It’s a house where if you want to knock on wood, you have to go outside and find a tree.
It’s a house where the “detached family room” doesn’t mean it was hit by a tornado.
It’s a house with the type of curb appeal that maybe only a historian — or a steel worker — could love.
And it’s been the unique home of Chuck and Amy Retallick, in the 200 block of Elm Street in Marshall, for the past 10 years, though perhaps not for very much longer.
The Retallicks’ house, which the couple put on the market about six months ago, is one of 100 or so Lustron homes built in Wisconsin between 1948 and 1950, among some 2,680 nationwide.
Made of prefabricated steel panels with a ceramic overlay on all surfaces, inside and out, the homes were designed as small, one-story houses on concrete slabs that could be built quickly, relatively cheaply and durably.
Started by Lustron Corp. founder Carl Strandlund, a Chicago-based entrepreneur, the homes were supposed to help address the national housing shortage after World War II, and most of them still stand today, though Lustron went bust by the end of 1950.
The Retallicks bought their Lustron house from a relative who owned it for six years. No information about the home’s first owner was available, though the Retallicks do have the home’s original construction blueprints, passed down from all the previous owners.
The Retallicks have made some changes and updates over the years — new windows, a new furnace, and most noticeably, that detached family room they built in the back yard to add more living space.
But overall the house, with its smooth, metallic walls, open floor plan and efficient, built-in storage units, retains the look and feel of a Lustron home, which also means no basement, just one bathroom and only two bedrooms.
“The amount of space is limited,” said Roger Stauter, a Madison-based Stark Co. real estate agent who picked up the Retallicks’ listing in early February. “The house is probably going to be occupied by just a single person or a couple.”
Stauter, who’s been in the real estate business for 40 years, said he sold one other Lustron home, many years ago, on Madison’s East Side. He said the key was finding a buyer who appreciates the home’s history and eccentricities.
“You might find somebody who has an appreciation for the fact that it’s all steel and is going to be low maintenance,” he said. “But you have to find somebody who is basically interested in a house that is a little different. The people who own these homes form kind of a clique. It’s a conversation item.”
While some owners of Lustron homes have complained about high utility bills, Amy Retallick reported no problems and said she and her husband enjoyed their time there.
“It’s something not everybody has seen,” she said. “It creates a little interest.”
“We just really want to be out in the country now,” she added, explaining they want to find a more rural house for their next home.
Originally priced at about $10,000, not counting the lot, Lustron homes were assembled by various builders from pieces made in the former Lustron factory in Columbus, Ohio, and shipped by flatbed truck to building sites. They took about 350 hours to assemble, according to historical information gathered by Lustron Connection, an online group for Lustron owners.
In promotional material, Lustron boasted of its homes being nearly maintenance-free, with a roof that never needed new shingles, walls that never needed painting, and a steel structure that was impervious to fire, lightning, rust and rodents.
Amy Retallick agreed the home didn’t need much maintenance, saying the walls were easy to wipe clean with a rag. She also liked the home’s “clean lines,” she said, and its economical use of space, and she noted other perks, like being able to post pictures on the walls with magnets, if they were light enough.
“I expect it will sell,” Stauter said. “It’s, of course, in the lower price ranges. It provides some variety to the real estate business.”
But there was no happy ending for the company that made Lustron homes.
Buffeted by problems including an erratic post-war steel supply, reportedly poor distribution systems, higher prices than existing fabricated homes and resistance from traditional builders, Lustron filed for bankruptcy in 1950, long before most of the 20,000 orders for homes it had taken between 1946 and 1948 could be filled, according to historical accounts.