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Architect Plan Books and The Small House Movement: Preserving Small Houses of the 1920s

The Small House Movement commenced in 1919 with the establishment of the Architects' Small House Service Bureau by the American Institute of Architects (AIA). This non-profit organization pioneered a groundbreaking plan service, allowing prospective homeowners to purchase small house blueprints by mail. The bureau's stringent standards for small house design greatly influenced architectural practices, inspiring numerous architect bureaus and house plan publications throughout the 1920s.

As part of a national initiative called Better Homes in America, the movement utilized small house designs to advocate for social reform and the enhancement of suburban aesthetics. Collaborating with the Architects' Small House Service Bureau, Better Homes in America launched comprehensive research and educational programs, including annual model house exhibitions held across the nation's cities.

Join the California Preservation Foundation as Valerie Smith, architectural historian and preservation consultant, presents her research on this movement -- examining the origins and contributors of the movement and analyzing the houses built as a result -- including a notable "treasure hunt" in Santa Barbara, where she identifies existing model houses from the 1920s. This case study serves as a valuable resource for historians and preservationists, offering essential guidelines for the conservation of houses associated with the Small House Movement.

Valerie's presentation promises to shed light on the lesser-known yet impactful Small House Movement of the 1920s, provide historians, preservationists, and enthusiasts with resources and guidelines for preserving houses associated with the Small House Movement of the 1920s.


Valerie Smith
Valerie works as an architectural historian and preservation consultant in Los Angeles. Her thesis research on the Small House Movement of the 1920s has been used to document and nominate resources important to Santa Barbara's architectural history. Her ongoing research on this topic seeks to provide guidelines for preserving small houses and highlighting the history of this trend in California.

Valerie is knowledgeable in modernism and has been involved with projects in Paris, New York, and Los Angeles. She is passionate about documenting and preserving historic assets for the Black community. She extensively researched and documented historic resources in Harlem and the Bronx, which included community outreach, historic context statements, recommendations for legacy businesses, and a National Register Nomination for a church.

Valeria is a 2022 graduate of Columbia University's Master's program in Historic Preservation and serves on the Board of Columbia University's Preservation Alumni. She earned a B.A. in Studio Art with an emphasis in photography from Hope College in 2004. Valerie lives in Los Angeles with her husband, and they enjoy walking on the beach, photography, and exploring many of Los Angeles' neighborhoods.


Nicole Hernandez is the architectural historian for the City of Santa Barbara. She has conducted historic resource surveys, worked with public and private property owners on preservation projects, provided valuable support and recommendations to the city’s Historic Landmarks Commission, and worked with community groups on researching local history.

Most recently, she played a crucial role in the preparation of the Santa Barbara African American and Black Historic Context Statement.

Before coming to Santa Barbara in 2012, Hernandez worked as an architectural historian at Historic Denver Inc., and before that, as an architectural historian for the City of New Orleans. She has a master’s degree in historic preservation from the Savannah College of Art and Design.