The growth of the suburbs in Post-World War II America meant a massive housing boom. Demand was so rapid and sustained for homes in the suburbs, builders began mass producing homes of the same style, known as tract-houses (also known by their less endearing term, cookie-cutter houses). This trend continued for the next several decades, albeit at a slower pace. Most agree that it was around the 1980s when home building shifted into the modern, more unique homes we’re familiar with today.

Suburban tract housing.
photo by A R Driver / CC0

Some of the differences between homes at the beginning of the modern shift in the 1980s and today came down to lifestyle changes among Americans. A kitchen table was once a featured and often-used part of the single-family home. Some even had the separate, more formal dining room table. Now as more people eat on the go, dinner has become less of a family activity and more of a necessity.

Many others just come down to different aesthetics of the decade. Pastels were a particular favorite color scheme of the 1980s, while today beige and other warm colors are ubiquitous in American homes. Two of the most popular patterns of the decade were thin stripes, usually blue and white, giving off a preppy aura, as well as flame stitch, which you may be familiar with if you’re currently sitting on a hand-me-down couch from your parents.

In terms of architecture, the 1980s were notable for skylights, mostly installed at the top of a cathedral-like sloped ceiling. Staircases with open-air steps became more prevalent, something only seen now in more modern homes. Sunken living rooms – a small level change in a bigger room - were also a prominent feature in the 1980s, creating a cozy leisure area.

Modern tract homes in a suburb.
photo by Velela / CC0

Despite the many differences between homes in the 1980s and now, there are also many trends that have stayed or are recently making a comeback. Kitchen islands first started making appearances in the 1980s and today they’re a staple in modern, sleek kitchens. Open kitchens first started trending decades ago. Now they’re the norm for newly built houses. Some modern homes - especially those designed in the mid-2000s – take a bigger risk with colors and go for brighter, flashier walls, which was a trend made popular in the 1980s. Southwestern style décor also emerged thirty years ago. That term has evolved today into a rustic-style home, a more updated and modern version of the 1980s style.

Even though we can largely look at the 1980s as the starting point for modern, spacious homes, there is a slight shift back to beginning of suburbia. With the rise in popularity of planned and gated communities, many newer neighborhoods feature only a few floorplans and houses can pop up in empty lots in a matter of weeks. The newer mass produced homes are a far cry from the tract houses on the 1950s, but they’re certainly not in the distinctive home styles of the 1980s.