Conflicting modernities? Arts and crafts and commercial influences in the decoration of the middle-class home 1890-1914

Lara-Betancourt, Patricia (2008) Conflicting modernities? Arts and crafts and commercial influences in the decoration of the middle-class home 1890-1914. (PhD thesis), Kingston University, .


Aiming to study the nature and significance of the modern home, this thesis examines in detail two major influences affecting the furnishing and decoration of the middle class home in Britain for the period 1890 to 1914. This project considers a variety of representations of the domestic interior to identify the furnishing ideals they embodied. It focuses on the two major producers of such representations: the furnishing industry, and the design reform and Arts and Crafts movement. The commercial and art spheres they stood for approached and expressed in opposing ways the possibilities opened up by modernisation. In trying to keep up with the growing demand of the middle class, the furnishing trade applied capitalist business methods, building a market and helping to create a consumer culture centred on the home and its equipment. Critical of the perceived ills of industrialization, reformers and Arts and Crafts designers contested the commercial sphere and promoted instead an artistic approach to design, responding mainly to aesthetic and social concerns. The resulting depictions of middle-class domestic interiors represented modern furnishing ideals, albeit contradictory ones. Piecing together diverse and fragmentary historical evidence, this thesis studies in detail the large furnishing firms of the period, and the images, narrative and strategies they used to promote their goods. It also examines the design reform discourse and particularly the genre of advice literature. This project aims to unveil the hidden agendas reformers and advisers were engaged with in the pursuit of the modern home. The analysis reveals the varied ways in which advice authors portrayed the domestic interior, reflecting stylistic, aesthetic, technological and commercial concerns. The approach and analysis are interdisciplinary, and are grounded in the assumption that these representations and discourses, and the ideals they embody, are an essential account of modernity.

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