Walker Art Center’s Idea House

Walker Idea House 1951

An explosion of interest in domestic design took place in the early 1940s. Families were becoming interested in the benefits of open and efficient home planning and the practicality of cutting-edge features. In June of 1941, the Walker Art Center opened an ambitious exhibit to the public – a full-scale, fully functional house that would demonstrate the advantages of modern design by utilizing standard building materials and mass-produced furnishings. The project sought to show that quality design was attainable for the middle-class. The exhibit was known as Idea House I.

Over 20,000 visitors toured Idea House I. The exhibit created discussion in the community about how modern features could be integrated into existing homes. Ladies were often heard discussing the features that they were the most impressed with, and those they didn’t find very practical, at lunch counters around the city.

By 1947, the post-war boom had brought modern living to the forefront of the American dream, as well as the technology to vastly improve on amenities designed before the war. To showcase the new wave of modern design, the Walker opened Idea House II on a patch of wooded land behind the Walker, near Idea House I. It contained many innovative features such as a kitchen with stainless steel walls and electric appliances, an open floorplan in which the living and dining spaces flowed into each other, a two compartment bathroom, floor-to-ceiling windows that made the most of natural light, and the concept of a children’s apartment. Many features of this modern living house would make their way into homes built in the decades that followed.

The exhibit garnered local and national attention; articles appeared in McCall’s, Life, The New York Times Magazine, Minneapolis Star Tribune, and Progressive Architecture. Television and radio broadcasts covered the exhibit extensively. Over 56,000 people visited the Idea Houses before tours ceased in the mid-1950s.

Idea House II remained open for public tours during its first year. After that it was used as a residence for Walker staff and tours were available by appointment. Although eight more homes had been planned for, no more were ever built. Idea House I and II were both torn down in 1969 to make way for the Guthrie Theater.