Design and the American Dream: PhD Student Joy Huntington Researches the Rise of Single Women Homeowners

When Joy Huntington designed homes for her clients in Pittsburgh she was often intrigued by how differently men and women would react to certain design ideas.

“Our firm did everything – from picking out towels and flatware to designing the home. I remember that the things women paid attention to would often make their partner or husband ask, ‘What? Why are you asking about that?’” Meanwhile, Huntington says, “the women would all say, ‘Trust me, you’d notice if it wasn’t right.’”

Now a Ph.D. student in SoHE’s Interior Architecture program, Huntington is looking more deeply into those differences. “In 1982 single women bypassed single men as the second largest group who were buying homes across the nation.” This was quite a departure from the GI Bill years, she says, when home ownership was an American Dream the government bestowed onto largely white family men.

“I wanted to know how we got to this place where home ownership was a dream that included marriage to now when home ownership is a dream for women that not necessarily includes marriage. And I started to wonder, ‘Are we living the dream?’”

Feeding her passion for historic preservation and restoration, Huntington’s research will focus on Midwest women homeowners from the last century and allow her take advantage of the holdings at the Wisconsin Historical Society, the first and oldest historical society in the nation.

Taking a cue from her advisor, Associate Professor Jung-hye Shin, Huntington says she is equally intrigued by what the homes will tell her about the lives that these women were making for themselves. “Dr. Shin studies environment behavior which I am interested in. What she also looks at is culture and the ways culture informs design and design informs culture.”

“When I’m looking into the past I want to understand their lifestyle as well, because that should be read into the design of their home.”

 

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