Ideal Homes Exhibition Exhibition

Design Museum. Butlers Wharf. Shad Thames. London SE1 2YD.

A few months back I had a phone inquiry from the Bromley Council Local Studies Centre. They were trying to trace a house that had been on display at the Daily Mail Ideal Homes Exhibition in 1912, and which had afterwards been re-erected near us, could I help them. All they could give me was a photo-copy of the house taken from a contemporary newspaper article about it. It did not take long to find, and apart from having had a double garage added, had not changed much. It had cost #11,000 in 1912 when it was sold at the Ideal Homes Ex. which was a lot of money and for that you got a lot of house. Bearing in mind that Oetzmann did a double story Tudor style house for #450.00 or a bungalow for only #250.00, you can imagine what a palatial dwelling it is.

The enquiry was on behalf of Deborah Sugg lecturer in History of Art & Design at the University of Wolverhampton who was doing her Ph.D. Thesis on the Daily Mail Ideal Homes Exhibition. When I spoke to Deborah to say I had traced the house, she told me that she was putting on an exhibition in ten days time at the Design Museum. This was to be a fairly important do, as 1993 marked the 70th Ideal Homes Ex. It would take up a complete floor of the museum running from March through to August, and was being sponsored by Alliance & Leicester.

Although Deborah had been working for three years on her Thesis she had not come across the fact and did not know that the Ideal Homes Ex. had published postcards, and when I told her I had cards going back to the first Exhibition in 1908, she was amazed and asked if she could come down to see them. She had not been able to find anything as early as I had.

Two days later Deborah with a colleague, and Clair Catterall Curator of Collections at the Design Museum visited us at home to see what I had. They spent a long time sorting out cards and eventually borrowed enough to fill four display frames. They showed great interest in the Exhibition Study Group and asked many questions about us. They were surprised that word of our activities had not got around in academic circles, and Deborah bemoaned the fact that she did not know earlier of the wealth of knowledge and material that could have been available to her and other researchers.

I also put her in touch with Alan Sabey who has a lot of receipts and recipe booklets that his mother got from the Ideal Homes Ex. many years ago. Alan's mother kept every receipt to do with her wedding in a wooden box, and some of these were for things she bought at the Ideal Homes Ex, like the illustrated order and receipt for three rugs.

The Design Museum felt these were so important they sent a motor bike courier to collect them, the morning before the exhibition was due to open, so they could go on display. At my request the postcards are credited to the Exhibition Study Group, as I felt we could do with the publicity.

Deborah is working on a book about the Ideal Homes Ex. and I was able to show her the Study Groups effort which impressed her. She has also agreed provisionally to be one of the speakers at our Convention.

On Tuesday evening the 9th March there was a private opening ceremony, and view of the exhibition. I was able to invite George & Flo Simner and Arthur Smith to join Nancy and myself, so the Study Group was well represented, and we spent a very enjoyable evening. They had certainly put on a very good show, and had managed to get hold of a lot of archival material, in the way of press photos etc. I should imagine that firms like Hoover were approached and had loaned early types of vacuum cleaner, and all together a lot of hard work had gone into it.

The Daily Mail Ideal Home Exhibition launched in 1908 by the paper's proprietor Lord Northcliffe, was both a philanthropic and commercial venture. Social reformers and architects exhibited their ideas alongside speculative builders. For a fee of one shilling the public was educated by full-scale show homes, spectacular displays and a wealth of labour-saving devices. With attendances of over 1.3 million by 1958, the exhibition was hugely influential on public tastes and aspirations, promoting the concept of a modern lifestyle decades before it became the media obsession we know today.

1993 sees the 70th Ideal Home Exhibition, and the Design Museum is marking this anniversary with a retrospective appraisal of the seventy shows. Drawing on the archives of the Daily Mail, the Victoria and Albert Museum, as well as the experiences of people who visited and worked on the shows, the display looks at the promotion of the idea of a modern lifestyle and seeks to evaluate the exhibitions influence on the lives of its many visitors. Furnishings and domestic appliance, architectural models, archive film footage, documentary photographs and publicity material will reveal just what factors made this exhibition so popular.

Four thematic sections explore the story of public housing, suburban development and notions of modernity, home ownership in the twentieth century, and the advent of the electric servant. Highlights include,

'Homes fit for Heroes' and other schemes developed by social reformers.

Visions of Olde England, the 'Tudorbethan' style promoted by speculative builders of the thirties.

The Housewife as Designer, The search in the fifties to find 'the House that Women Want' as identified by members of the Womens Institute and listeners to BBC Radio's 'Woman Hour'.

'The House of the Future' as forecast by avant-garde architects, Alison and Peter Smithson and sponsored by the plastics industry in 1956.

In a world before most homes had radios and the advent of television, the Ideal Home Exhibition was a major form of publicity for the organisers and exhibitors alike. It stimulated newspaper advertising and brought in more revenue whilst establishing a new commercial culture of home making.

After the Great War the exhibitions emphasised the development of 'Ideal Homes' which could be run without the help of servants. Judges, including leading architects, pioneers from the Garden City Movement, and social reformers invariably chose neo-Georgian, Arts and Crafts influenced cottages as winners. House plans, examples of 'Good Design' were made available to local authorities for their council housing or 'Homes fit for Heroes', and speculative builders exhibited the latest nostalgic 'Tudorbethan' houses, which were built in the suburbs for the new middle classes, aided by cheap mortgages.

In the 1950s and 1960s, with Britain emerging from post-war austerity, the Ideal Home Exhibition gave valuable floor-space and publicity to the developing mass market for fitted kitchens which department stores did not have the window or the floor space to display. By the 1970s the DIY superstores and out-of-town shopping centres had arrived with the space and sophisticated marketing techniques to create the room sets, bathrooms and dream kitchens which had been the forte of the Ideal Home Exhibition. Commercial television too, with its advertising campaigns for public utilities such as Gas and Electricity, white goods and new food products, undermined the monopoly of the commercial trade exhibition which had hitherto been of such central importance in the promotion of these goods and services.

The end.


© Exhibition Study Group 1993