When you live in a Lustron, you’re part of a story. The tale begins in 1948, when the Lustron Corporation debuted its prefabricated, all-steel homes manufactured in a former airplane plant in Columbus, Ohio. The company imagined an American landscape drenched in seafoam, pink, harvest gold, and the other enamel hues of its mail-order ranches, but it sold only about 2,500 over three years.
Photographer Charles “Chuck” Mintz picks up the Lustron story today, documenting people who are holding onto these quirky, increasingly rare homes. He has traveled the country over the past couple years shooting portraits of more than 100 inhabitants. After the jump, I’ll show you more samples from his series, including his shot of me and Andrea on our patio.
The 34 images in the Lustron Stories gallery so far reveal amazingly diverse ways of personalizing these factory-made homes. Some owners have replaced the metal kitchen cabinets with wood, or closed in the porch to make a sunroom, or painted the gray niches with pops of color. I’ve always felt a strong unity with fellow Lustron dwellers in far-off cities, so it’s interesting to see how differently we express ourselves in identical frameworks.
Chuck photographed Andrea and me with his antique wood camera last summer, and he recently sent me his favorite image from our session:
I was deflated at first. I had thoroughly fluffed the living room and master bedroom, but Chuck preferred the ungroomed patio as a backdrop. Plus, we’re proud Lustron owners, but I think our faces look gloomy. (Since Chuck’s exposures were a second long, he asked us to be very still and not smile.) Here in the journal and in my other published work, I’m accustomed to presenting a polished version of myself and my nest. This project, it turns out, was a good exercise in turning over control to an artist with a different agenda and just letting go of the outcome.
In the end, I’m glad Andrea and I contributed to this latest chapter of the Lustron story. Our portrait is raw and exposed, and there’s beauty in that honesty. If you’d like to see Chuck’s series in person, he has exhibits planned in Louisville, Kentucky, and Columbus, Ohio. You can view his images online here and learn about upcoming shows here.