Monday, September 14, 2009

VICTORIAN ERA: Impressions and Privacy

During the Victorian Era many new technologies and methods were developing allowing for more people to have access to fine furnishings. With several specializations developing in furniture design house plans changed to allow for more rooms, because people could now afford to fill them. Like “Ames” said, much of the design of the front of the house was based on first impressions. Houses developed to allow the host family to keep their guests in the front entertaining rooms and have their private living quarters hidden from view upstairs.


Many houses had what was called a front hall where guest were first received, here much consideration was given to the furnishings. The larger and more expensive your hallstand and other furnishings, the higher your social standing would seem to the guest who enter your house. The Victorians perfected the concept of controlling the first impression.

What guests had access to was changing, the family now had some control over what other people thought when they came to visit. These new ideas on the importance of first impressions allowed for the development in the concept of privacy. Rooms could now be entered independently, you no longer had to travel through one room to the next, invading the privacy of the occupants along the way. Families could now afford for everyone to have their own bedrooms were they could go to escape in quite. They were no longer forced to all sleep in the same room.

Having visitors became a more common occurrence. As privacy became more of a need then a luxury, designers started to incorporate it into their programming. Dumbwaiters were developed so waiters wouldn’t interrupt a private conversation, back staircases were added so the servants could move around undetected to perform their duties. Victorians at the time were very concerned with what others thought of them and didn’t want to be seem as poor or unable to afford the luxuries. People would sometimes splurge to decorate their front halls and parlors more elaborately then the rest of their houses. You might even say some people still do this today when they buy a fancy sports car they only use for work, or buy designer clothing with large obvious labels to show others what they can afford.

Was the development of privacy a much needed development or was it one of the main contribution factors to the deterioration of family structure? And did this obsession with first impressions stimulate consumerism or was it the other way around, and how can these values be seen in todays culture?


kengelman said...

I believe that privacy was a much needed development. Privacy is something everyone needs in their lives. You wanted your alone time where no one else is around or is listening. Before the introduction of the corridor or the back stair wells for servants they were always in your business. They were constantly walking through your room and listening in on your private conversations. I think the development of privacy didn't lead to the deterioration of family. Every family needs time alone once in a while. The older kids need their own rooms separate from the younger kids and the parents need their own area no where near the company or children in the house. I think that privacy was probably the best thing that came from this time period.

I believe that consumerism stimulated the obsession of the first impression. If all these new technologies that created all these new products were never thought of people weren't be obsessed with buying things. I believe that it was people's obsessions with buying items to make them happy is what led to the first impression fad. If people were constantly trying to out buy each other to look richer and better than everyone else then no one would have cared about first impressions. If people were so consumed in buying products we would never have to worry about what we or our houses look like.

People in today's culture are obsessed with looks and how others perceive them. People will spend $500 on jeans, $300 on a new top, $200 on shoes and most of the time spend $200 or $300 on their hair styles. Why is this? To make people like them and think that they are very rich. Every time you walk out of the door no matter who you are are thinking about how you look and how others will perceive you. Just as the Victorians cared about their front halls that is still very relevant in today's culture. People will make sure that they have an amazing chandelier, staircase, or piece of art in their front halls to impress people as soon as they walk in. In today's world its not just the front hall as it was in the Victorian times its the whole house. Your kitchen has to have the newest and best appliances to give a good impression. You have to have media rooms, bars, billiards rooms, and lounge areas if you want to be considered top of society. People will always be judging each other from here to the end of the time probably all thanks to the Victorians.

Melissa Long said...

Like many things in the Victorian time period, I believe the development of private rooms was a result of the Industrial Revolution. The main factor that allowed the Industrial Revolution to be a success was the specialization of products. Now, in the Victorian time, we have taken the same concept of specialization and applied it to our homes. There is a place for the books in the library, a place for sleeping in the bed room, and a place for greeting people in the front hall. Because of this specialization of space I believe people began to get protective of their space, thus leading to privacy. The more opportunity you have to be alone allows you to do things that would otherwise be judged by the public. And as we all know, the Victorian age was all about how other people perceived you. So in short, I believe privacy was a much needed specialization of the Victorian age to give people a chance to escape for the public’s opinion. However, I don’t see a relation between privacy and the family structure. I believe the family structure at the time was carried out based on how the people believed society should act. This can be seen in the women exchanging two cards for her husband.
From my understanding of the Victorian time period, a family’s wealth wasn’t perceived based upon what name brand of furniture they had, but rather how much. Regardless of the name brand Victorians want to own as much as they could. However, products were often bought that were conceived to be used by the wealthy. So in a sense I believe you could call this the beginning of modern day consumerism, but products were purchased based upon their decorative perception, not the name of the producer. This is much like buying a fake Rolex watch today, it looks good and accomplishes the impression, but the name of the producer doesn’t matter.
Though time has elapsed we are still as concerned about impression today as we were in the Victorian time period. Regardless, of how we convey them, through clothes, jewelry, cars, cell phone or our home, we all own something that makes us feel as though we belong to a high class. Today, high society is associated with names like Ferrari or Dolce and Gubbana so more than likely we try to own these items or something close to them. Much like Victorian times, we still strive to make a good first impression.

Clay Moran said...

I agree with Kaitlyn in her view that privacy was a much-needed development, I don’t know how I would have survived high school without a bedroom door to shut and lock. There’s got to be something mentally healthy about having a moderate dose of “me time” now and then. I don’t think it’s impossible to have a close-knit family in this day and age without sleeping all together in a room either. Kitchens and dining rooms still have tables for the entire family to eat together. Living rooms still have plenty of room and comfy seating for family game night or watching a movie all together. So no, I don’t necessarily feel it was a major contributing factor to the deterioration of families. I do, however think that this time period furthered a phenomena from the Industrial Revolution that did begin a breakdown of the family bond. I feel the technological advances, leading up to today’s I-pods and I-phones, and X-boxes (weird how they all start with a single letter), alongside a newfound obsession with material culture, topped off by fads of impersonal communication like calling cards all made large contributions. I myself am guilty of allowing technology to separate me from time to time. I take advantage of e-mail and text, when there’s a time crunch to make a phone call. I plug up my ears immediately when hopping into the car for a long trip with the family. I text my friends during family functions, at least for a while. Once I get the eye from my Dad, I know I’m caught and it’s in my best interest to cease immediately. I think to a certain extent too that the selfish desire to accumulate material things and achieve status has allowed some family members to lose sight of what’s important when trying to keep a family close and strong. Parents may work more hours more often, putting work deadlines and events before soccer games and school plays.

In response to the other part of the question stated, I think it was consumerism that stimulated an obsession with first impressions. Before the birth of the middle class, and the ability to climb ladders of social and economic status, individuals didn’t worry much about impressing people with their front hall, both because they probably didn’t have one, and because they had nothing with which to fill it. The more opportunities presented to consume, the more people of that time felt they should get to consuming!

It seems this era may have birthed the ever-present mantra “keeping up with the Jones’s.” And just like back then, people today feel the need to spend the excessive amount of money they may or may not be making on presentation. If one only had enough money to either make the inside of their home comfortable or the outside presentable, I have no doubt most people would choose to spend on the outside. In this way Americans today resemble the Victorian people who chose to make their front hallways extravagant, while other more utilitarian areas of the house may possess the bare minimum

Betty said...

It seems so bizarre to me that the notion of privacy is fairly new. It seems like such a basic fact of our lives. Like Kaitlyn and Clay, I can't imagine not having my privacy.

It is interesting to me that privacy emerges during a time of rigorous rules of social etiquette. It makes me wonder if there is a correlation in that social rules helped privacy come about. For example, that it was socially acceptible to have a servant lie about whether or not you are home seems really weird to me, but it is a rule of social etiquette that protects privacy. As weird as this practice seems, upon further reflection I see a parallel between screening guests and todays version: screening telephone calls using Caller ID. I am admittedly a screener. Maybe I'm Victorian after all. Hmmm...

I, too, see a correlation between today's consumerism/materialism and that of Victorian times. It makes me wonder if some 100 years into the future, when environmental concerns outweigh convenience in our priorities, people will look back on our era with the same negative associations we attribute to the Victorian time period.

Back on the subject of privacy for a minute, the notion that privacy has not always been a part of people's lives was kind of revolutionary one to me. I did not know that this was the case. It makes me think of the raging debate about whether the right to privacy exists within the Constitution of the United States in a slightly different light. And yes, I am talking about Pro-Life/Pro-Choice, but also about Internet Security issues, HIPAA Regulations, and the Patriot Act. It makes sense to me now that OF COURSE there is no expicit right to privacy in the Constitution, it was not something that would have occurred to the Framers. The question, then, becomes whether our rights under the constitution are limited to those specifically enumerated, or whether there are rights implicit based on the spirit of the Constitution. For that answer, I guess it depends on whether you are a strict constitutionalist or an originalist. In the interest of not igniting a big political discussion, I won't tell you which side I come down on, but I think it is some interesting food for thought.

meagan_mckee said...

After Casey asked the question about privacy, I actually considered if families would be 'closer-knit' then the majority of them are now. It's strange to think of my sisters and parents all sleeping in the same room and sharing the same space all the time, and as much as I dislike the idea now, if that was the way we grew up and were accustomed to, I actually think it would have resulted in us being extremely close. I agree with Kaitlyn that everyone needs their own privacy, but if you think about it, if we hadn't been introduced to it, would we even desire it?

The idea that the Victorians were obsessed were first impressions, I feel, still applies to today. We spend insane amounts of money on things that make us 'look good', such as cars and clothing and jewelry, just so people perceive us in a certain manner. I agree that first impressions are important. If you go for a job interview, you'd obviously want to impress the boos/manager so you could get the job. I do think we've become overly impressionistic though. We don't necessarily see someone's kind heart or intelligent mind before we see their car or their wardrobe. Although, it's this desire to impress that does help stimulate the economy, both in the Victorian Era and now, I feel it is a downside to consumerism.

Vinti said...

Impression management that started during the Victorian period directly correlates to the phrase, “my home is a reflection of me”. During the Victorian period, the home reflected not only the values of individuals but of the society as a whole. What started then, still holds true today….only the values of the society as a whole, have changed. The Industrial Revolution shaped the values that emerged during the Victorian period. The newly rich people really valued possessions (what Casey referred to as, consumerism) because they had never had so many possessions before. Thus the Industrial Revolution led to a society that valued excesses, and that judged others on the basis of how much they possessed. Victorian homes reflect these values. However, societal values have shifted now, to technology. As, Katilyn pointed out, we are now judged by having hi-tech appliances, media rooms and flat screen TVs in our homes. Our homes still reflect who we are. Orkut and Facebook are great examples of impression management through technology.

The first seedlings of individualism were sown during the Victorian period, with the concept of privacy. I strongly believe that privacy was a much needed development. Coming from India, I have great value for privacy, since I have experienced the lack of it after I got married. Having lived in the US for eight years now, I cannot imagine my life, without having “my own time”, watching TV, sipping a cup of tea and surfing the internet. It might sound culturally rude or unacceptable to “some” Indian families that are still very traditional, believing that married women in the family have no private time (not only private time with husband but also, downtime) at all. If I were in India today, the only time I would retreat to my room would be late at night, after fulfilling all my duties (or “etiquettes” is a better word here, since it involves watching TV shows that everyone else is watching at night *rolling my eyes*). However, I am glad that culture in India has changed a lot, majority of families have fewer privacy issues.

I do not think that the notion of privacy led to the deterioration of the family structure. Yes, it did make us more individualistic, but I see this kind of individualism as a positive development. The deterioration of the family structure, I think was caused by several complex and interrelated issues, which are beyond the scope of this discussion.

Angela said...

I disagree with the fact that privacy was a factor that impacted the deterioration of families. In this generation there are much larger tribulations that impact the bonds of families such as divorces, money, drugs and/or alcohol and many more. In the Victorian Era privacy evolved greatly into a need instead of a luxury, but I consider them in both ways. I appreciate the benefits of reflecting and relaxing and still have plenty of time to share with my family.

Like Casey says, “The Victorians perfected the concept of controlling the first impression.” But how did the concept of first impressions begin and then grow immensely since the Victorian Era? Impressions followed me to high school where social status depended on looks, clothes, accessories and friends. But it wasn’t just first impressions that were important, it was a continuation of day to day impressions that you would leave on people. I feel that first impressions have been over exaggerated because people make them seem like its more important than it really is. So what, if you have expensive clothes and nice things, you may look good but it doesn’t shape who you are.

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.