Wednesday, 9 November 2016

The 1948 Ideal Home

The Oxfam bookshop in Bath has been quite disappointing for some time – green Penguins, the vintage crime ones, seem nigh-impossible to find nowadays, and I've started to suspect they are all being creamed off for the !*£@ing 'vintage' Oxfam store. However, I still feel the call of the shop every once in a while, and yesterday I turned up a couple of goodies that the staff clearly don't think count as particularly collectable. My big find was this 1948-49 Ideal Home Book.

My other bookshop find, a Dover book of recreations of adverts from 1920s Sears catalogues is less 'wow', but still incredibly interesting.

The Daily Mail* started the Ideal Home Exhibition in 1908, with mock-ups of houses, where everything in the rooms could be purchased. The Exhibition quickly evolved into one that didn't just promote style, but introduced new homewares too – the electric kettle in 1920 and microwave oven in 1947 among them. While it wasn't run from 1940 to 1946 owing to the Second World War, the war couldn't defeat it and the exhibition was back by the end of the 1940s.
This book reflects that with articles on subjects such as 'Kitchen Equipment', 'Gadgetry', and 'Approach to Heating'. You can see the influence of the war on British homes in references to building restrictions meaning equipment that would previously have been in the scullery or utility room being put in the kitchen. Nowadays sculleries and utility rooms are very rare, so I guess we never got back into the habit of building them.

I was fascinated by adverts like the one below for what came to be known as 'prefabs'; homes prebuilt in sections at a factory and set up quickly on site. The book also has an advert for 'Cornish Unit' prefabs, another style with two stories. Prefabs were built in their thousands between the war and the early 1950s. Nowadays very few remain and a number are Listed by English Heritage. It's striking to see one being advertised as something innovative and highly desirable.
What's interesting about this book is that it shows that while domestic technology was definitely moving forwards, there was a degree of hankering back to much older times. At the very centre of the book is a set of colour reproductions of 18th-century drawings by Thomas Rowlandson, which "would look delightful if suitably mounted and framed". Britain's place in the world was changing dramatically in 1948 – India had gained independence, and other colonies were pushing for it – and there was a degree of national uncertainty as a result. I don't think Britain lost that desire for security for some years; when Elizabeth became Queen in 1952 there was a lot of spouting about 'New Elizabethans', again looking back to a so-called 'golden age'.

 Just look at this Ford car advert: the car is up-to-the-minute, but the house is a few hundred years old. It's not the only car advert in the book, and the one for the Standard Vanguard ("For export only during 1948" - Britain was too poor to keep the things it made, they had to be sold overseas) also shows the car in question outside a genuinely old timber-framed house.
The flipside of that is the rise of more modern styles, and more advanced materials. The deco era before the war embraced machine manufacture and streamlining, of course, but wartime rationing will have removed absolutely every frill and forced people to look at what could be done with less-than-luxurious materials. I'd never really considered it before, but looking at the book makes me wonder how much the experience of rationing and utility regulations impacted on 1950s design. Certainly articles on converting stables into homes, and houses into flats, show how great the need for new housing was in bomb-damaged Britain, and how space was at a premium, while the adverts for pressed aluminium kitchen units reveal something new, something mass-produced to be clean and efficient, and to go into your home (perhaps a prefab!) in no time. Instant house, instant kitchen.

I do love the colour plates in the book. They give a real feel for fashionable colour schemes of the period. And what an appetite for colour there seems to have been: white kitchen units with apple-green trim painted bright pink inside, striped upholstery, usually in a bright colour plus white ("Stripes are the last word in chic where furnishing is concerned."), fabrics with very large-scale prints or woven patterns (such as in the image from a Rosebank Fabrics advert further up the page)... but not wallpaper. Not even an advert for wallpaper. Everything from prefabs to Kenwood food mixers to Max Factor Colour Harmony makeup is advertised in the book, but not wallpaper. I guess rationing was still having an impact there.
Anyway, I'm dead chuffed with this book. I don't have a 40s-style home, nor do I plan to, but it's really lovely to get a glimpse into how the country was rebuilding after the war.


*I'm not linking to them.

24 comments :

  1. I wouldn't link to them either!

    I lived in a pre-fab house sold by Sears in the early years of the 20th Century. They were very popular farmhouses, and many of our neighbours had the same layout as the one we lived in. No heat in the upstairs bedrooms, but the kitchen heat would rise and keep things warm (ish).

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    1. They are getting worse, I swear it. I hate that paper.

      According to my husband (who works in mortgages) it's nearly impossible to get a mortgage on a prefab nowadays. Dunno if it's because of the asbestos etc. used in the manufacturing.

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  2. Hmm....I always think of the 40's as drab and a bit dreary.
    I think wallpaper & anything with intricate patterns started becoming 'old fashioned' in the 40's. Big florals were considered quite modern though.
    Anywho, those books are killer-diller! (some 40's slang I learned).
    Thank you for sharing them with us.

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    1. Yes, it was pretty grim here in the UK. Bomb damage, rationing etc. But it possibly also fed into streamlined design and a thirst for colour later on.

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  3. What an utterly fabulous find! I love books like this, I have a couple. My mum lived in a prefab as a child, maybe around 1950. It was supposed to be temporary but I think they ended up living there for longer than they thought. I'll ask her to find some photos. X

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    1. Oh, that would be cool!

      I really love books like this too - home decor books seem fairly uncommon, and they're always fascinating.

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  4. What a great find, Mim! I would love having a browse through that book. As for the green Penguins, I often come across them here, so I'll have a lookout for you if you like. xxx

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    1. Oh, that would be amazing if you could! I love old crime novels.

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  5. That's a great buy, I snap up vintage magazines for the same reason, I'm fascinated by the adverts.
    We used to have prefabs in Walsall until quite recently. I think a couple were transferred to the Black Country Museum for future generations to enjoy (?) xxx

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    1. That museum looks AMAZING. It's just rocketed to the top of my must-visit list - I'm now going to carp and whinge at my husband till he takes me there!

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  6. One of the best things about working at the Bodleian was looking at all the old magazines. I loved the adverts, we used to amuse ourselves on long boring evening duties reading them out loud in our best BBC accent!

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    1. Everyone loves adverts!

      As a kid I always used to think it was most unfair that I couldn't fill in the form from an old magazine, send my money, and get the item. Wouldn't that be ace, mail order through time?

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  7. I didn't realise the Ideal home exhibition went back so far. I've never been but always fancied it. This is such a great book! I have a fondness for prefabs. Isn't it interesting that we've always looked backwards in design terms? That picture of the Ford motor car and the Tudor building is heaven. Do you remember the 1940s house? I loved that, and my sis and I went to see it in location at the Imperial war museum. I have a soft spot for that era.

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    1. I think people do find comfort in familiar things, which leads to a lot of looking back - optimistic times always strike me as the times when new design is really embraced by all levels of society (20s, 60s, 80s...).

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  8. *turns the dial, enters “1948” into ship's coordinates and pulls the lever...

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  9. Fabulous find! My mum lived in a prefab when she was very young, which would've been round about this time. She hated it and said it was always cold. My parents have a rather large utility room in their house, which was built in 1981. I'm always very jealous of it because it removes all those unsightly machines out of the kitchen. xx

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    1. Yeah, I'd love a utility room. Somewhere with STORAGE SPACE! My ironing board and hoover really clutter up the coat cupboard under the stairs.

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    1. Fab, isn't it? I knew the bookshop was calling me for a reason.

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  11. Mim

    This looks like a fabulous book - well spotted!

    When I worked in a university we did teacher training and my office was opposite the teacher training resource room. One of the things I loved to do was to go in there and browse through some fabulous books abouts the 20s,30s,40s,50s, 60s and 70s by somebody Opie. Full of wonderful illustrations, advertisements, photos of fashions, home decor, toys, sweets and household products it was a feast for the eyes. This what your book looks like.

    Have a great weekend

    Veronica

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    1. Robert Opie!I have no idea what happened to him, but he certainly built up an impressive collection.

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  12. What a good find, Mim.
    Those books, as it seems, have great historical value. Every time I see pages from such books, I learn something new about the life and style of people from the days gone by. OK, back in those days (over here) there wasn't much space to think about fine decorating, since most of the "force" was given to putting things back together after the war(s). Still, even then, folks loved nice things to have int heir homes.I love the delicate detail on the last image: forced tulips in all the colors. :)

    Have a nice weekend.

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    1. Yes, I loved those tulips too. A good way to brighten up a home.

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