Nostalgia and domestic architecture

In a recent blog post Joanne Bailey described how she had ‘something of a lightbulb moment’ after reading the Observer article: ‘Look back in joy: the power of nostalgia’ by Wildschut and Sedikides. The positive image of nostalgia given by these authors made me think of some research I have done (in what now seems another lifetime) on the concept of regionalism in Britain during the interwar period in the work of Oliver Hill (1887 – 1968).

Although I didn’t explicitly relate nostalgia to regionalism it seems to me that there is a strong connection in how both concepts use the past to deal with the present.  Sedikides says of nostalgia that it is the ‘perfect internal politician, connecting the past with the present, pointing optimistically to the future’.  This idea seems similar to regionalism within domestic architecture of the interwar period. It is precisely this strategy of ensuring continuity with modernity which finds expression in the domestic work of Hill.

In a chapter I wrote for the book Regionalism and Modernity  I discussed how Hill pursued this connection with the past in houses such as Woodhouse Copse (1924-1926), Holmbury St Mary in Surrey. Here Hill pursued a connection with the local by employing local crafts people to insure that the traditional techniques in architecture – as well as decoration – were safeguarded for future generations.

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Woodhouse Copse © Country Life

What I find particularly interesting in light of Joanne Bailey’s blogpost is how such domestic settings can perhaps be understood as a more material example of  ‘the transferring of family values’ she is referring to.

Regionalism, as nostalgia, has more often than not been linked with negative connotations, especially in relation to architecture produced during the interwar period. Such mindsets, however, lead to a one sided view of what was produced at the time. Only by approaching nostalgia (and regionalism) in a more positive light, as Bailey, Wildschut and Sedikides argue, can we more thoroughly understand how modern social experience was translated into architectural expression and shaped interior decoration.

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