‘At Home’ by Bill Bryson

We’re all about lovely things and what could be more lovely than a good book? So today we bring you our first book review! And apologies for it not being a new book – it was first published in 2010 – but it is well worth reading by anyone interested in how our homes have come to be the way they are. 

A much read copy!

‘At Home’ by Bill Bryson is subtitled ‘A Short History of Private Life’ and is based on the idea that history is made up of people getting on with their normal activities, most of which take place at home. So, taking his own home (a Victorian rectory in Norfolk) as a starting point, Bill Bryson explores how our modern domestic life has come about.

For example, in the eighteenth century it became possible for people to have cheaper and brighter fabrics than ever before. It was also possible to produce fabric in greater widths and these advances combined meant more upholstered furniture. Now alternatives to leather, previously the best material for upholstery, were available. However, the custom was that meals would be eaten at small tables set up wherever was convenient at the time – and householders realised that this would lead to spills and stains on their new, fashionable, expensive furniture. The solution was to create a dining room, first mentioned in a dictionary in 1755. 

Maybe – and this isn’t suggested in the book – one reason why people don’t use dining rooms so much now is that spills and stains aren’t such a problem. Furniture is cheaper. We have washing machines, laundry detergent and a whole range of fabric protecting and stain removing products. And leather upholstery is fashionable again!

This book is full of information on many subjects: how domestic fridges killed the international ice trade; how construction methods can dictate room size and therefore use; Thomas Edison’s attempt to design concrete houses complete with concrete furniture… The 28 pages of index show the variety. Best of all, the writing is typical Bill Bryson so reading it is like listening to a clever and amusing friend and that’s one of our favourite things. He would definitely be on our fantasy dinner party guest list, wherever the table was.Available, as they say, from all good bookshops – the local, independent ones as well as the big on-line ones!

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