Period Fittings for the 1930s Home
By Greg Stevenson
Greg Stevenson is the author of 'The 1930s Home', a
Shire Guide with nearly 100 photos for just £4.50, and
'Art Deco Ceramics' (Shire, £3.95). Greg's next project
is on 1940s Prefabs - details at http://www.prefabs.co.uk
More dream homes were constructed in the 1930s than have been built in any decade since. Many people became home-owners for the first time during the inter-war period and the four million houses that were erected to home them largely adopted new architectural styles. These styles varied from sleek modernist villas to 'Tudorbethan' semi-detached houses, and also a host of homes that blended the traditional and modern. Not only were these new homes different in that they were designed to house the changing family, but they also provided a variety of fantasy interiors and revolutionary technologies for their new owners. Many young couples moving into their newly built home in the 1930s really were experiencing a new way of living, with all-electric kitchens, plumbed-in bathrooms and often a garden of their own.
The fixtures and fittings installed in 1930s homes were usually designed to complement the architectural style of the property, be it modern or traditional. For example, cast iron door furniture that had changed little in style since 1900 was still being fitted on traditional homes, yet modern styled houses were more likely to have boasted angular chromed latches and handles that reflected contemporary fashions.Windows were most often double hung sash in local authority housing (emulating Georgian examples), but almost exclusively wood or metal casement in owner-occupied houses. Synonymous with the semi-detached home is the bay window which allowed home-owners to view both up and down the street as well as the houses across the road. Windows to the front and sides of properties were often fitted with leaded glass lights, continuing the Arts and Crafts tradition of using lead to create decorative patterns. Common images were stylised flowers, the sun rising, galleons and country cottages. Some new leaded window lights were made with contrived 'repairs' to try and add a feeling of authenticity to pseudo-historical properties. Moderne homes also adopted coloured glass leaded light windows, and these often featured chevrons and stylised sun-ray patterns. Truly Modern houses would not have had such fussy decorative features.
Fireplaces on the ground floor of most new homes of the 1930s were still coal, and were typically fitted either with a modern tile or traditional oak surround. Bedrooms were more often installed with electric fires, and in some houses these flush-fitting appliances were provided throughout. In the most modern homes the architect may have dared not to include a single fireplace as they had installed underfloor heating.
Although black-leaded coal ranges remained in common use in pre-war housing, many new-build homes of the 1930s enjoyed one of the new closed-in enamelled ranges (the Aga dating from 1929) or a gas or electric cooker. These appliances would have been supplemented with an enamelled coke boiler to heat the kitchen and the hot water held in a tank in the airing cupboard above. Floors in kitchens would have been either quarry tiles or linoleum, the latter also being employed on tabletops for ease of cleaning. Much thought was given to the way kitchens were laid out, with minimal walking distance between preparation, cooking and washing areas. As refrigerators were an expensive luxury item a larder would usually be provided, being north facing and with a gauze window to keep food cool. Crockery would be stored on a rack or in a free-standing kitchen cupboard.
Bathrooms and kitchens became the domain of the polished surface and tiled wall and were typically finished with polished chrome fittings. They were often designed with the contemporary concerns of hygiene and efficiency in mind and house brochures boasted 'non-dust-collecting cornices' and walls 'tiled to dado height'. For many people having a plumbed in bath and toilet indoors was a new luxury, and it is not surprising that the bathroom therefore adopted the modern style. Large expanses of wall-tiling were a desirable feature, the higher tiles reached up a wall, the greater the social standing of the owner.
Places to Visit & Useful Addresses:
It is always advisable to telephone in advance to check opening arrangements and to find out whether the items that you wish to see are likely to be on display.
Crittall Windows Ltd. Springwood Drive, Baintree, Essex CM7 2YN Telephone: 01376 324106
Croydon Museum, Katharine Street, Croydon CR9 1E7 Telephone: 020-8253 1030
De La Warr Pavilion, Marina, Bexhill on Sea, East Sussex, TN40 1DP Telephone: 01424 212023
Eltham Palace, Court Yard, off Court Road, London SE9 Telephone: 020-8294 2548
Geffrye Museum, Kingsland Road, London, E2 8EA Telephone: 020-7739 9839
Gnome Reserve, West Putford, Bradworthy, Devon EX22 7XE Telephone: 01409 241435
Museum of Domestic Design and Architecture, Middlesex University, Cat Hill, Barnet, Herts., EN4 8HT. Telephone: 020-8362 5244
Museum of Welsh Life, St Fagans, Cardiff CF5 6X8 Telephone: 029-2057 3500
Twentieth Century Society, 70 Cowcross Street, London EC1M 6BP
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