Post-war Dream Palaces: The Ideal Home Exhibition and Magic Spaces of Film
In 1947, following a wartime hiatus, the Daily Mail Ideal Home Exhibition was revived in Britain and took place to great popular acclaim. At a time of post-war readjustment, the exhibition allowed visitors to travel through an aspirational landscape of model homes which included mod-cons, technological innovations and gardens. This experience also served as a reminder of the 1930s practice of cinema-going and the popular dream palace. Annette Kuhn suggests that cinemas in the 1930s were simultaneously comforting in their homeliness and in providing a glamorous escape from reality and, in tandem, the home exhibition offered practical, everyday domestic advice as well as a topography of ideal homes. As the artists’ impression of the grand hall in 1949 below shows, the exhibition continued to be presented as a visual, even cinematic, spectacle with the exhibition’s revival, continuing to draw on the experience of cinema-going in the experience of the ideal home.
In the post-war years, as a development of similar displays in the inter-war exhibitions, spaces from on screen were also deliberately drawn upon as part of the visitor experience of the exhibition. Visits of film stars (including British star, Margaret Lockwood’s, as pictured on the right), the Fashion and Film exhibition in 1947 and the gallery of British films (which featured set designs from a number of popular releases) celebrated the ability of film to provide escape into other, onscreen worlds separate from the realms of everyday life. Using research from the Victoria & Albert Museum Archive of Art and Design, this paper will first analyse the role of film at these post-war exhibitions, and the way that this collision of two cultural spaces – film and home – constructs the experience of the exhibition as a heterotopia in its provision of other sites to be explored in a mobile, imaginative way. And, with this in mind, I will suggest that a consideration of the Ideal Home Exhibition as a topography provides a useful mode of analysing the ‘magic’ spaces onscreen in British films themselves in this period.