Ideal homes, 1918–39

Domestic design and suburban Modernism

By Deborah Sugg Ryan

Ideal homes, 1918–39


  • Hardcover
  • eBook

Book Information

  • Format: Paperback
  • ISBN: 978-0-7190-6885-0
  • Pages: 264
  • Publisher: Manchester University Press
  • Price: £19.99
  • Published Date: March 2018
  • BIC Category: Art History, United Kingdom, Great Britain, Modernism, History of architecture, European history, Architectural structure & design, HISTORY / Europe / Great Britain, ARCHITECTURE / History / Modern (late 19th Century to 1945), Architectural Structure & Design, The arts / History of architecture
  • Series: Studies in Design and Material Culture


This book explores the aspirations and tastes of new suburban communities in interwar England for domestic architecture and design that was both modern and nostalgic in a period where homeownership became the norm. It investigates the ways in which new suburban class and gender identities were forged through the architecture, design and decoration of the home, in choices such as ebony elephants placed on mantelpieces and modern Easiwork dressers in kitchens. Ultimately, it argues that a specifically suburban modernism emerged, which looked backwards to the past whilst looking forward to the future. Thus the inter-war 'ideal' home was both a retreat from the outside world and a site of change and experimentation. The book also examines how the interwar home is lived in today. It will appeal to academics and students in design, social and cultural history as well as a wider readership curious about interwar homes.


'A fascinating book, dealing with a range of themes, including class, gender, empire, taste, good design, efficiency and nostalgia, which are linked to the idea of 'suburban modernity' in Britain and its material manifestations in suburban houses and their interiors. Sugg Ryan succeeds in evoking the material culture of a past era which, in certain ways, resonates strongly with our own.'
Professor Penny Sparke, Kingston University

'Ideal Homes is a superb evocation of interwar living as expressed in its homes and furnishings. Deborah Sugg Ryan's new book skilfully interweaves social and design history and beautifully melds the academic and personal. Her exploration of 'suburban modernity' and its idiosyncratic blend of tradition and novelty, home and Empire, challenges the intellectual condescension of critics to find meaning and value in the lived experience of consumers and the messy, sometimes contradictory, choices they made. Along the way, it charts both the apparently rigid boundaries of gender and seemingly more fluid divisions of class. It's that rare thing - a book that will appeal to academic specialists and the general reader.'
John Boughton - independent scholar and author of Municipal Dreams (2018)

'The long-running Studies in Design and Material Culture series focuses on the history of design and material culture in Britain between the two world wars. Grounding her discussion in the discipline of design history, Ryan (University of Portsmouth, UK) explores the aspirations and tastes of new suburban communities in England during the interwar period. Four individual stories of home ownership and homemaking reveal different aspects of emotional investment in domestic design and the drive for individuality. The author investigates how the design and decoration of these domestic spaces forged gender identities and a new suburban class. The book builds off the author's extensive doctoral research on Britain's annual Ideal Home Exhibitions, a show begun in 1908 by the Daily Mail and sponsored by it for a century. Plenty of contemporaneous photographs and drawings sprinkled throughout the volume clarify and reinforce the text.'
R. P. Meden, Marymount University, CHOICE, Vol. 56, No. 4 (December 2018)


Deborah Sugg Ryan is Professor of Design History and Theory, and Associate Dean (Research) in the Faculty of Creative and Cultural Industries at the University of Portsmouth. She is also series consultant and on-screen expert for BBC2's A House Through Time (2018).


1 The interwar house: ideal homes and domestic design
2 Suburban: class, gender and homeownership
3 Modernisms: 'good' design and 'bad' design
4 Efficiency: labour-saving and the professional housewife
5 Nostalgia: the Tudorbethan semi and the detritus of empire
6 Afterword: modernising the interwar ideal home
Select bibliography

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