Household Gods

Winner of the Forkosch Prize of the American Historical Association, 2007
Co-winner of the North American Conference on British Studies’ Albion Prize, 2007
Short-listed for English PEN’s Hessell-Tiltman Prize, 2007

At what point did the British develop their mania for interiors, wallpaper, furniture, and decoration?  Why have the middle classes developed so passionate an attachment to the contents of their homes?  This absorbing book offers surprising answers to these questions, uncovering the roots of today's consumer society and investigating the forces that shape consumer desires.  Richly illustrated, Household Gods chronicles a hundred years of British interiors, focusing on class, choice, shopping, and possessions. 

Exploring a wealth of unusual records and archives Deborah Cohen locates the source of modern consumerism and materialism in early nineteenth-century religious fervor.  Over the course of the Victorian era, consumerism shed the taint of sin to become the pre-eminent means of expressing individuality.  The book ranges from musty antique shops to luxurious emporia, from suburban semi-detached houses to elegant city villas, from husbands fretting about mantelpieces to women appropriating home decoration as a feminist cause.  It uncovers a society of consumers whose identities have become entwined with the things they put in their houses.

Press Reviews

Reviewed by Richard Morrison

Saturday, October 17, 2009
The Times [London]
Richard Morrison

“[A] cracking social history”
Sometimes a book’s title belies its riches.  Deborah Cohen is ostensibly writing about Britain’s “love affair with the domestic interior” from the 1830s to the 1930s.  But her book isn’t only a chronicle of décor wars in the era when the British middle classes were the world’s most prosperous shoppers (rather than what we are now – the most incurable).  It’s also a cracking social history, all the more fascinating for approaching quintessential period figures such as Oscar Wilde or the Suffragettes through their furnishings – or their effect on other people’s.

How the British Discovered their House Style

Saturday, September 16, 2006
The Times [London]
Ben Macintyre

“[An] excellent new history of the British and their possessions... So much of what Cohen identifies in her insightful survey of Victorian and Edwardian consumerism seems to reflect upon our own age...”

 

At around midnight on a cold February evening last  year, 6,000 people converged on Edmonton, North London, for the opening of a new IKEA shop.  They jostled over the self-assembly bunk beds; they competed vigorously for the sofas; they snatched at the Mäkta global decorations and the Kvartil candle lanterns and the Brunkrissla pillowcases.  Then they stampeded.  Fights broke out.  Six people were injured and taken to hospital.