From cosy lounges to practical and chic kitchens, Brits love their homes to look and feel the part. But what’s considered to be in vogue in interior design has differed hugely throughout the decades. What was thought of as the height of sophistication in previous eras presents a stark contrast to the trends of today.
Each part of our homes is heavily impacted by the economic, social, cultural and fashion influences of the day. With this in mind, we’ve taken three well-known rooms from modern British TV shows and given them a 1940s reimagining to compare and contrast the design preferences of both time periods.
With an abundance of soft furnishings, including decadent curtains, cushions and a large rug, the lounge featured in hit comedy show Gavin and Stacey exudes comfort and offers a relaxed style. It also has a large leather three-piece suite, an elegant gas fireplace and a substantial coffee table.
The 1940s version of this room looks very different. With an Art Deco style, which was very popular at the time, it has a much more austere and restrained appearance. The furniture is simpler and less luxurious. At the time, families kept items such as sofas and chairs for much longer because replacements were expensive and in short supply. An open coal fireplace features at the centre of the room, and other focal points would have included a wireless set, as well as a wind-up gramophone. The mannequin is a sign of the shortage of clothes. Many people made and repurposed their own garments during this time, and this trend accelerated when clothes rationing came into force in June 1941. When choosing curtains during the war period, families had to think about much more than just style. They needed heavy duty blackout curtains that would prevent German bombers from detecting any light coming from within the home.
The kitchen elements displayed in the iconic cooking programme The Great British Bake Off may not quite represent a standard kitchen today, but they do reflect many of the major trends. The playful pastel colours of the units highlight the fact that homeowners can really showcase their own personal style preferences when designing and decorating a kitchen. There are also plenty of useful gadgets on display, from the multipurpose mixers on the countertops to the large fridge-freezers.
Unsurprisingly, the 1940s kitchen is a very different affair. Like the living room, this space is much more aesthetically muted than its modern day equivalent. Although some kitchens during this era did display splashes of colour, they were very much orientated around functionality above style. Another notable difference is the lack of time-saving appliances in kitchens during this era. For example, it was very rare for homes to have fridges in the early 1940s, and no homes had freezers. Instead, perishable goods were often stored in food safes or meat safes, which were wooden cupboards with doors and sides that were open to the air apart from a fine covering of wire mesh. Foods were also kept in larders or separate pantries. Kitchens of the ‘40s didn’t feature washing machines either, and there were no detergents. Families had to use household soap and soap flakes instead. When it came to flooring, homeowners had fewer options than they do now. Linoleum was popular as it was inexpensive and easy to clean.
Dining rooms are often now integrated into open plan areas in homes, giving them a spacious and airy look and feel. As evidenced by the lavish dining room featured in ITV soap Emmerdale, comfort is key in these rooms. Many homeowners now opt for well-padded, luxurious dining room seating, for example. Also, lots of different light fixtures mean the ambiance of these areas can be changed at the flick of a switch. In terms of style and décor, people have the freedom to be as creative and bold as they like in dining rooms, often trying out different colour schemes and quirky ornaments.
Dining rooms in the 1940s didn’t tend to prize comfort as much as their modern equivalents. This meant that chairs were often less comfortable to sit on than their counterparts today. Despite this, families would eat most of their meals together in this room. Indeed, they were encouraged to do so by the government as a way of saving heating fuel. It wasn’t just fuel that needed to be conserved; food rationing was introduced in January 1940, four months after the outbreak of World War Two. It continued for the next 14 years, significantly impacting on the meals that would typically be served up in dining rooms. Tell-tale signs of the war were never far away in terms of the furniture in dining rooms during this period too. For example, some homes had tables that doubled up as Morrison shelters, offering protection indoors from falling bombs. It was also common for windows to have a crisscross of Splinternet tape to prevent flying glass in the event of a bomb blast.
Although many of the basics of modern homes were present in properties of the 1940s, the detailing and décor has certainly changed a lot between then and now. Want to share your own interior design insights or memories?
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