The Post-War European Home
Monday, 12 May 2003
Victoria & Albert Museum, London
Jean Muir Seminar Room

The AHRB Centre for the Study of the Domestic Interior will be hosting a symposium to bring together speakers from across Europe and North America to explore the meanings attached to the home during the 1940s and 1950s.

Homes were subject to a remarkable degree of public attention and discussion following the conclusion of the Second World War. Long a recalcitrant site under pressure to modernise, the domicile acquired new social and political significance in the aftermath of mass death and destruction. It was to be a healing agent in the regeneration of societies damaged by war and the experience of fascism. In West Europe the home was to stave off the dangers accompanying the rise of authoritarian regimes in the 1920s and 1930s, much of which was built on a new hallowed division of public and private. In Eastern Europe, homes were to play a decisive role in the construction of socialism to speed the advent of communism, all the while helping better bind citizen and state.

From the early 1950s on the home emerged as a high-profile public symbol across the Cold War divide, with each side emphasising the threat to ordinary lives that the other posed. As such idealised homes were often charged with representing entire political philosophies. Yet actual homes and the domestic possessions that they contained were lent diverse and even contrary meanings within overarching Cold War ideologies. Domestic luxury, for instance, was variably interpreted as a reward for achievement, as a sign of anti-social greed or – in the case of the Soviet Union during the 1950s – as decadence and bad taste.

After 1945 the forms of housing also underwent significant material and technical change. Many of the inter-war visions of avant-garde domestic architecture and modern lifestyles were realised, albeit in modified forms that reflected the ideological priorities and economic conditions of the day. While state-sponsored social housing dramatically transformed the fabric of entire cities, the drive to popularise new housing based on self-consciously modern forms such as the open plan and ‘Contemporary Style’ furnishings aimed to make over domestic interiors in the name of progress and prosperity. In an era of rapid social change, why did dreams of family life, domestic security and a modern home remain one of the most enduring leitmotivs of Cold War politics, social experience and cultural memory?

The day-long symposium will include formal paper presentations and discussion. Anyone with a research interest in the field is invited to participate.

The provisional programme of speakers includes:

• Leora Auslander (University of Chicago)
on the restitution of Jewish property in post-war France;

• Greg Castillo (University of Miami School of Architecture)
on domesticity as a Cold War weapon;

• Irene Cieraad (Delft University of Technology)
on the omni-presence of the convertible bed in post-war Dutch homes;

• Hilary French (Royal College of Art, London)
on housework and ‘modernisation’ as drivers of change in British
housing of the 1950s;

• Maria Göransdotter (Umea University)
on teaching taste: the modern Swedish home of the 1940s;

• Mart Kalm (Estonian Academy of Arts)
on Heimatkunst: stalinist contraband. Estonian post-war houses;

• Susan E. Reid (University of Sheffield)
on the Soviet kitchen during the Khrushchev Thaw;

• Kirsi Saarikanga (University of Helsinki)
on the display of the everyday in post-war Finnish home.

Chairs: David Crowley (Royal College of Art, London) and Paul Betts (University of Sussex).


The symposium will take place at the Victoria & Albert Museum in the Jean Muir Seminar Room, which is off the Silver Galleries. Registration begins at 10.00 AM, when the Museum opens.

Fees: Full price - £30, Student price - £15. Fee includes sandwich lunch, morning coffee and afternoon tea.

Registration is done by prebooking. Deadline for registration is 28 April 2003. Please complete the booking form and send along with a cheque made out to Royal College of Art to: AHRB Centre for the Study of the Domestic Interior, Royal College of Art Kensington Gore, London SW7 2EU

For further information, contact:
Ann Matchette

Tel: 020 7590 4183; email:

This event is organized by the AHRB Centre for the Study of the Domestic Interior (Royal College of Art, Victoria & Albert Museum, and Royal Holloway, University of London).