Big, Bold and Blandings: The Dreamiest House of 1948

Last week I went in search of Mr. Blandings. More specifically I went in search of Mr. Blandings’ dream house. A challenging feat on both fronts since Mr. Blandings is a fictional character and his real life dream house no longer exists. This adventure of the seemingly impossible was all sparked by a little snippet of information about a clever marketing campaign produced by Hollywood in 1948. The movie company was promoting this film…

a romantic comedy starring Cary Grant, one of the most beloved actors of the twentieth century. But before we get into the story of searching for a nonexistent man in modern day,  we must first travel back in time to the 1940s,  an era when creativity flourished, outside of the box thinking was encouraged and unusual situations were captivating the country. The first half of the decade was spent in World War II. On the home front that meant conservation, frugality, victory gardens, rations, fundraisers and bond drives. It was a test in patience, positivity, confidence and emotional endurance as people lived day to day waiting to hear the fates of their loved ones away at war.  In those first five years of the 40’s people got used to making do, going without and utilizing every last bit of everything. Thankfully, in 1945 the war ended and Americans adjusted once again to a new normal as they recovered from years of uncertainty. By 1948, two and half years after World War II ended, America was ready for some fresh air and some new perspectives. A glance at that year’s pop culture highlights tells all about the country’s enthusiastic push for progress and for ideas that were new and stimulating and fun.  Post war, post trauma, post sacrifice, 1948 embraced some big ideas that were remarkably different, refreshingly new  and spectacularly exciting. Let’s look…

It was the year that Land Rover debuted, bucking tradition with their new all-terrain vehicles, complete with a steering wheel that was located in an unusual spot – the middle of the front console. Tailfins showed up on Cadillacs, a nod towards sleek aviation design and a feeling that your car could take you anywhere. Monkeys were welcomed into NASA’s elite as they became astronauts bravely rocketing into space in order to test conditions so that men could make it there themselves a few years later. America’s affable laughable cartoon bird, Woody Woodpecker had a top 40 hit song on the radio, sharing the same spotlight with singing legends Doris Day, Perry Como, and Ella Fitzgerald. Brand new air ferries started shuttling around the sky, transporting people and their cars from one city to the next. And most exciting of all, on the kitchen front at least, was a man named Blandings who built his dream house.  And then he built seventy three more.

While all of these interesting pop-culture tidbits of 1948 are worthy of their own individual blog feature, it is Mr. Blandings who is the topic of our post and our road trip through history today. He created a sensation that took up the last four years of the 1940s, filling people’s heads with dreams of possibility on the home front. It all starts in 1946, when he was the subject of the runaway bestseller called Mr. Blandings Builds His Dream House, a fictional account of a real-life adventure  experienced by the author Eric Hodgins. In the book, Mr. Blandings embarks on the ultimate quest  – the American dream of the 20th century – buying a house for his wife and family.

To Mr. Blandings of 1946, a dream home meant extra closets, a private bath in each bedroom,  a game room for him, a sewing room for her and plenty of outdoor space for the kids. It meant everything that his cramped Upper East Side New York City apartment lacked – peace, security, space and a good dose of nature.  One day, when he just can’t stand the close city quarters a minute longer, he adventures out to the country to have a look around. One thing leads to another and a new domestic life comes into sight. In the book, it looks something like this, thanks to illustrator William Steig…

The Blandings choose the Connecticut countryside as their ideal homestead, and a historic house that was loved for both its shabby, need-of-repair appearance and its supposed storied place in American history. What develops as the family starts planning their move from NYC to Connecticut (just a train ride away!) involves a series of new house woes that they never expected including demolition and reconstruction.

Throughout the story, mishaps and unanticipated scenarios test the metal of all that makes up Mr. Blandings, the man and the mission. At every corner, he and his wife are met with a new challenge. Nothing goes quite according to plan. There are time delays, contractor issues, escalating costs, tricky neighbors and all sorts of digging, drilling and hammering surprises.  An everyman story, a timeless tale, an homage to hope, optimism and the struggle to succeed, Mr. Blandings Builds His Dream House resonated strongly with the heads and hearts of the American public of the mid-20th century. Many of whom were experiencing their own construction trials and tribulations, as the building industry boomed during the post-war years. The book was such a hit that two years after its debut, Hollywood made a movie out of it starring Cary Grant and Myrna Loy.

Just as entertaining as Eric Hodgin’s story, the movie was also an incredible success. Practically all of America fell in love (again!) with the Blandings and the predicaments they encountered. In addition to dealing with the baffling world of home construction, Mr. Blandings also frets over a questionable relationship between his wife and a long-time family friend while simultaneously juggling a deadline for an advertising campaign at work. The trailer doesn’t really do the film much justice, but it does give you a glimpse of the humor that peppers both the book and the movie…

We never really get a good sense of the house the Blandings wind up building until the very end of the movie when the finished product is revealed. It turns out to be a beautiful colonial-style farmhouse set on a few dozen acres of rolling countryside…

The  real-life house that Eric Hodgin’s book was based on was built in Connecticut in the late 1930s. The real-life house featured in the movie was built on pastoral studio-owned property in Malibu, CA in 1947. That makes two real-life houses built for the telling of one story. But by 1948, an astounding 73 more houses are added to that real-life list.  These houses are built in 60 different cities across the country thanks to a very clever and very generous marketing campaign put together to promote the film.  RKO Pictures and SRO Distribution Company teamed up with contractors, construction crews, designers, utility conglomerates and furniture companies all over the U.S. to build not one… not two… not three… but seventy three (73!) Blandings Dream Houses that were then raffled off in local contests. Not only was it epic promotion for the movie and the time period, but it was also an exciting opportunity for advertisers to showcase new products and cutting edge technology for the modern home.

General Electric was a big national sponsor advertising all their latest products including  wiring, appliances, air conditioning and even electric blankets. Many of their innovations greatly affected the kitchen and laundry areas, turning those rooms into two of the most technologically-advanced places in the entire house.

Imagine how exciting and inspiring this campaign must have been back in post-WWII  days when everyone was trying to get back on their feet and recreate their own semblance of home and shelter. The average house price in 1940 was about $3,000.00  (equivalent to $32,000.00 today) and the median household income was $956.00 a year (equivalent to about $17,000.00 today), not totally unaffordable by modern comparisons (the national median income today is $59,000 and the average U.S. home price is $230,000) but the Blandings dream houses in 1948 all came equipped with the most modern features, stylish interiors and the latest innovations which greatly extended their value.

For people who loved to cook, the idea of winning such a modern home would have been fantastically exciting, as the Blandings Dream Kitchen was one of the most modern and efficient rooms in the house.

In the 1930s and early 1940s most American kitchens looked something like this…

… a collection of precariously placed appliances and furniture of all styles that mingled with exposed heating, cooling, electrical and plumbing fixtures.  While these 1930s kitchens were perfectly functional they weren’t necessarily set up for ideal ease, comfort or organization.  By the time the Blandings declared their dreams in the 1940s, kitchens were becoming much more aesthetically pleasing and helpful. Built-in cabinets, long counter tops, hidden utilities, ventilation hoods, picturesque windows, bright colors and designated dining nooks made cooking more efficient, enjoyable and aesthetically pleasing. You’ll notice that these 1940s kitchens below also utilized corners, shelving and seating to maximize floor space.

When the movie first premiered in New York in March of 1948, ad campaigns began rolling out across the country announcing the Dream House Build-Up, so that by June when the Blandings were in theaters nationwide, the excitement and anticipation was at a fever pitch.

The Skokie. Illinois Dream House

Each of the cities that participated in the big build invited the local public in to view their custom version of a modern dream house.  What was especially intriguing about this promotional campaign is that not all of the houses built in each city were an exact replica of the Blandings dream house or its colonial style. Some cities chose to build houses that were more suited to their own local climate or aesthetic. The one built in Knoxville, TN was a one story rambler…

This one in Milwaukee was a smaller cape-style  cottage…

In Oregon, the dream house contained elements of brick and siding…

Read more about the Portland version of Mr. Blandings’ Dream House here.

Most of the Blandings promotional houses were built in suburbs  – the big city shadows where land, space and freedom offered opportunity for the American dream to grow and spread. From Jacksonville, Florida to Seattle, Washington; from the Eastern Shore of Maryland to the Pacific Coast of California; from the top of Minnesota to the bottom of Texas fictional dreams were determining real-life destinies. Which brings us back to the modern day road trip that I embarked on last week.

This is the complete list of all the cities that participated. Is there one in your town?

Excited to see that Nashville was listed as one of the “Dream” cities, I went in search of Blandings in my own neck of the woods. This is what the Nashville dream house looked like in 1948…

Unlike the one built in Knoxville, the Nashville house was built in the exact same style as the one in the movie. Located in a very pretty section of town, noted for its gorgeous old growth landscaping and stately historic homes, I was excited to see what the Blandings dream house would look like now. As I drove there, I pictured the house as it had appeared in the newsapper in 1948… the graduated rooflines, the shuttered windows, the dormers, the picket fence sectioning off a garden area and the shrubs and the freshly landscaped plantings, then in their infancy that would surely have grown into stately trees and gardens by now.

Here is what I found…

Pretty! But not exactly the same house as the one pictured in the newspaper advertisement…

As it turns out, unfortunately the original Blandings house was torn down in the 1970s. This new house occupying the spot now was built in 2016 and then sold for $1.6 million. Quite a price difference from the 1940s cost of a Blandings colonial.  Although this new house is not of historical design, it is fun to see that the roof line, dormer window and landscaping are quite similar and complimentary to the original Blandings style. Perhaps this house designer was a 1940s fan too!

As I was about to drive away, an elderly man came out from the garage of the house directly located across the street.  Emerging from a much more modest house in size and scope, this old gentleman was shuffling down his driveway with the help of his cane, wearing a wool cardigan, pajamas, bedroom slippers and a determined look.  I suspected that he was headed towards his mailbox, perhaps a daily jaunt he took for excercise and some fresh air. Immediately, I thought of Mr. Blandings and of Cary Grant and of Eric Hodgins and I waved to the man shuffling down his drive in an act of good cheer and neighborliness. I was hoping he’d respond with a knowing glance about the famous house across the street. But the elderly gentleman didn’t wave back. Obviously, he wasn’t our hero of book and screen. But in that moment I imagined that this stooped over grey-haired guy, trembly and slow with age, was once was an invigorated young man bent on building a dream house for his wife and children. I imagined that he once lived in a small, cramped apartment in a big city, and that one day, he too got fed up and set out to become master of his own domain. I imagined that his idea of domestic bliss was indeed the very house, the sprawling brick ranch, that he had just emerged from. Obviously he wasn’t Mr. Blandings. But then again… maybe he was.

Cheers to dreamers and to real-life houses that inspire books that then inspire movies that then inspire more dreamers and more houses! And cheers to Mr. Blandings, who is not real, but feels very much so.

If you are interested in reading the book that sparked this nationwide love affair seventy years ago, find it in the shop here. If you live in one of the dream cities that built a Blandings house please comment below and tell us all about your famous local icon. We’d love to hear more about it!

19 thoughts on “Big, Bold and Blandings: The Dreamiest House of 1948

  1. What a great way to start my day! This is one of my all-time favorite movies, and I can’t tell you how many times I’ve discussed or produced the clip of the red-yellow-blue (maybe I don’t have the order quite right) paint color scene. I love all the back story you’ve produced as well as the historic detail. Plus, you’ve inspired me to search for the Philadelphia house, or at least the site.

    Liked by 1 person

  2. Thanks for the post! This is one of my favorite movies. I recently painted my kitchen chairs the ‘yellow of the best butter you can buy at the local grocer’s ‘. I would love to find a standing Mr. Blandings’ Dream House today. I wonder if any of those 73 houses are still around?

    Liked by 1 person

    1. So glad you liked the post! I bet your chairs turned out to be the most beautiful shade of yellow:) I’m not sure how many of the 73 dream houses are still standing but I think there is at least a few including the author, Eric Hodgin’s house in Connecticut and the house used in the movie (which is now part of the Malibu Parks System). I think it would be so fun to make a documentary about all the Blandings dream houses and find out what happened to each of them and learn about the families that lived in them. I bet there are a lot of interesting stories surrounding these places. Perhaps, we’ll just have to go and see about them all:)

      Liked by 2 people

  3. This has always been a perennial favorite of my own and my husband’s! Ever since we first heard about/saw the movie on one of the old movie channels years back. I don’t recall if it was AMC or TCM, or who played it, but we always had to stop whatever we were doing and watch it whenever it came on!
    Now that’s not a problem, since it has taken up “permanent residence,” as it were, on the DVD recorder/player we acquired several years ago from our TV service provider when they installed fiber optic service for our telephone/television/internet service. Now, we can watch it whenever we’ve a mind to!
    The whole premise of the movie intrigued me, since I’ve been a student of the culture of the WWII years, and the home building boom that followed.
    I’ve also been a collector of vintage architectural kit home and plan book catalogs, and professional building journals, especially a particular vintage monthly building journal, American Builder, for as long as I’ve been able to find them on eBay, and have included the 1948 and 1949 issues in my purchases. (And the enormous stacks of them I have accumulated over time I see as an investment, since they cover the early 1920s-30s – the vintage bungalow era – to the early 1950s, and their selling price just keeps going up!)
    Of course, since primarily private single home and multiple residence, as well as commercial building, is their focus, there are a few good articles on the building of the “Mr. Blandings Dream Homes,” and their locations.
    The only thing I found disappointing in this article, which is certainly not your doing, is that the only reference I have seen to any of these homes being built anywhere in Virginia – specifically Richmond – is on the first page you list of locations, and a well known, local first class department store, Miller and Rhoads, listed as providing furnishings. After that, they both seem to disappear from the lists! I’m particularly interested since I grew up in the southeastern Chesapeake Bay Virginia area, very near the historic Williamsburg-Yorktown-Jamestown area, although much closer to the Bay area right on the water (and of course, the beaches!) from when I was about 6 months old until I was 20. I only moved away because my new husband (of all of one year) got his discharge from the Air Force, and moved us to his “home of record” (in northwest Indiana! Talk about “culture shock!”)
    Not sure what happened to the Virginia “Blandings home,” since that area was just as involved in the post-war home building boom as anywhere. Particularly with all five branches of the military located right on top of each other! While several other states got 3 (even including Indiana!) to even 5 homes, Virginia didn’t even get one? Perhaps, as some deals do though, it just fell through?
    Anyway, I was so pleased to find your article on the building of the homes, and especially the contemporary ad copy you included with it! I was also intrigued that only one home – the article linked to the Portland, Oregon home – attached here included any mention at all of “servant’s quarters” which were located over the garage attached to the home! And not much more was included there, except the fact that it existed, where it was actually located, and the kind of heat it included. The original movie home was supposed to include rooms for their live-in maid, Gussie, which likely included a nice sized furnished bedroom, closet(s) and a private, attached bathroom, but of course it seems we were never able to view any of what was usually termed the “service area” of the movie home – not the kitchen, pantry, the service porch or access, the laundry area, any kind of utility area, or the maid’s quarters. Don’t ask me why, but I’ve always been intrigued by the kinds of living quarters people have provided for any of their live-in staff, given that all the disagreeable and labor intensive chores that the staff do for the families for which they worked seemed to demand better than most of what was provided. I have a feeling however, that the Blandings maid was provided a very “more than adequate” set of quarters!
    Thanks again for the interesting, and thorough coverage of one of the most entertaining movies ever made, as well as the additional, most extensive ad campaign I think anyone has ever provided to promote a movie!!
    Best Regards, and have a MUCH more satisfying New Year than we’ve seen in several years!!


    1. How great to meet a fellow old house lover! Your collection of vintage home improvement books and magazines sounds like a marvel. I’ll have to do some further investigation into the fate of the Blandings house in Virginia. Some of the Blandings’ houses in other states were torn down or renovated quite dramatically so much so that it could be difficult to identify the original footprint. If I find out what became of the one in Richmond, I’ll let you know. In the meantime, there is a new post coming out on the blog this month that will be right up your alley in regards to 1940s era homesteading. Stay tuned! And thank you so much for popping into the Vintage Kitchen to share your story!

      Liked by 1 person

  4. I’ve researched the Blandings houses and can answer a few of the questions. The General Electric ads which list the cities where the houses were built is a bit misleading. Major cities are listed but the homes were often built in nearby, new suburbs/subdivisions. Examples: Chicago, IL is actually Skokie (7 Williamsburg Road), Toldeo, OH is Ottawa Hills (3766 Edgeville Road), Providence RI is Warwick (6 Pine Edge Court), Philadelphia is Huntingdon Valley (740 Dale Road), etc.
    The other ad (Blandings Build-Up is On!) which lists the builders and decorators is also interesting. It appears that houses announced for some places never materialized. Seattle WA, Birmingham AL, Jacksonville FL, Richmond VA are all locations I find no mention of a Blandings house in any newspaper archive or elsewhere. Others wait to be rediscovered. I just found out the fate of the house originally built in Manhattan, NYC-it’s at 55 Mill Pond Road in Port Washington, Long Island, NYC.
    I’ve done a Pinterest page with images of the Blandings houses. Check it out


    1. Thank you so much for sharing all this info about the Blandings houses! How interesting! I ofyen think how fun it would be to do a whole driving tour around the U.S. and visit each house or site and recxord all these particular details. Thank you so much for sharing your pinterest bard too – a great resource!


    2. I am so pleased that you have identified (miraculously) the locations of the homes built as “Blanding Dream Houses” in 1948-9. Can you share any information you have about the home built in or around Albany NY ? I haven’t been able to identify it through newspaper archives etc. Thanks!


      1. Hello Raymond! So sorry for the late response! I’m happy to say that the Blandings house that was built in 1948 in Albany, NY is still standing and looks to be in its original condition. You can find the house at 338 S. Manning Blvd, Albany NY. Here’s a link to the google earth view….,-73.8067926,3a,75y,292.68h,90t/data=!3m4!1e1!3m2!1sWDGdGBS1Oaad-51bePNx8Q!2e0!4m2!3m1!1s0x89de0aed5a4a2749:0x50bf7130980f5e90?sa=X&ved=2ahUKEwji86fywaD1AhXMjokEHZkpC6MQxB16BAgIEAI

        Hope this helps with your research! Cheers and Happy New Year!


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