Tennessee Modernism: House that HOME built by Bruce McCarty

Structure: House that HOME built
Location: Knoxville, Tennessee
Architect: Bruce McCarty
Date: 1957
Story: It’s not often there’s a silver screen connection to Tennessee architecture, but today, there is! In the 1950s, NBC was airing a show called Home. The show was hosted by entertainer Arlene Francis and broadcaster Hugh Downs. The show was a hit. At a time when the largest shows brought in ~6M viewers, Home amassed an audience of over ~2M. Very impressive.

Hugh Downs (far left) and Arlene Francis (second from left)

The show was to feature a segment called ‘House that HOME built’, a segment co-sponsored by the National Association of Home Builders (NAHB). The segment’s goal was to convince the viewers that glass-filled, flat(ish)-roofed, modern homes would work anywhere in the country, not just in sunny California.

NBC spent $200k (~$1.9M today) to build the revolving set. It featured a kitchen, a workshop, and an area to demonstrate the effects of weather on various items

There are rumors that the ‘House that HOME built’ segment was the brainchild of none other than Joseph Eichler. Eichler, a marketing man at heart, hoped the segment would help him sell houses (which he was building out in California).

An Eichler blueprint and completed house (in Southern California)

Jumping over to California for a second, Eichler built tracts of houses that were very modern. Because Eichler himself was a builder (not an architect), he used a handful of modernist architectural firms to achieve a contemporary for his tract houses. Some of the firms he used were Jones & Emmons and Anshen & Allen.

The Eichler-built house on the left was designed by Jones & Emmons, the one on the right by Anshen & Allen

Back to our feature programming. So Eichler (along with the NBC execs) convinced Jones & Emmons to design a prototype house for the segment. The idea was to design a house that was modern but could sit well in any climate, one that could be built by builders from anywhere in the U.S.

Scans from the original House that HOME built brochure (via KC Modern)

The resulting design was the ‘House that HOME built’ model, take a look!

The design was then made available to other architects/builders around the country for $200 with the stipulation that, if you bought the plans, you’d build one model which would be open to the public.

NBC published a House That Home Built publication called ‘HOME in review’. Here, Arlene Francis displays the Jones & Emmons designed model

Back in Knoxville, home builder Martin Bartling (an active member of the NAHB), saw an opportunity. He attempted to build one of the Jones & Emmons designs in 1955. A March 1, 1955 notes that he planned to have the house built and “on exhibit for 30 days from June 4.” Like many other homebuilders in the U.S. who attempted this type of quick turnaround, Bartling doesn’t appear to have been successful.

Undaunted, Bartling come up with an alternative plan. Instead of having a local builder use Jones & Emmons plan, why not have a local architect create their own design and then have House that HOME built feature it? After receiving special permission from NBC, Bartling worked with Knoxville architect Bruce McCarty to design Knoxville’s very own House that HOME built.

Upon completion, NBC had the McCartys (Bruce & his wife Elizabeth) come to the HOME studio in New York and sit down with the show’s hosts. The interview, which was never aired, featured Bruce discussing his house’s design and how it accurately met the needs of young, American families.

Hugh Downs and Arlene Francis at left, Bruce and Elizabeth McCarty at right

The house was featured in Knoxville’s 1957 Parade of Homes, and, once the parade was finished, was sold to its first owners Loyd and Frances Wilson.

Bartling stands outside Knoxville’s House that HOME built to commence the opening of the 1957 Parade of Homes

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