Notes and Notices

On art, architecture and design


A history of home

Posted by Carren Jao Pineda |

We are often entrapped in the world of the now. We hardly ever look back, but it is surprising to find that once we do, we find the past is still lingers in every object around us. After having read Lucy Worsley's "If Walls Could Talk: An intimate history of the home," I look at my current spartan surroundings with a new appreciation.

Did you know that today's open planned home has more in common with the medieval hall? Both emphasize flexibility and adaptability. One can re-arrange the room as the need arises. Guests would sing and play in medieval halls, only to sleep in the same floor after the celebrations are done. 

The sofa itself isn't European, but really of Arabic origin. It was furniture where one could lounge and converse on equal footing with a friend. A stark contrast to the lonely dais occupied by aristocrats.

Kitchens were separate structures in grand houses of medieval England run by a multitude of servants. Only after the First World War, when the abundance of cheap domestic labor dwindled, did kitchens enter the home manned by the mistress of the house. Of course, the wonders of ventilation did much to welcome the kitchen into the modern home, while expelling the odors of cutting and cooking. 

"If Walls Could Talk" is filled with these strange threads of history, whose influence we still see today. The author even gives tantalizing hints as to the origins of the terms "lousy" and "burning the candle at both ends." Chief curator at Historic Royal Palaces, a charity that looks after the Tower of London, Hampton Court Palace, Kensington Palace and other British gems, Worsley has an understandable European bent, but then so does the usual home.

"If Walls Could Talk" takes a long view of the history of the home. Worsley goes centuries back to the medieval times and compares the home (and practices within it) then and now. Along the way, the author explains what really happens in bedrooms, kitchens, living rooms and bathrooms. 

Sounds mundane? Just think about the social drama that unfolds within those quarters: sex, religion, gender roles, occupational power plays. Imagine the drama "Downton Abbey" played out through the centuries. The wealth of information may get overwhelming, so I'd suggest reading in small doses. In the meantime, here's a clip of Worsley's findings: 



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