Over the centuries changing home design has reflected new trends, especially in the kitchen. Discover more about our homes through the ages.
Tudor 1485-1603 (above)
Half-timbered with white-painted wattle and daub painted walls, these houses had steeply-pitched roofs and small-paned casement windows, often with a jetty overhanging the street.
They are the very essence of Olde England, pretty black and white dwellings with great character and centuries of history steeped in their walls. Tudor homes were built at a time when the British were feeling less fearful for their safety, so houses were more outward-facing than in the Middle Ages when the need to defend the family led to many houses facing inwards onto a central courtyard.
Glass was the latest innovation, but was expensive to produce, so was made into tiny panes, held together by lead strips. The wealthier you were, the more windows your home had – and it was common practise to take them with you when you moved house.
The layout of Tudor homes was dictated by the family business – whether it was farming, tailoring or clerical work – being on the ground floor. Living space was on the first floor – called The Hall – and this was where the family ate, entertained and gathered together. If the house had a chimney rather than simply a hole in the roof, bedrooms could be built higher up the house.
The role of the kitchen
The woman of the house would be kept busy in the kitchen, curing and salting meat to preserve it, brewing ale for the family (the water was unsafe to drink), and baking bread in a brick-built oven, which was attached to the open fire. By Tudor times, the kitchen had moved from being the heart of the home, to a separate space – sometimes even in a separate building, which was very much the preserve of the hard-working housewife.
The lowering of the status of the kitchen filtered down from the aristocracy – even from Henry VIII himself – who disapproved of cooking smells and feared the risk of fire, so had living accommodation and kitchen placed as far apart as possible.
- E or H-shaped layout
- Tall narrow doors and windows
- Dirt or wooden floors, covered with rush matting
- Small herb garden, mainly for medicinal use
- Tudor rose, thistle and fleur de lys decorative symbols
- Oak furniture including 4-poster bed
Flat-fronted, bare brick built houses with sash windows, often built in a classical Palladian style terraces, and with gothic touches.
At the beginning of this period, life for the Middling Sort – forerunners of the middle classes – centred on The Hall, the first floor room where the entire household, gathered to dine, socialise and entertain guests. But from the 1660s, the parlour and the dining room became the main living areas for the family, signalling a change in the way households lived with a greater separation between the family, their servants, apprentices and other employees.
The Civil War in the 1640s and 50s and the Great Fire of London in 1666 both had a marked effect on the way British homes evolved. After the blaze destroyed 13,200 wooden-built houses across the capital in four days, Parliament decreed that homes must be built of brick. And the War sent many gentlemen to the Continent to flee the fighting or later to follow Charles II into exile, where they were hugely influenced by French, Dutch and Italian architecture, leading to a flurry of buildings which reflected the latest European trends, and which eventually filtered down from the nobility to the masses.
Life in London was also increasingly cosmopolitan, with merchants trading as far afield as india, the Far East and Africa. The economy was growing and the Middling Sort were prospering, and able to buy expensive items from overseas like silver, porcelain, colourful textiles, mirrors and clocks to adorn their homes.
It was during this period that servants – most families had at least one or two who could include unmarried female relatives – would be accommodated in smaller rooms at the top of the house
The role of the kitchen
The arrival of coal in the late 17th century brought about a revolution in the kitchen, leading to wrought iron grates to hold a cooking pots and iron kettles, and later a spit for roasting meat. Food accounted for four fifths of most families’ budgets and and the housewife had to be thrifty and careful – hence the staple pottage kept bubbling over the fire, ready to have leftovers, grains and the odd vegetable added to it.
Readily available ingredients included oysters, mutton, rabbit, pheasant, pigeon and partridge. The 1640s saw the introduction of sugar from the Caribbean, bananas and pineapples, and in 1662 Charles II married Portuguese princess, Catherine of Braganza who started the fashion for tea drinking.
- Symmetrical lay-out
- Wood paneling
- Elaborate fireplaces
- Richly plastered ceilings
- Spacious parlours
- Small rooms at top of house for servants
- European influence in rich people’s homes
- Start of the trend for terraced homes
The design is all about proportion and balance, with sash windows, stucco cornices and often a rectangular window or fanlight over the six-panelled front door.
Harmony, symmetry, airiness, space and light … these were the watchwords for Georgian houses. Influences came from wealthy families taking the Grand Tour of Europe, and architects like Inigo Jones drawing inspiration from the classical Palladian style.
Rooms were generously sized, with the important entertaining and family rooms on the first floor above the noise at street level, although usually at the front of the house. A cosier family parlour would be at the back on the first floor, bedrooms were on the second floor with servants and ‘poor relations’ housed in smaller rooms right at the top of the house – often on the fourth storey. ‘ The hierarchy of how houses were organised became more important,’ says Alex Goddard, curator of the Geffrye Museum in London. ‘The lower floors were definitely where the family, not servants, would gather and live.’
High ceilings, pale colour schemes, light-painted woodwork and delicate furniture all added to the feeling of spaciousness. Paint became popular because although softwoods were being used as they were cheap and versatile, they weren’t durable, so needed to be painted to preserve them. The number of windows in the house denoted how wealthy a family was as a heavy window tax was levied to help fund the army. Some thrifty people bricked up windows to avoid paying it.
The role of the kitchen
The kitchen was still kept separate from the living accommodation – often in the basement, alongside a back kitchen or scullery, plus a pantry, larder and coal storage area. The late 18th century saw the introduction of the kitchen range, says TV historian Lucy Worsley in her BBC documentary, The History of The Home. ‘It came with the development of cast iron and meant that with a cast iron plate on the top of the fire, kitchens became smoke-free for the first time.’ They were still very much the domain of the housewife, who treasured her French-style copper pans – which were often given to women as gifts by would-be suitors.
- Wide scrubbed and oiled floorboards
- Smaller windows towards top of house
- Carpets moved from walls onto the floor
- Better quality buildings with increasing comfort
- Fireplace was always the main focal point of the room
Bay windows, coloured brickwork, decorated bargeboards and roof tops and a garden back and front
The 64 years of Queen Victoria’s reign saw huge changes in domestic housing. The industrial revolution brought with it mass manufacturing and meant that many more people could afford to buy their own homes, or upgrade them more often, especially in the late 1800s and early 1900s. This was the time of the emerging middle classes and they moved into substantial detached, semi or terraced homes, still large enough to accommodate a couple of servants, with large reception rooms with high ceilings, elaborate moulded plaster cornices and marble fireplaces.
A typical Victoria villa would contain 12 rooms or more including bedrooms with adjacent dressing rooms, and large reception rooms with high ceilings, elaborate moulded plaster cornices and marble fireplaces.
There was a much greater specialisation of room function – the sitting room or parlour was for females, while the dining room or study was the preserve of the men of the house. Decor would reflect that – heavier, darker furniture and darker decoration for the ‘male’ rooms, while the parlour would be much lighter and brighter. ‘Victorian times were the zenith of clutter,’ says Alex Goddard, curator of the Geffrye Museum in London. ‘The whole house would be heavily patterned with differing designs on wallpaper, carpets and upholstery to create a very luxurious effect.’
Towards the end of this period most middle class homes had flushing toilets, gas lighting, inside toilets and open coal fires. Cheap plate glass invented in 1832 and the repeal of window tax in 1851, encouraged large windows in new homes.
The role of the kitchen
Rather than in basements, the kitchen was now usually situated on ground floor at the back of the house, often with a scullery attached for doing the laundry. The growth of manufacturing brought with it all sorts of new kitchen gadgets, like the ice box – a wooden cupboard, insulated with cork, lined in tin or zinc and filled with ice.
- High ceilings with ornate cornicing
- Bay windows
- Indoor toilets
- Stained glass in doorways and windows
- Heavily-patterned decor and furnishings
- Mid-height dado rails
Edwardian 1901 – 1910
Squatter than Victorian buildings, most were set on a wider plot and were two storeys tall, with elaborately carved and painted wooden balconies, porches and verandas.
This was the heyday of the new middle classes and there was a huge demand for airy, larger homes, many built in new suburbs on the leafy outskirts of cities and towns close to the new railway lines. Bigger houses no longer required servants’ quarters in the wake of World War I when domestic staff had moved into factory work.
After the heaviness, clutter and dark colours of Victorian interiors, people wanted their homes to be less formal. Women needed to be freed from ornate, dusty, labour-intensive bric-a-brac, so Edwardian style was born – and it was a breath of fresh air.
Wider plots meant that hallways were opened up, living rooms were designed with windows at both ends and French windows opening into the garden were very popular.
This was also when the Arts and Crafts movement was at its height, led by idealistic textile designer William Morris as a backlash against the mechanisation and mass-production of the industrial revolution. Many people were disturbed by the speed of the revolution, so found comfort in a return to well-crafted details and objects around them.
The role of the kitchen
Most middle-class households embraced the new labour-saving devices, such as early washing machines and vacuum cleaners. The first electric fridge was invented, but was only seen in the very richest of homes – most housewives still used a marble shelf in their larder.
- Parquet floors
- Wide hallways
- Dual-aspect rooms
- Inside bathroom and toilet
- Gas lighting
The typical home was a semi built in the retro Tudorbethan style, half-timbered with a mix of red brick and pebbledash or with areas of herringbone brickwork, and with diamond-shaped leaded pane windows.
The 30s family ideal was a safe haven from the city where they could raise their children with fresh air and exercise on the doorstep, often in suburban developments outside existing towns and cities. Cars and commuting played an increasing role.
Houses were smaller than those built before 1914, with a front room off a hall, a second living room at the rear and a kitchen. Upstairs there would be two large bedrooms, a third much smaller room and a bathroom and toilet. Classic or chalet-style bungalows with bedrooms in the roof were popular.
Art Deco influences peaked in the early 30s, declining by 1939, with bold geometric shapes, rich colours and lavish ornamentation.
The role of the kitchen
Kitchens shrank in size, so needed to be space-efficient, with a cooker, early washing machine, storage and table squeezed in. A larder-cupboard with shelves, cupboards, drawers and a fold-down flap to provide more work surface, was a popular, particularly around the cooker would be partly tiled, and painted in wipeable gloss, as would the ceiling. Although a third of British homes now had electricity, it cost 10 times what it does today, so gas was a better choice for cooking.
- ‘ Moderne’ monochrome style
- Front doors with leading and stained glass in top third
- Clarice Cliff designs
- Herringbone dark oak parquet flooring
- Lots of plastic, glass and chrome
Traditional, rectangular homes, many with flat roofs, large picture windows and plain basic brickwork – not an iconic period for domestic architecture.
Hundreds of thousands of homes had been destroyed by bombing during the Second World War, sparking a building boom in the late 40s and 50s. Many of the resulting homes were boxes – traditional semis, high rise flats, garden city developments. But they were optimistic times – by the end of the decade wages had nearly doubled from £6 to 11 a week, hire purchase regulations had been relaxed and many Britons had truly ‘ never had it so good.’
Interiors were simple, open plan areas such as merged living and eating spaces were seen for the first time in the 50s, but 64per cent of women told an Ideal Home Exhibition survey that they wanted the kitchen to be separate from the living space.
The focal point of the living room became the TV, which took off massively after The Queen’s Coronation in 1953. This era also saw the development of trolleys, sofa beds, ironing boards and stacking furniture – all space-saving inventions. In the post war years, the 50s was the decade that transformed Britain’s social and cultural landscape – it was truly the age of the consumer.
The role of the kitchen
The USA was the major influence on British kitchens in the 50s. Painted units and free-standing furniture were replaced by the fitted kitchen, along with labour-saving devices such as the Kenwood mixer, electric kettles, toasters and eye-level grills. A fitted kitchen was seen as the ultimate in modernity, and designers dreamed up the Golden Triangle, the classic arrangement of sink, stove and fridge which was claimed to reduce the average housewife’s movements by 90 per cent.
- Ice cream colours
- Fitted carpets
- Plain walls and ceilings with no embellishments
- Multi-tasking furniture
2000 – now
Pick ‘n’ mix styles incorporating traditional design with modern techniques.
The Noughties have seen a revolution in design and function as we adapt to our changing needs, economic constraints and eco-awareness. The dining room is now virtually non-existent in many homes, replaced by open-plan living. Many homes are defined by social areas rather than designated hallways, kitchens and dining rooms. ‘Houses, particularly older properties, were designed with people’s lives in mind, with set rooms for set activities, but as times change, so does what we want from our homes,’ says Simon Hamilton, Director of the British Institute of Interior Design. ‘With our increasingly hectic lifestyles, convenience and sociability have become key – which is why kitchen diners and games rooms have grown in popularity.’
Space is at a premium; the average new-build home in the UK is half the size of a comparative new-build in Denmark, so furniture and other items need to be easily disassembled and multi-functional.
The role of the kitchen
Far from the days when the kitchen was seen by aristocrats as low-status room full of unsavoury cooking smells, the foodie revolution and our changing lifestyles mean we now want to entertain our guests and demonstrate our culinary skills at the same time and in the same space. It’s now the room we spend most money on – a brand-new high-tech fitted kitchen is the ultimate status symbol. As TV historian Lucy Worsley says in her BBC documentary, The History of the Home: ‘The kitchen is now the focus of family life again – it has gone back to its rightful place at the heart of the home.’
- Multitasking living spaces
- Neutral décor with coloured feature walls
- French windows and bifold doors to link kitchen and garden
- Smaller living space but more bathrooms
Staying True To The Period
Keep the essence of your period house alive with just the right colours, says Farrow & Ball Director Sarah Cole.
Colours were mainly muted and sophisticated and early on, colours like Lichen, Pigeon and Picture Gallery Red were popular, usually with a sheen.
‘As the style evolved, colours became lighter with dusky pinks, soft greys and cleaner greens and blues, as well as the introduction of strong yellows – all with a matte finish,’ says Sarah.
At the beginning of this period, lighter pale pink were still fashionable, along with iridescent whites, but darker colours were still used in masculine dining rooms and libraries.
‘Later came a much stronger palette dominated by classic Victorian crisp blues, rich greens and solar yellows. However, by the end of the century colours became more muted again,’ says Sarah.
Houses built after the 1840s were likely to have had mass-produced wallpaper from the skirting to the dado rail. Damasks, large florals, bird and animal motifs were all popular, and ornate plasterwork on ceilings, roses and cornices were usually coloured in neutrals.
Colours were fresher with pastel blues, greens, and pinks – all used to create a sense of space. In dining rooms, richer hues were used. Soodwork, cornices and ceilings were often painted using new bright whites.
Trace The History Of Your Home
Discovering the way your home has changed over the years, and some of the previous occupants, can be absorbing and rewarding.
- Start by asking neighbours, especially long-time residents of the area
- Visit museums
- Look at the title deeds of your home
- Research local archives
- Archon Direct to track down sources of historical information such as electoral registers, title deeds and estate papers located in your area.
- Try the National Register or The National Archives (TNA).
- Check with estate agents for old sales catalogues and photographs.
- Try your library or local study centre for old title deeds, photos, or sale catalogues.
- County record offices often produce information leaflets or have websites on how to trace history through their resources.