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Can anyone explain the design of 1930s houses to me please?

(76 Posts)
whatsthecatch Thu 14-Apr-11 11:22:47

I'm thinking of moving to a 1930s house with the typical bedroom layout of 2 good sized bedrooms and then a third tiny "boxroom" type room that is classed a the third bedroom.

Now I have 2 DCs it seems unfair to expect one of them to have a big room and one to have a tiny bedroom.

I have always wondered why typical 1930s houses are designed this way and would love to know what the thinking is behind the design? Did they expect a family to have their children sharing the second bedroom regardless of age/gender? Was the tiny room designed as a bedroom at all? We have family with a 6ft tall son who grew up in the tiny room and they had to take the skirting boards off in his room to fit his bed in!

So, anyone know about 1930s architecture? My 1970s house has 3 similar sized rooms so obviously architects were thinking differently 40 years later!


scaryteacher Thu 14-Apr-11 11:38:41

Maybe the small room was for the staff?

My Gran rented one for years and she slept in the box room whilst leaving the big rooms for guests (and we went up once a year!)

whatsthecatch Thu 14-Apr-11 11:43:43

Thanks scary

Well, maybe for some 1930s houses that was the case, but I'm talking about the bog standard terraced/end of terrace/semi design that overwhelms the suburbs of cities. (Here I'm talking London suburbs and now wondering if its just a London thing?) The typical 30s family house. Not posh at all and no staff involved!

amythesecond Thu 14-Apr-11 11:47:50

It was for boxes! Really it is a walk in cupboard. It is amazing it is ever referred to as a third bedroom. Turn it into a bathroom and have your DC share?

Rhian82 Thu 14-Apr-11 11:50:31

Ours is a 1930s council house (in Bath), and only has two bedrooms, both okay sizes.

When we were in Cornwall though we lived in a 1980s house that was as you describe - teeny-tiny third room (though the other two were pretty small as well).

I think it's just bad design regardless of the era!

iskra Thu 14-Apr-11 11:51:21

They didn't have staff in those style houses.

No idea what the thinking was!

scaryteacher Thu 14-Apr-11 11:52:01

My Gran lived in a bog standard 30s mid terrace in Cambridge. 3 beds (well 2 and a box room), front room (parlour), then the room she lived in behind that, small galley kitchen and no bathroom until the late 70s/early 80s, outside loo til then, and milk kept in a big cupboard to keep cool.

AvengingGerbil Thu 14-Apr-11 11:53:02

Likely family size -3 children. Likely gender mix 2:1. Two kids in one room. The other-sexed one in the third room.

And when they were built, a lot of them were the replacements for slum housing, so the people moving into them were coming out of housing where there was one room for everyone to sleep in. (My GPs - and all their relatives - moved out of Peckham to Morden when it was first built. First time they had running water.)

Paschaelina Thu 14-Apr-11 11:54:10

Its stupid isn't it? They all seem to have small kitchens as well. We looked at a 30s house with a 3rd bedroom, size 7ft x5ft, and a kitchen 6ftx7ft. Huge garden though. Thats the bonus with a lot of 30s houses, they were all built with big gardens.

Our house is 1950, the 3rd bedroom, which was once the bathroom, is tiny so its become my walk-in wardrobe. When it was the bathroom the sink must have overhung the bath, I can't see any other way it would have fitted.

If we ever have a second child I can only think we will have to convert the loft.

stubbornhubby Thu 14-Apr-11 11:55:32

it's to do with the layout of the ground floor, and supporting walls.

the main front bedroom fits above the living room, sharing the bay window

the box room fits above the front door, and is the same width as the hall.

house sizes got smaller in the 20s as suburbs were developed for profit (but large house and grounds, knowck down house, cover with semis) architects weren't as clever with small spaces in those days

2madboys Thu 14-Apr-11 11:56:51

My Grandparents had one of these with my Mum and her two sisters. The two younger sisters shared the larger bedroom and Mum slept in the little one. I think it was fine at the time - she said she had so few clothes that they used to hang on a hook on the back of the bedroom door! Re the small kitchen, I think they had so few appliances then, that it didn't really matter. I love these houses, (although possibly connected with happy memories of grandparents!), but not sure I could live in one that hadn't been extended.

scaryteacher Thu 14-Apr-11 11:59:41

'The 1920s and 1930s saw a gradual decline in the number of servants caused by social changes, the attraction of better paid work and the introduction of ‘labour saving’ devices. Another significant change in the late 1930s saw most domestic servants being employed on a daily basis; that is to say, they ceased to reside in their employers’ houses.'

This is interesting as

AvengingGerbil Thu 14-Apr-11 12:01:03

The gardens were huge in 1930s houses as they were intended to be large enough to feed a family. Which was lucky given the war meant that they were actually used for food very shortly after they were built!

titchy Thu 14-Apr-11 12:04:10

Well the kitchen wasn't the 'heart of the home' that it is now in today's designer-lifestyle era. The kitchen was functional - designed for cooking in. Dining room was for eating in and front room was only just at the time becoming more of a living room - previously the front room (parlour) was for receiving posh visitors, and people would have sat in the dining room - no tv remember.

Three kids usually, so two in one of the bigger bedrooms and the third kid in the box room.

Times have changed that's all. Not rocket science.

IngridBergman Thu 14-Apr-11 12:07:16

Well the house I grew up in was 1960s and it still had two reasonable bedrooms and one tiny box room that would just about fit a single bed, with a wardrobe/cupboard thing at the door end (starting about 2ft off the floor as the stairs went down under that bit). The rest of the room was literally 3ft across, you couldn't put a bed along the end for instance - I presume it was built in order to have a 'spare' room for visitors or storage or maybe a sort of office thing.

You're right to consider the feelings of your children; we moved there when I was nearly 11, and my sister who was nearly 13 had the big room while I had the tiny room. I spent my entire teenage years trying to do everything possible to live within those walls comfortably - nothing I did worked but I did develop an obsession with DIY and decorating. I was constantly trying to make it seem a reasonable size.

I as quite happy sharing the smallish room we had before, but my sister needed her own space so it all felt like a big concession to her with a 'thanks very much' for me. It was totally unfair and while she kept all the stuff she ever owned, I ended up having to give away most of mine as I went along as there was no space at all to keep things. I still feel sad about it now.

PrettyCandles Thu 14-Apr-11 12:07:54

For one thing it was that size simply to fit over the entrance. Any bigger and the entrance would have had to be bigger, which would have been seen as a waste of space for that class of house.

But I think that in those days it was normal for children to share rooms, so by default the first child would have the bedroom, the next to come along would share with the first if they were the same sex, else go into the boxroom. When no3 came along the rooms would be rearranged, the two the same going into the bigger room, and so on until they had to put children in the living room. Also, with working-class houses, some of the children at about 14 would probably have gone to live at their place of work as maids or apprentices.

Modern houses are still being built the same way. We viewed so many 70s and 80s built houses, where the smallest room was 6'6" x 6'6"! Even rooms 8' x 8' were described as doubles, and sometimes even had a double bed squeezed in.

IngridBergman Thu 14-Apr-11 12:12:45

It's interesting, I remember the thing about having to separate children over the age of five if they were boy and girl! Does that even still apply?

Where we are is a conversion from a Victorian mansion and we have the ground floor, garden and basement. There are two bedrooms, one of which would doubtless have been a scullery or cloak room - it's very small, I do have an enormous double bed in it though it's described as a single room...the agent was amazed we fitted the double into it! But it's actually around 6ft9 x 9ft6. The double bed goes in across the end, it's great - I can hide in there while the kids have the 20ftx14ft room!

Badgerwife Thu 14-Apr-11 12:22:05

eheheh, I remember being totally amazed (and appalled) by the existence of box rooms when I moved to England for the first time from France 13 years ago. I was going to stay with a family for a year sabbatical, and they gave me the box room. I was absolutely shock that they thought it was a suitable size for anyone to live in for more than a few days, let alone an 18-yr old girl with her entire belongings to fit in the one room! It had a single bed AND a wardrobe in it, there was hardly enough space to open the door. I have since learnt it is completely normal but omg I was not impressed at the time.

littlebrownmouse Thu 14-Apr-11 12:23:18

In those days, bedrooms were for sleeping in, they had a bed and a cupboard/wardrobe. Children had far fewer things and played outside rather than in their bedrooms. It certainly wasn't the norm to entertain your friends in your bedroom and 'having your own personal space' is a fairly modern phenomenon. We live in a house like this, DS has a fabulous high sleeper with desk, drawers, wardrobe and shelves under it and is really happy at the moment.

throckenholt Thu 14-Apr-11 12:29:00

I reckon the idea that the parents need a big room is the thing that is confusing you.

I bet in the past rooms were just for sleeping in - so as long as you could fit a small double in then the parents got that room. And the other two rooms were one for the boys and one for the girls.

My next door neighbour had 7 kids in a one of those typical 30s houses, and her parents had had 7 or 8 I think in the same row of houses 30 years before (first residents in the house).

Certainly my grandad - born in 1917 shared a bed with his brothers, jhis sisters had the other bed - they all lived (9 including parents) in a 2 room basement - so a 3 bed semi would have a been a big improvement.

Paintinmyhair Thu 14-Apr-11 12:36:48

We have had a 2 bed 1930's maisonette and we have now got a 3 bed 1930's semi. The third bedroom is the study here. In the previous house dd had the big room, and we had the small room and wedged a divan in. It was fine, dd used her room for playing, and we spent all our relaxation time downstairs, so it made sense. We did have to put our clothes in her room though!

Before that dd and I were in a studio and top and tailed in a single bed. I think we were happiest in the studio!

bistokids Thu 14-Apr-11 13:01:32

We've just moved from exactly the house you describe. It was built in 1931 and didn't have a massive garden, though I thought it was big when we originally bought it.

We extended the house before we had children. We built a garage with bedroom and ensuite over the top. First child slept in the back bedroom, front bedroom was always used for guests and the box room was a study.

Needless to say, we had a second baby and put her in the box room rather than sacrifice the guest bedroom. This meant we lost the study (relocated to a corner of the guest room). By the time she was 18 months we had to move because we couldn't see her growing up with that box bedroom and we always need a guest room.

My mother had a 1980's house that was the same but much smaller! I think it was the norm in the past - we simply have higher expectations these days. We say we need a second income but that's because we want bigger houses for our families (in some cases - before I get flamed!)

whatsthecatch Thu 14-Apr-11 13:14:45

Lots of replies - thank you!

I find it hard with my twenty first century mentality to imagine how it was ok to just put one child in the "box room". I suppose it was not important to have personal space in the way that it is today. Also, the child's needs were not paramount like today.

Ingrid thank you for your post and insight. DH grew up like you with the tiny room and I think that's why I have an awareness that its difficult in the teenage years.

iskra Thu 14-Apr-11 13:17:38

I've just been reading Margaret Forster's memoir "Hidden Lives" (strongly recommended). She talks about growing up in a 2 bed semi in the 40s/50s - she & her sister had a pull out bed in her parents' room, & her brother had the other room, until her brother left for national service. When he came back they moved to a 3 bed semi, & he had the 3rd small bedroom until he married.

Decorhate Fri 15-Apr-11 07:25:08

I agree with whoever said that children had far fewer clothes & other possessions & played outside rather than in. My mother grew up in the 40s & says she normally had only 3 dresses, one for school, one for best, one for playing in.

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