The “LIFE” Magazine House of Albany: Edward Durrell Stone

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On September 25, 1938 LIFE Magazine published a series of designs for 8 homes in 4 income brackets. One of the designs in the moderate income class was by Edward Durrell Stone. It became known as the “LIFE House.” In Albany. The Hockensmith Co., which was developing the Buckingham Gardens section of Albany, contracted with Mr. Stone and LIFE Magazine to obtain the plans for one of the moderate income homes ($2,000- $3,000) for construction in Albany, and built the house with some minor adaptions for the lot size by a local architect. George Hockensmith built many of the houses you will see today in the Buckingham Dr., New Scotland and Lenox Ave. area. Its real estate office was on the corner of Lenox Ave and New Scotland, and the pretty little structure is still there.

Most of us know Stone from his iconic designs for the Museum of Modern Art and University at Albany. They reflect an ultra-modern aesthetic on a large scale. But throughout his career he designed a number of private residences; one of those was a house in Albany on Buckingham Drive.

As the country started to emerge from the Depression around 1937 there was a huge uptick in the demand for housing. While Albany had suffered during the Depression, that pain was not as deep and lasting as other areas of the country. As the site of State government, many people held on to their jobs, and others tightened their belts and saved. Families continued to grow. By 1938 there was an explosion of residential development in Albany – primarily in the Whitehall Rd, Upper Washington Ave and upper New Scotland Ave. areas. But not everyone could afford a new home that cost $7,000 – $8.000 (the average price of a new home in Albany at that time.) Many of the builders were willing to hold the mortgages and buy out existing rental leases to stimulate housing growth.

The Buckingham Dr. house was designed to meet the needs of moderate income prospective home owners. It was a model of contemporary design, technology and efficiency (It was one of the “5-Star Homes” touted by the New York State Power and Light Company). It was a one story bungalow with 3 bedrooms, a kitchen, dining room and living and an attached garage (the latter was a stunning innovation). It used gas for heating vs oil or coal (a breakthrough in the late 1930s). The layout of the house was modern; rooms were meant to be more flexible and functional than older homes. The kitchen was designed around the “U-shape” with built-in (fitted) cabinets (architectural innovations from the late 1920s). Even the furnishings in the model house were modern; the living room featured “Swedish Modern” furniture in blond oak. There was such a focus on light and airiness in this compact house it was referred to as “The Apartment in the Garden”.

The Buckingham Dr. house was completed in February, 1939; hundreds thronged to the open houses for the model modern home of the future. They could see the house of tomorrow today.

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Copyright 2021 Julie O’Connor

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