Designing Domesticity

Domestic advice books are one of several channels through which we receive guidance about what we do in our homes, along with magazines, advertisements and television. Advice on the home extends from home decoration and homemaking books on the furnishing and maintenance of the home, to etiquette books on how to behave when entertaining others at home. This advice quickly dates, so a continual stream of advice is produced in a range of formats including new advice titles and new editions of existing titles. Old advice books do not provide the historian with evidence of actual everyday practices, but they do offer insights into shared ideals of domesticity. Written largely by women, for women, these books are a valuable source in the feminist project of examining women’s experiences both as authors, and as homemakers. In throwing a spotlight on non-elite women’s cultural production and consumption, this image gallery showcases a group of source materials which provide insights into largely unseen practices such as homemaking and amateur design and norms such as cultural ideals of home and family, and social and affective relationships. 

The book covers and page spreads shown here demonstrate the visual and textual strategies used by domestic advisors after World War 2 to inform and entertain their readers, and to persuade them to adopt up-to-date and ‘modern’ homemaking practices. This study draws on sociologist Max Weber’s identification of traditional, rational and charismatic modes of legitimation to understand the techniques domestic advisors used to persuade and inform readers. Traditional authority may be seen at work in the recycling and adaptation of images, as well as reiterated points of advice, but it is also engaged in typographic novelties such as text and images which emulate stitch and thereby recall home and home crafts in form as well as content.  Rational authority informs paired images of before and after comparisons, as well as diagrammatic depictions of the organised and efficient home. Charismatic authority underpins direct personal appeals, such as advice presented in the form of a signed letter. Although illustrations are sometimes posited as subordinate to the text which they ‘illustrate’, twentieth century domestic advice books bear occasional evidence of images subverting text and of images which extend the domestic possibilities available to less powerful groups within the home. In the main, the images in these books reinforce and disseminate norms which work to reproduce existing hierarchies of class, gender and age among others. 

This gallery draws on an interdisciplinary research project supported by an AHRC Research Leave award which resulted in my book Design at Home: Domestic Advice Books in Britain and the USA since 1945 (Routledge) (opens in a new window)

Dr Grace Lees-Maffei, Reader in Design History, University of Hertfordshire

 

  • Image of Endpapers, The Good Housekeeping Institute's 'Book of Good Housekeeping'
    Endpapers, The Good Housekeeping Institute's 'Book of Good Housekeeping' about Endpapers, The Good Housekeeping Institute's 'Book of Good Housekeeping'
  • Image of ‘Vulgarity’, Portrait by John Deakin, jugs photographed by Elsie Collins
    ‘Vulgarity’, Portrait by John Deakin, jugs photographed by Elsie Collins about ‘Vulgarity’, Portrait by John Deakin, jugs photographed by Elsie Collins
  • Image of Stephen J. Voorhies, ‘An Ideal Kitchen Arrangement’
    Stephen J. Voorhies, ‘An Ideal Kitchen Arrangement’ about Stephen J. Voorhies, ‘An Ideal Kitchen Arrangement’
  • Image of ‘Although your elders’ love for you amounts to adoration, a scene like this would be improved by greater moderation’
    ‘Although your elders’ love for you amounts to adoration, a scene like this would be improved by greater moderation’ about ‘Although your elders’ love for you amounts to adoration, a scene like this would be improved by greater moderation’
  • Image of Foreword by Anna Neagle, 'How to be a Good Hostess'
    Foreword by Anna Neagle, 'How to be a Good Hostess' about Foreword by Anna Neagle, 'How to be a Good Hostess'
  • Image of Cover, Illustration by Esme, 'The Creda Housecraft Manual'
    Cover, Illustration by Esme, 'The Creda Housecraft Manual' about Cover, Illustration by Esme, 'The Creda Housecraft Manual'
  • Image of Cover, Illustration by Esme, 'Woman Week-End Book'
    Cover, Illustration by Esme, 'Woman Week-End Book' about Cover, Illustration by Esme, 'Woman Week-End Book'
  • Image of Cover, Illustration by Esme, Woman 'Week-End Book Number Two'
    Cover, Illustration by Esme, Woman 'Week-End Book Number Two' about Cover, Illustration by Esme, Woman 'Week-End Book Number Two'
  • Image of ‘The Kitchen Buffet’, illustration by James Kingsland
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  • Image of Cover, 'Betty Crocker’s Guide to Easy Entertaining: How to Have Guests - And Enjoy Them'
    Cover, 'Betty Crocker’s Guide to Easy Entertaining: How to Have Guests - And Enjoy Them' about Cover, 'Betty Crocker’s Guide to Easy Entertaining: How to Have Guests - And Enjoy Them'
  • Image of Teen decorator, image ‘Courtesy Dow Chemical Company’
    Teen decorator, image ‘Courtesy Dow Chemical Company’ about Teen decorator, image ‘Courtesy Dow Chemical Company’
  • Image of Back cover, Sarah Maclean, 'Pan Book of Etiquette and Good Manners'
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  • Image of Clothing suitable for the country, illustration by Belinda Lyon
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