It can seem funny to think of the details of our daily lives as a part of history, but isn't history just a collection of stories about daily lives? The clothes we wear, the music we listen to, and — as shown in this exhibit — the furniture that we use to decorate our homes often represents larger social, cultural, and political stories.
Curating these elements into an exhibit can be an interesting insight into patterns over time and a fun trip down memory lane, Auburn Scallon wrote in a review first published on Culture.ee.
"According to local time: A century of the Estonian home in the city" uses a variety of visual tools, including statistics alongside photographs, furniture, and fashion sketches, to show changes in Estonian life from the 1920s to the 2000s.
One of the most striking numbers is the trend towards Estonian urbanisation over the last century.
- 27% lived in urban areas in the 1920s
- 32% in the 1930s
- 47% in the 1940s & 1950s
- 57% in the 1960s
- around 70% in the 1970s-1990s
- 85% in the 2000s
Urban life is as popular today as life outside the city limits was in the 1920s. What effect do you imagine that had on the inside of local homes?
Tech in the home
When I think about technology's influence on interior design today, my thoughts go to smart appliances and digital entertainment. If we think even further back, "technology" could refer to things that many of us may take for granted today. These are detailed throughout the exhibit:
- Only 11% of Estonian homes in the 1920s had running water, and this number was still only at 84% in the 1970s. This was a reminder that innovation does not immediately spread across an entire population as soon as it's available. It made me stop and rethink a decade that I usually associate with all of the comforts of modern life.
- Electricity spread at a much faster pace than running water, from 32% of homes in the 1920s to 100% in the 1970s.
- In the 1930s, 97% of Estonian homes used wood-burning stoves for heating, but by the 1970s almost half had central heating, and 74% of homes had it by the 1980s.
These changes often affect our comfort level at home but they aren't always visible in the decor of a home.
Entertainment, however, is visibly built into the structures of our homes. As the popularity of radio spread in the early 20th century, radio cabinets crept into people's homes. When boxy televisions entered the mix, they needed pieces of furniture to sit on top of and living room staples like sofas and armchairs began to focus more on comfort.
In the 2000s, flatscreen TVs moved to the walls, reducing the need for a TV stand or entertainment center, and the exhibit notes the trend towards more personal areas as individual screens started to take the place of group entertainment.
Materials and minimalism
The descriptions (in both English and Estonian) give context to the changes in styles as you browse through the decades. Means of production, availability of materials, Soviet-era regulations, and a desire for individualisation all show up in the shapes and textures of the furniture on display.
The last decade of the 2000s notes the modern trend of mixing vintage furniture with today's designs so you may find yourself going home and trying to determine the era and style of your own home.
"According to local time: A century of the Estonian home in the city" runs at the Museum of Estonian Architecture through 7 October 2018, and takes about an hour to thoroughly enjoy.
This post originally appeared on the Culture critics' blog at culture.ee.
Editor: Aili Vahtla