Social historian Flanders (The Victorian City: Everyday Life in Dickens' London, 2014, etc.) follows the evolution of the home from an edifice offering minimal shelter to present-day standards.
First, the author classifies European cultures into "house" countries and "home" countries. The former includes those populations that spend their time in public spaces such as restaurants, promenading. The latter is more an experience of comfort, the imagined state of the good life. With that division, Flanders chronicles the life-altering changes to the structure of houses over the centuries. One of the first was the arrival of the fireplace and chimney and their placement away from the center of the room, enabling larger, two-story houses. Soon, the availability of glass allowed larger windows, which led to curtains. Suddenly, there was a need for privacy, so extra rooms were added, while the lovely large windows were covered to keep out light. The author compares the house countries in which houses were a status symbol to the Northwest European home countries, where the concentration was on convenience and enjoyment. Flanders does not neglect the inhabitants of these buildings, and her telling of a family making a stew perfectly illustrates the pre-industrial roles shared equally by men and women. The Industrial Revolution changed the makeup of the home. Workers now left the home to make a living in factories and offices. New technologies developed such things as piped water, plumbing, heat, electricity, and, eventually, 20th-century “labor saving” devices, which quickly created the divisions into gender-based roles. Covering all aspects of home life, Flanders even delves into modern architecture, popular in the house countries, which creates designs for ostentation rather than usefulness.
The author’s extensive knowledge of lifestyles and simple, concise writing combine for an enjoyable book showing how families have joined, separated, and rejoined over the last 500 years.