'Design and Everyday Life at Britain Can Make It, 1946: "Stripes, Spots, White Wood and Homespun versus Chintzy Armchairs and Iron Bedsteads with Brass Knobs"', Journal of Architecture, no9, Winter, 2004.
My article focused on the Furnished Rooms Section of the 1946 'Britain Can Make It' Exhibition (BCMI), the COID’s first major public showpiece. The latter provides an important vehicle for examining the many debates – social, political, economic and cultural – concerning the design of housing and the domestic environment under a Socialist government in the period of reconstruction after the Second World War. Organised by the newly fledged Council of Industrial Design (COID), BCMI was mounted at the Victoria & Albert Museum in London and visited by over 1,432,000. The highly popular Furnished Rooms display provided insights into the difficulties faced by manufacturers, designers, design promotional organisations and consumers in the context of contemporary domestic design aspirations. BCMI was the first major public manifestation of the COID, established under the Board of Trade in 1944 to promote better standards of design in British industry. It also sought to educate consumers about the social, aesthetic and economic benefits of design in everyday life. Analysis is made of consumers’ reactions to designers’ portrayals of domestic living after the War, drawing upon key archival sources including the Mass Observation Survey of visitor reactions to BCMI, the extensive Design Council Archives at the University of Brighton and the National Archive (formerly Public Record Office).
This article was part of a special issue of the Journal of Architecture devoted to papers developed from the Lessons in Living: Post-War Model Homes conference held at the University of Ghent in 2003 where invited speakers from Belgium, Britain, France and the Netherlands contributed differing national perspectives on the theme. My article built on detailed research developed over many years using a variety of archival, oral and other primary sources. In my first book, The Industrial Designer and the Public (1983), I had discussed the COID and the Britain Can Make It Exhibition at some length, but paid more specific attention to the latter’s aims and purpose at the ‘Did Britain Make It?’ fortieth anniversary conference (1986) held at the Royal College of Art alongside the RCA’s anniversary BCMI Exhibition. Entitled ‘BCMI 1946: Social Idealism or Unfulfilled Realism’, my paper was subsequently developed into a Chapter entitled ‘Design Promotion 1946 and After’ published in P Sparke (ed), Did Britain Make It?, Design Council (1986). Several of my other papers and articles continued to explore British Post-War design policy, most notably ‘Good Design Propaganda versus Proto-Heritage Industry: British Design Policy and Identity in the Reconstruction Period’ at the 'Design and Reconstruction' Conference at the Victoria & Albert Museum (1994), ‘Social Utopianism, Cultural Elitism & the Council of Industrial Design’ at the 'Utility Reassessed - Design Utopia or Strategy' symposium, Winchester School of Art, 1994 and ‘Managing British Design Reform I: Fresh Perspectives on the Early Years of the Council of Industrial Design’, published in the Journal of Design History, 9, 1, 1996.
My research in this field took on a greater intensity with the arrival of the extensive Design Council Archive at the University of Brighton in 1994, its holdings containing a wealth of primary material on the 1946 exhibition never previously available to historians, complementing government archival papers at the then entitled 'Public Record Office at Kew'. This culminated in a publication co-edited and largely co-authored with my colleague Dr Patrick Maguire at the University of Brighton: Design & Popular Politics in the Postwar Period: The Britain Can Make It Exhibition 1946, Leicester University Press (1997).
My article on 'Design and Everyday Life at Britain Can Make It, 1946: “Stripes, Spots, White Wood and Homespun versus Chintzy Armchairs and Iron Bedsteads with Brass Knobs"', Journal of Architecture (2004) was built on a fresh review of, and further investigation into, archival material held in the Design Archives at Brighton. By the early twenty-first century, five or six years after putting together 'Design & Popular Politics in the Postwar Period', the Design Council Archive and Photographic Collection had benefited considerably from a three-year schedule of work financed by the Getty Archive Programme and other sources. This had established the Curator and Assistant Curator posts held respectively by Dr Catherine Moriarty and Dr Lesley Whitworth respectively in 1996. Their expertise, organisational work and research has continued to develop the Design Council Archive as a unique and immensely important tool for understanding the inter-relationship of design and the state. I continue to write and research in this field from a number of fresh perspectives.