Placing the piano in middle-class homes, 1890–1930
In the nineteenth century, the piano became an important social, no less than musical, instrument of middle-class domesticity, and its presence in North American homes only increased in the first few decades of the twentieth century. The piano was a large-scale consumer item that in some ways prefigured later technologies, such as the phonograph, radio receiver, television and hi-fi stereo. While musicologists and organologists have addressed social practices associated with the piano, their studies have not considered the role of interior design in the instrument’s appearance and placement or the sensorial experience of the piano in domestic interiors. Drawing from a broad range of materials – from interior decoration advice literature to prefabricated house catalogues, middle-brow fiction to parlour piano music – this chapter argues that the piano played a potent role in the socio-spatial structure of middle-class homes. It provided both a focal and acoustic point in the multisensory design of the middle-class living room. The visceral tactility of keyboard performance on the one hand and the spatial penetration of its tones on the other combined to create a polysensory experience for residents and guests alike. By examining a variety of cultural representations and products associated with the piano in the first quarter of the twentieth century, this chapter encourages a reconsideration of the sounds and sights of middle-class domesticity.
This book traces the Victorian origins of the idea of 20:20 vision. As the first full-length historical study of spectacles and vision testing, it draws together existing scholarship on ophthalmology, medicalisation, disability, normalisation, assistive technology, fashion, medical capitalism and sensory history. By interconnecting these often disparate fields of study it offers new insights into how technology, and its related historical actors, shape the meaning and experience of sensory perception and disability more broadly. In considering the ways in which spectacles altered the experience and meaning of seeing in a variety of different contexts, I adopt a design model of disability. The material culture of spectacles – largely gleaned in this book from two collections at the Science Museum in London – reveals that the functional and non-functional aspects of Victorian spectacle design created a non-medical object, a multifaceted device able to meet the expectations of an expanding, and diverse, number of prospective wearers and even normalise attitudes to partial sight.
The English pub has long been credited with a distinct atmosphere that differentiates it from the drinking places of other nations. This chapter examines how atmosphere formed a focus for professional discussions about the design of the modern public house interior during a period of intense building and refurbishment by brewery owners after the Second World War. Drawing on examples of English public house interiors from the 1950s to the 1970s, it explores the strategies employed by interior designers to engage the senses to create familiar, comforting and productive settings. It considers the use of warm, ‘thirsty’ colours to stimulate the senses and increase consumption, the creation of site-specific soundscapes to promote a sense of place and belonging in pubs of recent design and the employment of ‘fake’ and ‘authentic’ materials and finishes to trick the eye and reassure the hand. Through these examples it suggests ways in which many of these post-war design strategies centred on evocations of an imagined or remembered sensory past, whether in the form of the pleasant smell of beer and baccy or the acoustic hustle and bustle of an old city street, creating interior atmospheres that positioned drinkers in a playful and profitable multisensory relationship with the past.