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

British Interiors

Sunday, January 14, 2007
The New York Times
Ligaya Mishan

[A] “witty and beguiling history of a hundred years of British domestic interiors”
“Nationality and class have been replaced by lifestyle,” a new manifesto declares. “People find their place in the world through intelligence and taste.” The author of this treatise is Ian Schrager, better known as a hotelier than as a political theorist — and, on closer inspection, his proclamation proves to be a sales brochure for a condominium project. One suspects that luxury apartments aren’t quite the solution to class struggle Marx had in mind.