Tuesday, 13 January 2015

Where Friendship Would Prosper: The 1930s House

While rummaging around at work recently, I happened upon a stack of pages taken from interior design magazines from the mid-1930s, I believe. Instantly, they made my heart sing. They are both cosy and optimistic, and I just love the cheerful, clean designs and the feel-good wording accompanying them.

The pages epitomise the buoyance and optimism of the ’30s, once the economy had recovered from the depression of the early years of the decade. A boom in housebuilding—3 million houses were built during the 1930s in Britain—was accompanied by a shift to home-ownership as mortgages became easier to obtain and afford.

A suburban house built at this time would be modest but a step-up from living in a city flat. Typically, it would comprise two reception rooms downstairs, and upstairs two main bedrooms and a box room, as well as a kitchen and indoor bathroom. Although the designs were pretty uniform, subtle differences in the half-timbering or gables lent each house its uniqueness. And while most of the new houses were built on the outskirts of town where land was available, the styles would be reminiscent of country cottages, inspiring some of the delightfully chintzy interiors.

As ordinary folk found themselves homeowners for the first time, so their expectations rose: homebuyers now demanded internal bathrooms and loos, and embraced new technology and ideas such as the wireless and design ideas, built-in wardrobes and serving hatches, and thus the need for these wonderful interior design magazines.

I think my favourite picture from this collection would be the sitting room/study with the title A COLOURED TELEPHONE Is the Keynote of This Room. Of course, it seems so quaint to us now to design a room around a telephone, but you can’t help but adore the bold red of the telephone sitting alongside the glorious, busy fabric.

The sitting room Where Friendship Would Prosper, I suppose, is a little more traditional, but charming nonetheless with the matching fabric and its seating arrangement around the fireplace.

The kitchen I adore for its simplicity and thoughtful design. It must have seemed pretty cutting-edge for its serving hatch and well-planned built-in cupboard, and I think its elegance puts it above modern-day kitchens, in their clich├ęd fussiness.

Built-in cupboards again in the attic bedroom give it an edge, while the matching fabric and knick-knacks create a welcome cosiness.

The bathroom—a far cry from the days of a tin bath in front of the range and an outside privie—is revealing. It must have seemed the height of luxury, although I suppose of all the illustrations here, it may seem the most quaint to modern eyes used to mixer taps and power showers.

Even so, there is something so forward-looking about all of these designs, produced with comfort and a fresh attractiveness at their heart. Of course, we now know that within just a few years the clouds of war would threaten these cosy scenes, and that design was soon to be pared down to match the availability of materials and resources. But I love these designs for what they are—an expression of hope for a more settled time, and a future where friendship would indeed prosper.

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