – have a look near the tram depot. They’re everywhere! I don’t think you’d ever have too much trouble selling this ‘sold’ type of design.

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