We are accustomed to a series of everyday comforts to which we pay little attention and which we only remember when we lack them. The well – being that we enjoy in our homes is very recent -in many cases of the middle of the last century- and, in reality, it supposes the culmination of a very long journey of centuries. The evolution of the house is, therefore, a fundamental and revealing part of our history as a civilization.
According to journalist and architecture historian Anatxu Zabalbeascoa, we can know both the history of civilizations analyzing their battles as well as their private habits. “The rooms in the house, as well as the furniture, tell a story. They enclose many secrets and dark passages of human beings, “he says in the book Todo sobre la casa (Gustavo Gili)
The fact that today we have, for example, a bathroom inside a house or a bedroom separated from the rest of the home in which to have intimacy has to do with the cleaning habits but also with the epidemics of syphilis and plague; with the evolution of technology and medicine; with sex, with death. “Houses are open history books,” says Bill Bryson in At Home. A brief history of private life (RBA, 2011) -. They tell us about war, hunger, the Industrial Revolution, scurvy, the Enlightenment. Everything is hidden there, in the drawers, in the folds of the curtains. “
Examples? Last month, the results of an excavation carried out by CSIC researchers in a 13,000-year-old town in southern Syria were made public. Of the twelve houses of this nucleus, two have a complexity remarkably superior than what, according to the researchers, it is clear that, already then, in the embryo of urban civilization, social classes existed. All our history, then, is written in the form of walls, windows and partitions.
The origins of the house are lost, however, in much earlier times
when our ancestors began to look for places to shelter from the inclemency. The discovery of the fire was, surely, the final push that led them to live regularly inside the caves. From these bonfires to the modern glass-ceramic, nothing less, the history of humanity itself. Imagine now that we show you the new apartment we have just moved to. Think, as a host would do in this case, we show you one by one the rooms of our new house, whose roots are lost in time.
The sanctuary of intimacy. But it always have been like that? Well, no, because that concept of intimacy is recent: it appears, in the best of cases, in the eighteenth century, and yet, says Zabalbeascoa, “is the key and the consequence that will result in modern bedrooms.” Before, for centuries, neither the humble nor the wealthy classes enjoyed their own space for very different reasons.
In the middle ages, the dormitory of the well-to-do urban classes was often a room located within another one in which visits were received and even, in the case of the rulers, matters of state were dealt with. Therefore, it is not surprising that the room was so ostentatious that in fact some had two types of bed: the day, ornate and thought to be seen, and night.
In the countryside and on the farms, families with prospects could sleep with their servants at the foot of the bed, but not to attend to their most urgent needs but as a measure anti-theft! And as for the more modest layers of the population, there was a single space, dark and poorly ventilated, near the fire and next to their cattle, in which whole families slept together, including visits, and without even undress. At the most, the difference in status between, for example, the parents and their children or the owner of the house and a servant, was expressed in that the former slept in a precarious bed and the latter, on the floor. Obviously, the concept of a guest room would have seemed a joke, and that of comfort, an illusion in a society that basically struggled for survival. Sleeping in a bed-for whoever had it-was a good idea, and doing it on the floor was an experience, nefarious, but experience after all. Even in the best houses – jump to the chair – the ground was covered with reeds, “covering spit, vomit and urine of animals and men, spilled beer, leftovers and other crap.” This is what Bryson explains in En Casa. A brief history of private life . A couple of times a year, a new layer of cane was thrown over the previous one and you’re ready!
The soil was the perfect incubator for all kinds of insects, rodents and diseases. And one last detail about those charming and comfortable years: staying in an inn could mean sharing a bed with a stranger or even having to give up your mattress to a stranger if he had more status.
The Renaissance was a radical improvement and the bedroom became the center of life since almost everything was in it: the views, business … It is said that Cardinal Richelieu (1585-1642) saw the emergence of the Baroque came to have more than 48 beds, which over time were replaced by sofas and couches. It is in the eighteenth century when the bedroom begins to be less of a meeting place and more a discrete room in which you fall asleep! There is the germ of values as precious as those of intimacy and comfort.
The Industrial Revolution and the technological innovations of the late eighteenth and nineteenth centuries also had a lot to do with our rooms being as they are. Until then, the beds were large wooden frames. From then on, they began to manufacture metal beds – much cheaper – and weave cotton bedding, hitherto nonexistent. These first sheets, says Zabalbeascoa in Todo sobre la casa, were boiled to kill bedbugs, “which was key to improving hygiene in the bedroom.”
Series production gave way to more comfortable and affordable houses, unthinkable to conceive two centuries before. Also, already entered the twentieth century, smaller and, as in a historical loop, multifunctional, in which there is a computer, television.
“There are cultures that favor cleaning and others, which are soothing, that avoid treating the issue of cleanliness,” says Zabalbeascoa. A medieval monk had more means to be clean than a nineteenth-century European and a Caribbean Indian was neater than either. ” The Greeks were excited to bathe, like the Romans. On the other hand, in the eyes of Christians it was something morally dirty. The fall of the Roman Empire meant the closing of the baths and hygiene in Europe suffered a setback that would last a thousand years until the scientific and hygienist revolution of the nineteenth century paid off. Pasteur assured that the germs hidden in the dirt were the main reason for getting sick. The basins that were in the courtyards or outside the houses began to enter the bedrooms, and in the cities began to proliferate public washrooms and showers.
In the middle of the 19th century, pipes began to enter buildings and carry running water. The final step was to heat it. “One of the first heating systems, which was shown at the Great Exhibition of London in 1851, featured a copper tub with a small furnace at one end through which the water passed before reaching the right temperature for the bath”, collects Zabalbeascoa.
Inventions aside, at the end of the 19th century
most households still did not have a bathroom. It will not be until 1930, thanks to the industrial production of bathtubs, toilets and sinks, that the prices became cheaper and massive bathrooms began to be installed in the homes. But, although today it is hard to believe, in Spain, that all houses had their corresponding shower was not yet a reality at the beginning of the seventies. Looking back and thinking about it supposes a historical memory bath.
Place of meeting, of socialization, town of electrical appliances and utensils that make the life theoretically simple (as long as we know how to program them), to the kitchen it happens as to the bathroom. Until the twentieth century, it had no place of its own and was a well of problems and domestic accidents. The problem of playing with fire. In ancient Rome, the wealthiest families – a minority – had an oven to prepare food outside the house. However, most citizens resided in buildings called insulae , where they had a room dedicated to cooking food without much security. The fires were so frequent that there were buckets of water scattered around the streets to suffocate them. And so until the Emperor Augustus, in the year 6, decided to end this precarious fire system and created the first professional firefighters in history.
In the Middle Ages, in humble homes, holes were started in the middle of the floor of the rooms, where they lit a fire that served to warm up but also to cook … how much house burning! In the seventh century, the archbishop of Canterbury claimed that all these mishaps were the fault solely and exclusively of women.
The smoke, in addition made the atmosphere in the house unbearable.
Piercing the roof was opening the door to bad weather. Then came the fireplace that the great monasteries and abbeys tried. An interesting fact: thanks to the chimneys, the houses became more spacious and, most importantly, they started to grow one floor up. On that second floor, the families devised a great room in which they did exactly the same as downstairs – to sleep, eat, rest, play – but giving way to the concept of personal space. A fundamental advance to separate the kitchen from the rest of the house was the appearance of the domestic oven in 1830. In 1854 there was an event that would change the evolution of the stoves: the appearance of gas . The smoke was no longer a nuisance and the fire was paid when it was unnecessary. Six years later, the first refrigerators appeared, which represented a fundamental advance to preserve food.
It is true that for 20 centuries the kitchen had been relegated to oblivion, but since 1950 the architects have tried to connect it with the rest of the home and the designers, to turn it into a comfortable , practical, and tasteful space.
Nowadays, we often eat in the kitchen. Or maybe in the dining room. But throughout history, it was done where possible. In fact, until the eighteenth century there was no definite place for it. Because there were not, there were no tables. People put wooden boards on easels. And even in the humblest houses, they were placed on their knees and when they were not used they leaned against the wall. That began to serve the food in a room designed for it had to do, in large part, with the decoration. From the seventeenth it became fashionable to upholster chairs and armchairs, something that was extremely expensive, and the ladies were up to the bun to find stains of grease on their furniture. In the absence of napkins, diners had a habit of wiping their fingers on them. The fact that the dining room appeared marked when it was eaten and how. Even the way to serve food was changed. Before 1850, the foods that made up the agape were all placed on the table, the diners were filling the dishes or asking the servants to do it. But then, fashion changed and the food began to be served in order: starters, first, seconds. A problem: if someone ate very slowly, we had to wait for it. Thus, the dinners happened to last hours.
For many centuries, living room, dining room and bedroom, in most of the houses
were the same space. In fact, until the fifteenth century the living room was the house. It is from then on when some partitions begin to rise and two rooms appear, one of which acts as a living room. That was in the wealthy families, because in the rest of the houses, where the majority of the population lived, no differences were established between spaces.
It was in the living room that, in the moneyed classes, banquets were held and visitors were received. Later, they began to allocate other rooms of the house to this end. Although they were not too cozy , at least for current tastes. They were empty rooms, in which the chairs were supported on the wall and the table folded. They looked like waiting rooms. The hall was transformed into a more comfortable common space where, in the middle of the 18th century and in the noble houses, the banquets gave way to rooms dedicated to concerts, games and reading. It had become the heart of the home and tenants began to worry about giving it all kinds of comforts : soft sofas, upholstered and upholstered canapés. Even decorative magazines were born, aimed at a female audience where they are advised on how to decorate the room and make it more welcoming.
After the Second World War, the living room becomes more practical and more with the arrival of plastic in the home, simple prefabricated furniture , which could be structured by modules, more adapted to the reduction of the size of the houses, in which they begin to proliferate electrical appliances.
All this is the result of the massification of industrial production, which makes furniture cheaper. From the technological point of view, television occupied the place in the center of the home that had long held the fireplace. The furniture begins to be thought and manufactured to place them around it.
The history of private life and home is, then, the story of leaving feeling comfortable and comfortable, a conquest that humanity was getting as survival was assured. Until the eighteenth century the concept of feeling this way at home did not exist, nor even had a word for it. Comfortable, back then, it simply meant the ability to be comforted. No longer.