Displaying dreams : model interiors in British department stores, 1890-1914

Lara-Betancourt, Patricia (2018) Displaying dreams : model interiors in British department stores, 1890-1914. In: Lara-Betancourt, Patricia , Lasc, Anca and Petty, Margaret Maile, (eds.) Architectures of display : department stores and modern retail. Abingdon, U.K. : Routledge. pp. 31-46. (Routledge Research in Interior Design) ISBN 9781472468451


Display architecture was a crucial marketing strategy for British department stores of the Victorian and Edwardian period. There developed an essential link between the growth of department stores and the complexity in display strategies. For the period 1890 to 1914, the ‘Belle Époque’ of department stores, the level of sophistication in display architecture reached new heights. London department stores such as Whiteleys, Maples, Shoolbred, Heals, Waring & Gillow and Harrods expanded, added new departments and invented enticing ways of making their products more appealing to consumers. A prominent example was the “model room”, a construction of tantalising and impressive modern domestic interiors in an array of styles and budgets, complete with ceilings, panelled walls, plants and lighting offering viewers a dazzling visual and sensory experience of the real thing. This chapter examines the “model room” as a specific retailing strategy that became instrumental to the highly successful display, advertising and selling of furniture, furnishings, household goods and decorating services in this period. The model or “specimen room”, as it was called at the time, appeared as a consequence of the massive increase in urban housing in the late-nineteenth century. In response to the growing demand for furniture and furnishings, the stores set up realistically looking domestic interiors. The chapter also discusses the impact of the Antique Movement and the craze for the “period room”, both of which were instrumental in disseminating historicist styles and popularizing model rooms.

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