Book Review: The 1950s Home

I am so pleased to have the opportunity to review several books from Shire Books, here and also at The Virtual Dime Museum, in the weeks to come. Here is the first:

Sophie Leighton
The 1950s Home
Oxford: Shire Publications, 2009
56 pp.

Among the wonders exhibited at the 1955 Daily Mail Ideal Home Show in Britain was a living room fitted with sliding doors, behind which were tucked two bunk beds. This perfectly modern invention that made a virtue of necessity, typified the British philosophy of home-making and decorating in the 1950s.

The end of World War II in 1945 and of rationing in the early 1950s allowed for massive social change and growth in that decade. Sophie Leighton, a curator at the Victoria and Albert Museum in London, writes about this change in house design and furnishings, decor and gardens with precision and clarity. She notes the transition to smaller, cleverly utilized spaces, clean ‘modern’ lines in furniture, and multi-purpose gardens. She illustrates her points with wonderful old ads which themselves typify the bright, streamlined look of ‘modern’ decor. The black and white photographs are evocative, too – especially those of the new council houses and flats, which look both new and bleak.

The 1950s saw a new emphasis on light and clean spaces in homes. Homes tended to be smaller than in earlier eras, and rooms were used for several purposes as opposed to, say, a dining room in a Victorian house used only for dining. Open-plan houses were designed with efficiency and variety of purpose in mind.

Housing shortages after the war led to the construction of council houses and flats, as well as pre-fabs made of such odd materials as steel and asbestos cement sheeting. Furniture and decor took on a minimalist, sleek look. Most families, though, mixed their older pieces with the new – just as we do now. Most people could not afford to entirely modernize their homes. The improvements they did make were supported by the new magazines which explained decor and DIY, such as Practical Householder.

In The 1950s Home, Leighton packs a great deal of information into a small book, beautifully – just as the interior designers and architects of the 1950s did when creating the homes of that era.

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9 thoughts on “Book Review: The 1950s Home

  1. Cool review. I've just started to collect ArchDig's and I would love to get my hands on some retro copies. We had a vaction home in Palm Springs when I was growing up – it was a mid-century modern and I've always been fond of Californian post-war architecture – so glam! – G

  2. I love older books and love to find them at sales. Its tough to find good (non-stinky) copies but they are always a time capsule into life…unintentionally. A book on one subject really gives you a eye on so many…

  3. Georgina – I love this period too, and dream of living in a California bungalow (I think those are a bit earlier though). There are booklets on the 30s and the 40s home which I'll review a bit later. I might branch out overall with KR a little.Maybe I should tweak the name to be just Kitsch & Retro –?Tracy – That's exactly why I love the old magazines et al too, they are little time capsules. Did you see that Google Books has Life magazine digitized? Yay for that! :)

  4. Tracy – I know, I am very happy. My family does not comprehend why this makes me so happy either ;)Amy – I am, and I should make more of my images public. I haven't yet because (a) lazy and (b) crummy scanning, often and (c) procrastining (this relates to lazy)I sort of worry that Google Books wouldn't approve of me cropping and scanning them and then flinging it open to all on Flickr, although – goodness, the copyright must never have been renewed and fair use etc.I am going to use one for Friday's post, though. It's like Christmas over there at GB!! :)

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