Friday, September 5, 2008

Industrial Revolution, part II

Industrial Revolution, part II: Identity and comfort


The industrial revolution brought about many changes for human kind. These changes not only took the form of machines and architecture, but were also evidenced in society structure. Some historians have compared this transformation to the Neolithic revolution (Tate & Smith, 1986, pp. 221), when humans began practicing an agrarian society. The industrial revolution also transformed society in a way that allowed people to become individuals, prompting them to question authority and, for the first time, to question their fate. As more and more factories were added, more jobs and wealth was created; people saw this as an opportunity to “make” something of themselves and to “climb” the social ladder.


The ideas of “comfort” and “privacy” were still somewhat new to 19th century society yet architecture was beginning to take notice of these desires. In the early years of American history, most of the houses had been small and had few rooms however; most of the houses in the 19th century were separated into spaces that focused on the activity at hand (i.e. sleeping, eating, entertaining, cooking). This idea also translated into commercial spaces; hospitals, shopping centers, churches, and government buildings were all separated based on their unique operations. In addition, due to the efficiency of the machine, people were able to enjoy more relaxation, hobbies, and entertainment. Libraries, museums, and theatres were opened to accommodate leisure activities.


While much of the architecture (exterior and interior) during the Victorian period was comparatively similar from house to house, it was the interior décor that provided “identity” and “comfort” to the owner. The more décor, the higher the owner’s intelligence and social standing were gauged. How do you believe this relates to society today? How do you define comfort and identity? What examples can you cite? Be specific.

11 comments:

olivia said...

The idea that the type and amount of interior decoration defines a person's social identity unfortunately does relate to society today. Our society places high value on material objects and the appearance of their personal surrondings. Plasma televisions in every room of the house, home theaters and gourmet kitchens are important aspects to some people's lives. For example, in Louisville, every year there is a home showcase called "Homerama" that is set in the high end homes. Hugh mansions are built and decorated with top designer commodities. This lends people to think that they need those objects in their homes to stay current with trends. However, there are some people today that dont necessarily have top of the line equipment and decorations in their homes. But they do decorate their house with a style that reflects who they are. And in the end, that's what it should be about. I don't try to measure up to those around me with the things I purchase to design a space. I personally define comfort and identity as designing a space that reflects who I am as a person.

Meredith J. said...

I agree with Olivia. I think today, that it's not only how much decoration that you have withing your house, but it's also how expensive those pieces are. Unfortunately, wealthier people think that the more stuff and the higher priced an item is, the better it makes not only their house, but themselves. But in reality, you don't really need all of the high-end, high-priced items for your home. There are plenty of products out there that are significantly cheaper, and probably in the long run will end up out lasting the more expensive products. I know that this summer, when I was helping my Grandmother look at products for a Children's Advocacy Center for St. Luke Hospital East in Northern Kentucky the woman who was contributing money to the project wanted only the most-expensive, higher-brand products because she thought that they would give a "richer" feeling to the Center, when in reality, the Center was where abused children were coming to seek help. So, in that case, the more expensive products weren't needed, they were wanted and therefore, didn't fit the project. So, the idea for the "status" of interior decoration has seem to unfortunately come to quantity (dollar amount and amount of decorations) rather than quality. It's about what will be comfortable to yourself and others who inhabit that space too, not just about what looks good and what will impress other people.

Chris Jones said...

What your home looks like says a lot about your identity. In today's society, it's all about having things your way (like the Burger King commercials). When it comes to how much you have in your home, the brand of the products, how aesthetically pleasing they are and so on...that's when you can tell someone's social status (usually). Even though this is a common stereotype, there is still some logic to it. In today's society, we actually have TV shows dedicated to showing off the grandeur of how much wealth that person has, such as MTV Cribs. So, what you have in your house and how grand it looks says a lot about how much money you have. It's logical to want to spend money on nice things to show off to others because as humans, we want to fit in. We want to be in the "in" crowd, so we feel the need to keep up with the Jones' (no pun intended ;]).

To me, comfort is a positive feeling and can only be expressed by what that person finds to be pleasing. Identity comes from what at person likes and dislikes. So, you almost can't have comfort without identity. Some people like sleeping with their feet sticking out the end of the covers at night. I, on the other hand, have to have mine tucked under the covers or I won't feel comfortable. This makes up who I am, AKA: my identity. Something that makes me comfortable is also having privacy. We've turned into a culture where privacy is one of our main concerns when choosing a place to live. It even goes beyond that, as in the medical field of study and how people who deal with personal medical records are required to be HIPPA-certified to protect a patient's medical information and records. One of the most private areas in a home is the bedroom. It's a sanctuary to display your personality (your identity). Maybe even more private: the bathroom. Ever noticed a master bathroom? There is usually a shower with transparent glass, and bathtub with no curtain, and is usually large enough for two people to walk around freely. I believe this comes from the idea of couples sharing a very open relationship with each other and not feeling too ashamed to hide anything, even their own nudity.

Lindsey Calvin said...

I think that this idea of defining yourself in society through the use of decor is still prevalent today. Often if a person has money they will show it through big houses with extravagant furniture and decoration. There are also certain specialized rooms that will help to give away the wealth of an individual such as maybe a library or theater. If people are proud of their things they more likely to spend time and money taking care of them whereas people without money may not be able to do that so their furniture or possibly even the outside of their house may look a little more beat up and run down and typically our society associates something like that with someone lacking wealth. As far as comfort goes I think everyone has their own individual taste. Some people are more drawn to contemporary furniture with very straight rigid lines and to them that is comfortable. Someone else may associate comfort with a more traditional style with big plush furniture or something along those lines.

Sara Watson said...

I agree with Olivia about how "stuff" defines one's social status. As in the Victorian period, it is still about having the next new thing. Today however it is more about technology. I'm not sure today's society could go without having televisions, cell phones and laptops. I know that I couldn't go without checking facebook at least once a day. A lot of people go by the mentality that because something is expensive it must be amazing. If you look at some of the interior design magazines these days most of the products have a huge price tag. You can just go to used furniture stores/flea markets and find the same kind of stuff. If your willing to hunt for it and clean it up a bit. While the Victorian period was all about how much stuff you had, today it's about what kind of stuff.
Comfort, to me, is about being relaxed in a space. A lot about comfort has to do with privacy. I know I wouldn't be comfortable sharing a room with my whole family much less visitors. I don't even like sharing a bathroom with my brother at home. Comfort also deals with a space that goes with your personality. I know I wouldn't feel comfortable in a room that doesn't have any personal touches. This definition of comfort also goes into how I define identity. Identity is how you define yourself. My identity is someone who is very private, and yet I need some interaction with others just not all the time. I don't know what I would do if I had to share a bedroom with a whole bunch of people. Living in the dorms was hard enough.

Carrie R. said...

Today, the motto of most seems to be “bigger is better”. Many get caught up in the image of having that massive entertainment center taking up an entire wall in their living room, and the apparent necessity to have a 7 bedroom/6 bath house only for one person to live in. Of course if you have the money why not? It makes sense to be able to show off the lifestyle you have worked for. Or at least, that is what most people’s mindset is. The home décor plays a large part in reflecting social status and how wealthy a person may be. The stereotype of a wealthy person is someone who owns these things. Among many other things, they may have their own personal movie theater in their basement, or a room that is solely dedicated to be a game room. This standard of living is set by many television productions that we all watch. Whether it is a top design show, or a tour of a celebrity home, it teaches us to believe that this is the way we all should be living, or at least to strive near it. I personally believe that people today are getting way too caught up in all the “stuff” that they own or think they should own.
I think that your home says a lot about your identity. It’s all about what you feel looks good and what you feel comfortable in. Whether you prefer to sleep in a small, simple framed bed or to be engulfed in a huge sleigh bed may say a lot about you. Like Lindsey said, comfort is to your own discretion and personal tastes. And your personal taste is what defines you as a person.

Elizabeth Chaffin said...

During the Victorian period, people started living more "comfortably", meaning obtaining materials was a sign of status. Not much has changed since then, we still live in a materialistic world. From name brands to price tags, it still it the same. In the Victorian time, interiors became very clutter because everyone just left their stuff out and let it accumulate to show their wealth and prosperity. This often led to the space being somewhat obnoxious. Now days, reproductions or knock-offs of higher end brands can be purchased that look very similar to the 'real' thing, and may even sometimes have the same quantity.
Like everyone has elaborated on, comfort should come from what pleases the user (people). If someone purchases something for the materialistic value of it, or just to be following the trend, but doesn't necessarily like it, they will not be content and one hundred percent happy. It should be what you like in your space that will be yours.

Shannon S said...

In today's world we are still evaluated by the possessions we have. The wealthier someone is, the more they can afford to put into the appearance of their homes and interior decoration. Today we also still separated the rooms in our house according to their function. For example, the dining room is usually located adjacent to the kitchen, making it easier for one to carry food from one to the other. The location of the bedrooms were moved to the second floor, which is also similar to the layout we have of our homes today. The second floor is a more private space in most homes, where only the residents regularly go. During the Industrial Revolution,guests would have no reason to enter the upstairs. They stayed in two entertainment rooms located adjacent to each other on the first floor.
You establish your identity in many ways, such as your activities, the way you dress, your possessions, and the priorities in your life. These are things that define me and make me comfortable. In design, I define comfort as an environment that allows me to be myself. For example, I want the things around me, such as pictures and other elements to represent things I enjoy.

Molly Rowland said...

Unfortunately, after reading the blog, I could not help but notice that not only is society similar to that of the Industrial Revolution, but our materialistic views are much worse.

It seems that with every step forward and with every bit of progress made, there will always be challenges. It is society's reaction to those challenges that defines a period of time.

For example, mass production and the specialization of rooms in a home were two changes brought by the industrial revolution. Mass production made products more available to society and the specialization of rooms brought about a since of individualism.

These two changes were wonderful for society at that time, however, with them came a materialistic world. A world that still remains today. If someone owns more luxury goods they are viewed at a higher status than someone who is not so fortunate. Classes in society can not be avoided, and I believe that society will continue to be divided and people will continue to be judged.

Meaghan Boenig said...

The idea of material objects or home décor defining a person’s level on the social ladder still seems to be an opinion held by many Americans today. Our society strongly believes that success is measured by power, wealth, and status. And the home is definitely viewed as a symbol of a person’s status, which is why many feel they must prove themselves through the décor of their homes. But can we blame them? We’re products of our society; we live in a world where being the “best” and owning the “best” products is highly valued. Americans are consumers; we want top-of-the-line, new and improved products and we like to keep with the trends. However, I agree with Meredith that this high demand for new products has led to the misconception among many that the “best” products available are also the most expensive products. Instead of looking at the quality of a product, people have become more focused on the price tag.

The word home can be defined in many various ways because they are different for everyone. This is why I think a home should reflect its owner’s preferred style and tastes. Johann Wolfgang von Goethe, a German playwright, once said, “He is the happiest, be he king or peasant, who finds peace in his home.” As an interior design student, I believe that design has the power to create a comfortable, peaceful home. So although I don’t agree with buying products just because they’re considered the “best,” I do believe that people have the right to decorate their home in a way that will allow them to feel comfortable in it and be proud of their home.

Sabrina said...

It's a shame that the revolution of "making something" of oneself had to coincide with "climbing the social ladder" by obtaining riches through the Industrial Revolution. Why couldn't have "making something of oneself" have been associated with building one's character or rezlizing one's life purpose? This type of revolution of thought could have happened at various times throughout history. However, the human being has always been driven by competitive drive which drives us to "reach beyond" others. It just so happens that "reaching beyond" is very easy to do by accumulating wealth. Thus, it was not surprising that this revolution of thought came with the Industrial Revolution.
Today's material culture is no differnt than the materialism of the Victorian period. We, as humans, are still set in the mindset of reaching beyond others and the "American Dream" persuades us that the easiest route is through the accumulation of wealth. We want to rise from the bottom to the top and display our wealth through completely unnescessary goods. Altought most of society becomes bogged with materialsim, some are actively living their life in a contrasting way. A very, very small group of Americans who participate in the 50-50 Club are an example of this group of people. The members of the 50-50 Club donate 50% of their income to charitable organizations. Many of them actually work 2 or 3 jobs in order to give as much as possible to those in need. However, it is true that the majority of society is more interested in materialism than this way of life.
I believe that identity is a representation of oneself to others. Some may show true identities and others may show false identities. (A false identiy would be one that isn't keeping with the person's true spirit.)
I believe that the idea of comfort comes from the feeling of familiarity or the feeling of "fitting in."

This blog is intended for the interior design students in the college of design at the University of Kentucky. It was created with the intent to present students with information, providing them with a channel for contemplation and discussion.