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Ep 19 A Brief History of the Perfect Home

19th May 2022

In our latest new homes podcast, Sonal Haja welcomes design historian Professor Deborah Sugg Ryan and property journalist, Rupert Bates, editor of Show House Magazine, to discuss the history of homes.

They also look at what a dream home looks like, and what future trends we can expect.


Going back a hundred years takes us to the period from which we get many of our ideas today, said Deborah. “This is the point where there was a big housing boom in Britain following the First World War and people started to become homeowners on a mass scale.”

The most common and popular style was a three-bedroom semi in a suburban location that combined the best of rural and urban, with a garden, “really in a kind of Arts and Crafts style so it connects with British past and takes in a bit of its locality”, explains Deborah.

“It has come full circle in that sense,” adds Rupert, “and I think this (referring to Redrow’s Hendricks Green development in Waltham Cross) is a classic example of Arts & Crafts 100 years on, overlaid with modern technology, modern furnishings, etc., but without losing sight of the core of the Arts & Crafts movement.”

Interiors would have been very different, however, Deborah adds.


One of the major changes in modern homes, compared to others throughout history, is the importance of the bathroom - and, of course, the fact that it’s now inside. “Lots of older houses would have had the ‘privy’ at the bottom of the garden,” says Deborah, “or at the end of the rear return, but they’d still have had to go outside the house to access it.”

Now the ideal is the ensuite, and it’s becoming even more common, adds Deborah, for a home to have more than one (an example seen in our Lifestyle homes, among others). Rupert goes further to explain how bathrooms now need to be more than just functional, offering luxurious spaces and sanctuary: “You can create something really cool in a bathroom,” he says. 


In a nutshell - yes. Bringing the outdoors in, and vice-versa, remains an important theme, says Deborah: “We have had that fashion of bi-fold doors for a quite a long time, and that lovely seamless integration where you can open the doors, and you will maybe have some hard landscaping and it’s all on one level and it’s brilliant for entertaining and everyday living.”

Everyone is mindful of ventilation after Coronavirus, the outdoor and indoors integration can also help to keep us safe, and Deborah adds: “Also, I think loads of people have got into gardens and houseplants, and are connecting with nature, and if we think of the cottage core trend in interiors which is all about nature as well, and the colours of nature too, gardens are going to be increasingly important.”

The essence of a garden as a fifth room in the house rather than a separate entity was evolving pre-pandemic, adds Rupert: “It’s actually very much part of the living space.” It plays a role as an amenity area, an entertaining area, and a dining area. 


The post-war American home embraced the open plan way of living with a dining kitchen long before we did, but we have been busy creating that idea with varying degrees of success, says Deborah. She suspects, however, that especially with more hybrid working, we might see flexible living becoming even more popular, perhaps using bi-fold doors inside to transform areas; or Broken Plan living which comes essentially from kitchen design and sees different zones being created for different activities.

“You can translate it into the rest of the home … with smaller, more intimate spaces off bigger open spaces,” she says.


Looking towards the Arts & Crafts movement in terms of interior trends as well as timeless exteriors has increased says Deborah. “It’s about going back to the past and going back to traditions. As a design style it’s quite wide-ranging,” says Deborah, “but one of the things it does is it draws on older traditions from villages, from the medieval period, so you get things like the use of local materials.” Other things that make Arts & Crafts houses friendly and welcoming are features like the wide hipped roof, the porch, lovely windows with smaller panes. “Arts and Crafts houses have a face and a personality,” adds Rupert. “There’s something about Arts & Crafts that’s timeless and it’s great to see companies like Redrow tapping into that.”


Deborah and Rupert reveal how younger people are becoming their own interior designers, with inspiration from social media sites, TikTok and Instagram and this, in turn, is creating an attention to detail.

Open plan is here to stay, agree our experts, but perhaps with ‘broken plan’ spaces and using furnishings, colour and texture to create them.

“Colour is coming back into our homes,” adds Deborah, who explains that we’ll see more tech in the kitchen, and flexibility with more cordless appliances and induction surfaces rather than the fixed hob.

“Outdoor living is very much the future and here to stay,” Robert concludes.

Meet the guests
Deborah Sugg Ryan – Design Historian
Deborah Sugg Ryan
Design Historian
Rupert Bates – Property Journalist
Rupert Bates
Property Journalist

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