Friday, 13 March 2015

It's curtains for the 1950s

MoDA’s Collections Manager, Sam Smith, discusses the recent donation to the museum of a 1950s curtain sample.

Of the recent acquisitions made by the Museum of Design and Domestic Architecture, one of the more interesting is this sample of a 1950s curtain. It was made up by the donor’s mother and hung in the kitchen of their childhood home in Bletchley during the 1950s.

BADDA4959, Museum of Design and Domestic Architecture

The curtain sample mirrors the check design of a typical chef’s outfit, with kitchen ingredients and cooking paraphernalia interspersing blank squares and waffle patterns in a black and white checkerboard design.

Spurred on by the inactivity of the war years, designers in the 1950s began to revel in their new found freedom. Patterns emerged inspired by art, architecture and science, and popular tastes moved toward the more experimental and colourful.

The design of the curtain rejoices in the re-availability of its subject matter – from tin pans and kettles, to ingredients and egg timers – it speaks to the new possibilities of post-war domesticity, modernity and suburban bliss. It also reflects two important themes in post-war Britain: the need for housing and the development of DIY.

As many as a third of British homes had been damaged or demolished during the Second World War and, with marriages and births on the increase, housing in Britain become a national priority during the 1950s.

The semi-detached bungalow where the curtains were hung was built in 1957 and was typical of the type of housing that was constructed late in the decade and influenced by American and Scandinavian design.

A photograph of the bungalow from the garden shows the curtain in situ in the kitchen window c1960 (top right).
BADDA4969, Museum of Design and Domestic Architecture

These buildings were typically one storey high, accentuated light, and embraced the notion of a multi-purpose living room space.

Towards the end of the decade living standards were on the rise, with weekly wages almost doubling from £6 8s. 0d. to £11 2s. 6d. by its end. Whilst household budgets remained limited, the ongoing increase in disposable income and free time – as well as in available housing – all helped to feed the development of the concept of do-it-yourself home improvement during the 1950s.

Illustrated guide to DIY home improvements published in the 1950s as part of the Home & Garden gift booklet series. BADDA1339, Museum of Design and Domestic Architecture

This in turn is reflected by the growth of DIY literature at the time, with magazines such as the Practical Householder gaining in popularity.

The 1950s saw the growth of trends in the domestic and design spheres that we take very much for granted today. The curtain is a welcome addition to the collections, and demonstrates well the kind of contextual information that can add value to objects for students, researchers and general visitors.

As a typical item of the period it provides a useful window on the 1950s as rebuilding commenced and the curtains were raised at the end of the Second World War.

If you would like to see more of the 1950s items held by the Museum of Domestic Design and Architecture please email us to make an appointment. 

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