The 1950s Home
Oxford: Shire Publications, 2009
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.