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The interwar suburban semi: From the ‘ideal’ to the ‘real’ home
In this paper I explore the primary sources used in my recent book Ideal Homes, 1918-39: Domestic Design and Suburban Modernism (2018), a study of the design, material culture and decoration of the ‘ordinary’ interwar semi. The collections and displays of libraries, archives and museums, with a few exceptions, were often of limited use, documenting the ideal rather than the real; more idealised Art Deco Poiret set than suburban Pinner. I hoped to find unstaged amateur snapshots of messy lived in interiors but these proved elusive in a time before flash photography was widely available to the public. So I turned to my personal experience of an interwar suburban semi. This time capsule house was decorated and furnished at the time of completion in 1934 and remained largely unchanged 60 years later when I purchased it. This was supplemented by browsing in charity and junk shops, car boot fairs and eBay for evidence of the kind of furniture, furnishings and other stuff that has often been condemned as ‘bad design’ and ‘bad taste’ or overlooked because it doesn’t fit neatly into a linear modernist history of design.