Cultural historian pulls back the duvet to reveal changes in the British family home

Shoes off. Professor Ben Highmore invites us to enter the homes of our past.

University of Sussex cultural historian Professor Ben Highmore invites readers back through their own front doors for his new book.

Described as “the first history of its kind”, The Great Indoors is an illuminating and engaging guide to the changes in our homes since the beginning of the 20th Century, from the draughty parlours of post-Victorian Britain to the cosy, high-tech hubs of our interconnected  domestic worlds.

Professor Highmore, who was a consultant and presenter for the acclaimed 2009 BBC TV series ‘Electric Dreams’, takes a tour around the various rooms of an average UK home – with a brief foray into sheds and garages  – to see again a world that has become hidden through over-familiarity.

His research included poking around in the University's Mass Observation Archives to find out what people kept on their mantelpieces in the 1930s and the 1980s, as well as consulting the writing of 70s style guru Terence Conran, the products in IKEA catalogues, and the sofa dramas of TV sitcoms.

He writes about the major change that central heating brought about, such as allowing family members to use more than one room during the winter months, and reminds us that telephones used to be installed in the hallway as “a way of letting the machine into the house but not quite into the home”.

He also takes a peek into what might be referred to as the sitting room, or the lounge, or the living room (according to your own background and class), and discusses whether good taste is about us wanting to show off our status in some way, as decided upon by the colours we choose (sage green was once the preserve of the aristocracy) and the furniture we buy, or whether our homes are much more likely to reflect our personal and sentimental values.

Moving upstairs, in the bedroom department he assesses the influence of Marie Stopes’ 1918 publication Married Love, and Alex Comfort’s 1972 manual, The Joy of Sex, with its recipe-book like instructions and memorable illustrations that “have forged a generation or two who think that men with trimmed beards like to experiment in the bedroom”.

Finally, he looks to the future  and asks whether our housing can sustain our modern lifestyles as fossil fuels run low. As he points out “…the house of the future has a planetary obligation to tread more lightly on the ground”. 

Notes for editors

The Great Indoors is published by Profile, £15.99

University of Sussex Press Office, Jacqui Bealing and Maggie Clune, Tel: 01273 678888 Email:


By: Jacqui Bealing
Last updated: Tuesday, 14 January 2014